Texas de Brazil and Maoz – My Favorite Salad Bars!

Really quickly: 2 different restaurants that I am loving:

1. Maoz
20140330_122755This casual, counter service import from Amsterdam has some killer French Fries, well spiced shawarma, and the make-your-own falafel sandwich or salad of your DREAMS. A killer salad bar with cumin scented carots, tangy cabbage salad, tabbouleh, roasted cauliflower, and a litany of sauces. Creamy tahini, cooling yogurt, garlic sauce so potent that it might make or break you night, hot sauce so potent and fiery that it makes your toes curl. Herby, bright broccoli and fresh cilantro laden salsa. Don’t forget the inexpensive but delicious hummus and babaganoush you can add to your salad bar. And, of course, the fried eggplant, with silky innards and a crispy shell.

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The falafel sandwich starts like this…

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and should end like this, covered in pickles, sauces, and vegetables from the salad bar. It’s all included (one trip only, except for more sauce), so don’t worry. The falafel is piping hot, fragrant with cumin and parsley, an served in a fluffy pita with crisp romaine. This inexpensive place ain’t Israel, but it surely feds the yen when I am stateside.

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2. Texas de Brazil

Remember I said I had been to a Brazilian steakhouse? Well, I am now obsessed with them and this is the best one I have been to by FAR! Modern, clean (though, truth be told, a little “mall chic”) decor, extremely well informed waitstaff, and the food is about 19 times better that the other place. A smaller but better curated salad bar filled with imported cheeses, all varieteis of spicy peppers, a soup of the day, creamy pottaoes gratin, and a host of other items. Don’t miss those tiny red peeppers that are spicy enough to rip off your top layer of lip skin or the creamy, sweet poatoao salad – almost as good as Hawaiian potato salad!

20140329_194033The meat here is even better than the salad bar. Tender lamb chops, garlicky sausage, and the flavorful, perfectly medium rare house cut ribeye are standouts. Avoid the pork products, but everything else is commendable. And don’t miss the mini chicken Parmesan that comes around on skewers towards the end of the meal.

 I am never going to fit into my wedding gown, am I?

 

NYC’s Best Lazy Buffets

I happen to love a good buffet. The hedonistic, gluttonous, slightly(more than slightly?) trashy experience of eating mountains of sushi, prime rib, eggs Benedict, and “gelato” until your stomach is distended and the clock has turned from AM to PM.

But…there is something a  little better than the standard buffet, which also includes lines, sneeze guards, and less than optimally heated food.

That would be the lazy person’s buffet.

Where the endless food is just brought to you. You don’t even need to get up from your chair. Expandomatic pants are all that’s needed.

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Churrascaria Plataforma

Have you ever been to a Brazilian steakhouse? Because if not – and you eat meat – you have been missing one of life’s greatest pleasures. A pleasure that starts with cheesy, puffy yuca rolls, like doughy gougeres. That progresses to a massive salad bar filled with vegetables, pasta,  spicy bean stew, and other items. A pleasure that reaches its savory climax in the parade of meats. Servers come to your table and slice you different cuts of freshly roasted meats – as much as you can handle. Literally – you have a little token that you make red when you want to stop eating, but as long as it’s green…you keep getting fed. And this stuff ain’t hot dog meat, either. We are talking smoky pork chorizo, garlicky rubbed steak, salty and wonderfully rare prime rib, Parmesan crusted juicy pork chops, and every kind of rib you can imagine. Don’t forget the bottomless mashed potatoes, fried bananas, and french fries. And don’t forget to come early…you can stay as long as you want and with food this tasty and at a price this reasonable-you will want to eat as much as you can.

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Moti Mahal Delux

This New Delhi export makes the UES the best brunch neighborhood in town. For just $15, you get intricately flavored, delicately balanced Indian food – as much as you can handle, and then some. Pungent bhel poori, creamy tikka masala, buttery dahl, fragrant saag paneer, fresh naan…and the menu changes every weekend. If you gett he brunch special, you get what the Michelin-recommended chefs want to make that day. And if they would eat it themselves, why wouldn’t you eat it? The food is not heavy or salty – it’s complex in flavor and texture, and is highly recommended for the most discerning Indian food connoisseurs (not that I’m discerning, but I have had a lot of tandoori in my life…just saying). Do NOT miss out on the gulab jamun for dessert – the yeastiest, warmest, softest doughnut I have had in  many a moon. As added bonuses, service is excellent and the menu is very vegetarian friendly.

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Mish Mosh at Sugar and Plumm

Not a buffet, but it might as well be…do you SEE the size of this thing? Vanilla ice cream, chocolate ice cream, potato chips, gummy bears, chocolate candies, whipped cream, blondies, and chocolate sauce…and a spoon.

Or 2 spoons if you want it to be more of a meal with loved ones and less of an ode to lactose tolerance and gluttony.

Whatever floats your boat.

It isn’t cheap, but it is insanely decadent (LOVE those salty chips!), and where else can you go at 9 PM and see an entire menu filled with desserts, fit for an out-of-town guest (for those times when a diner just won’t cut it)? It’s over the top, but then, that’s just what buffets are.

Especially lazy person’s buffets.

I’ll meet you at the table.

Moti Mahal Delux on Urbanspoon

Arepas, Tartare, and Aweseome Gelato

I have eaten a ton of great food lately – here are some of my favorite gems!

IMG_20130812_140327_739Arepa from Palenque

When I hear arepa, I think of those floppy, thick cornbread discs filled with rubbery cheese – you know, the kind you find at street fairs. This arepa truck, quite frankly, spun my head right round, right round. The food truck offers all sorts of Colombian food, and the arepa is Columbia’s greatest contributions to the food world. This one is corn (though you can have it made out of yuca, brown rice, or other options), and is topped with incredibly moist, tender Angus beef. Served with mozzarella-like queso de hebra, chipotle mayo, salsa fresca, and spicy cilantro pesto, it is a really filling lunch. For only $8, you can’t really do much better than this. Spicy, crispy, juicy, and awesome.

That’s also the name of my imaginary band.

montmartre 002Steak tartare at Montmartre

Gabriel Stulman’s Chelsea bistro isn’t’ cheap, but it does have tasty, inventive twists on Parisian bistro classics. Take this steak tartare. Hand chopped beef in a very mild dressing with tangy mustard and briny capers. The beef isn’t’ too mushy nor too chewy. The egg yolk is rich and the shallots are just sharp enough. Smear the beef on the airy toasted baguette, and it’s the raw burger of your dreams. Best of all is the lettuce alongside. Yes, I said that the lettuce outlines the beef. The long romaine leaves are dressed in a warm garlicky oil that softens the lettuce and totally elevates the meal. They are crispy, incredibly savory, and when eaten with the beef, brings out the rich, mineral notes. I would come here for the oysters and sweet/salty mustard-dusted fries, but would stay for the tartare.

pix 002Ferreroand Pistachio Gelato at Fresco

What can I say? This place just makes perfect gelato – yes, I said perfect. There aren’t any awesome toppings or wacky flavors(except for the awesomely tangy/sweet goat cheese flavor). Just thick, dense gelato with intense flavors. It’s the most perfect pistachio gelato that I have ever tasted – deep and nutty and buttery and rich. The chocolate hazelnut flavor is sweet and velvety, like frozen Nutella. It’s uber creamy and rich, with a velvety texture and a taste that is so vibrant that you won’t even want any toppings. It’s a schlep from where I live, but the flavor is so divine that I still say it’s worth the trek.

Nuchas Empanadas and Sweetery NYC

Though New York has many restaurants where you can sit and have a leisurely lunch, sometimes you don’t have that long. Sometimes you want to eat on the run, and that’s the time to choose food carts. The days of dirty water dogs are long over – now you can get lobster rolls, fusion burritos, Vietnamese food, and almost anything else you can think of from gourmet food trucks all over the city. How to know which are great and which are duds? Ya just gotta give them a try.

Recently I tried Nuchas. This Argentinian food truck specializes in all sort of empanadas meat filled ones, veggie ones, even caramel apple dessert ones! I am used to seeing empanadas at a street fair, but these ones, made with Pat LaFreida beef and baked, seemed to be delicious  upscale take.

Shortrib Empanada with Creekstone Farms Shortribs, Onions, Spices, and Rosemary Dough

This sounded so up my alley, and it was indeed tasty. Tender beef, subtle spicing, greaseless dough…it was warm and comforting. And yet…this didn’t do it for me. Why not? Well, I’m just too trashy. I like the street fair empanadas! Oily little half moons of dough, fried to a crisp, exploding neon orange grease when the ground beef spills from their shells. I don’t want subtlety, I want salt! And spice! And for the love of all that is holy, OIL!

That’s what I want. If you don’t want it, you will probably love the well priced and undoubtedly higher quality Nuchas empanadas.

Sweetery NYC is Grandma’s kitchen gone mobile. Nothing haute here, just homemade goodies baked daily and serve with an extra touch of whimsy.

Fudgy brownies, chewy cookies, and buttery bars are all at your disposal. Of course, if you know what to order, you will go for the macarella.

Macarella

Crunchy, flat, coconutty cookies. Thick ribbons of rich, choolatey Nutella. The taste is simple and satisfying. Chocolate, hazelnuts, coconut, and sugar. It is crunchy, gooey, and delightfully buttery. It is just what you want, as long as you have enough napkins to make sure you clean up before heading back to the office after lunch.

 Highbrow or lowbrow, American or Argentinian, savory or sweet – the NYC food cart scene has you covered!

Porto’s

I always try to fly into the Burbank airport when I visit home (which is the valley…yes, I am actually a valley girl…BLECH). It is closer to home, the luggage always comes off of the plane faster, and it is right across the street from some of the best Cuban treats on the planet.

Porto’s has been around since my mom was a kid, and not much has changed since then. It calls itself a bakery and cafe, but it is really a veritable amusement park for those who love Cuban and/or fried food.

The store is huge, with two sections to order food and a large seating section, but there is always, at all hours of the day, a humongous line. Don’t be deterred, as the line moves very quickly and the servers are all competent and courteous. Just go to the line, wait your turn, and order at the counter. Then pay at the register and collect your goods!

Though you can order Cuban sandwiches or other cooked to order items, those in the know go straight for the stuff in the case. Just point to it and take it to go. Many pastries don’t have names, so just point at them and ask what is in them.

It doesn’t get much better than this, folks.

Chicken Croquette

Dense rather than airy, with a pronounced salty and garlicky taste. Heavy with bechamel and lightly golden brown, these are heavenly little gut bombs. Chicken nuggets on creamy crack…that’s what these are.

Mashed Potato Ball

Imagine, if you will, fluffy mashed potatoes – not too creamy or thick, just airy. Then, stuff them with a juicy, cumin-filled filling of ground beef and other Latin American spices. Lightly fry the whole thing until it is crunchy outside and steaming hot inside. This is a handful of Shepherd’s Pie – hearty and comforting, while being zesty from the Cuban seasonings.

Meat Pie

This doesn’t have as much taste as the other meat-filled goodies. The pastry is wonderful – flaky and buttery – but the ground beef is a little bit plain. This would be more at home in a pub than at this Cuban eatery.

Chorizo Empanada

Bright orange grease stains the inside of the thick, probably lard-enhanced pastry, but miraculously does not bleed outside. The inside is chock full of chorizo, garlicky and sweet at the same time. This is chorizo at its finest and any fan of sausage should not miss this.

Chicken Empanada

Even better than the chorizo version. The chicken is stewed until very moist, then mixed with green peas, onions, garlic, and what must be sofrito – an herby, earthy spice blend. Juicy and flavorful, this manages to make usually mundane chicken a standout.

Guava and Cheese Pastry

Dessert is not an afterthought here. Incredibly flaky and airy puff pastry surrounds sweetened cream cheese and bright, tropical-tasting guava paste. An unexpected take on the classic breakfast Danish.

Best of all, the food here is VERY cheap. Come here with $10 and you will leave with a stomach full of hearty, fried, spicy food.

And you won’t have to fight so much traffic on the way home.

It’s a win all the way around.

Porto's Bakery & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Ninth Avenue International Food Festival

The Ninth Avenue Food International Festival is, in many ways, the same as any old NYC street fair.

The throngs of people, the dollar socks, the flabby and tasteless mozzarepas. But, there are hidden gems in this street fair, where the best of ninth Avenue’s eateries set up booths and offer some really delicious food.

Empanada Mama

This 24 hour restaurant on Ninth Avenue is always packed and now I know why! The beef empanada was one of the best things that I ate all day.

A thick and flaky dough encases shredded beef, tender and so juicy that it drips down your chin in fluorescent orange. Smoky cumin, sharp garlic, and sweet onions all mingle with that unmistakably hearty flavor of beef brisket and makes this filling but far less greasy than you might think. I can’t wait to go back here and do a full review on this place!

Dalton’s

This nondescript bar that I have only frequented once (and then, only for the cheap vodka tonics) had the best pork offering of the day. This roast pig sandwich was delicious.

Crispy shards of skin surrounding succulent, sweet pork meat, all served on a squishy potato bun. Topped with sweet and spicy BBQ sauce (thankfully, no overpowering liquid smoke here), this is everything that you could want in a BBQ sandwich, except coleslaw. When you see this stand at the festival, run there, dont’ walk. And get two.

Red’s Hot Dogs

Get the specialty pork and beef sausage and watch it get grilled until it is charred and snappy outside, juicy and hearty inside. Choose from one of their many choices, like the banh mi or the baked potato dog, or top it yourself. The toppings here are free, even the premium ones, like a spicy, meaty chili and sweet sauteed onions.

This is one of the best hot dogs I have had in a while, and will gladly seek them out year after year. They frequent other street fairs during th year, so be sure not to miss them!

Millie’s Pierogies

What good polish girl can resist a pierogi? These are best when stuffed with sauerkraut, which is shockingly complex.

Not just sour, the kraut is also a little sweet and floral with juniper berry. Enased in rich, chewy dough and dipped in cool sour cream, it reminds me of dinners of my youth. Next time, I would absolutely try a steamed kilbasa topped with more of that sauerkraut.

Pure Thai Cookhouse

This is why this fair is so important to restaurants. I have been to Pure Thai before, and liked but didn’t love it. Now, I am determined to go back.

The BBQ Beef Buns were juicy and complex, with star anise, coriander, and ginger in the soft meat. Served in a sticky, fluffy bun and topped with tangy carrots and fragrant cilantro, this was a totally satisfying bite. I could have eaten 6 of these. Even better were the Thai Sausages and Sticky Rice.

The sausages, grilled and served with sweetly caramelized onions, were sweet, spicy, and pleasantly sticky. The rice was the perfect antitode to the incendiary sauce, pungent with fish sauce and hot with chiles. The umami punches never stopped coming with this dish, and my sister and I fought over the last of it. This was an unbelievable duo of dishes – though they aren’t on their regular menu, they convinced me to give Pure another try.

And if none of these looked good, you can always go for one of these:

After all, a corncake stuffed with fake cheese and cheap chorizo never hurt anyone.

Yerba Buena’s Bueno Brunch

When I first started this blog, I went to Yerba Buena Perry for restaurant week. Though my meal was outstanding, I haven’t been back since – nothing personal, just too many restaurants in NYC, too little time.

When some girlfriends invited me to brunch at Yerba Buena’s Lower East Side branch, I was anxious to check it out. First things first: this place is tiny. There is a downstairs room, but the upstairs in miniscule. Not cramped, but it is very cozy, while somehow remaining hip. However, the excellent waitstaff does everything it can to make your stay comfortable, from removing your coats to giving you and extra table for all of your dishes.
 
Sangria
If you, like me, avoid sangria because it is a weak, sweet drink that gives you no buzz and a massive hangover, then this is the sangria for you. Really, it’s the anti-sangria. I am sure from the orange aroma that there is some Grand Marnier in there, and from my buzz that there are other liquors, too. There are herbal, cinnamon-y notes throughout the drink, and it is grounded by the earthy red wine. 
Guacamole
Portion? Small. Taste? Outstanding. Very citrusy, without too many mix-ins to distract from the buttery richness of the avocado. Tart from limes and hit with the perfect amount of salt to bring out the avocado’s inherent sweetness. Served with a sprinkling of cheese and thick tortilla chips, this was a delicious, albeit pricey, appetizer.

Huevos Rancheros 
Let’s break this down:
Eggs – cooked perfectly, with thick, runny yolks and creamy, just-gelled whites
Tortilla – thick and crisp, adding crunch and gently absorbing the flavors from the eggs, salsa, and beans.
Queso Fresco – mild, melty, delightfully stringy.
Black beans – NOT the stuff from the can. Cooked al dente, with the perfect amount of chew. Sweet with onions, hearty with cumin and other spices, earthy and incredibly meaty. A worthy counterpart to the richness of the eggs.
Salsa - Unbelievable. So good I actually wiped my finger around the dish to sop up every last bite. At first, it is mild and sweet. Then it is savory with garlic. Finally, there is the unmistakable high, fruity, spicy note of the cascable chiles that leaves the tongue tingling and the lips slightly burning. I could happily eat this as soup every day of my life.
Crema, Jalapeno Relish – excellent soothing and fiery accompaniments, respectively.
Once again, Yerba Buena impresses. Chef Julian Medina is obviously devoted to producing nuanced, high-end versions of well known Latin American and Mexican dishes. The prices are a bit high, but considering the quality of the food and service, and that you can order bottomless drinks (for an hour) for just $13, it is a worth a visit.
For me, it was actually worth two visits. And I can’t give any compliment higher than that.
Yerba Buena on Urbanspoon

Calle Ocho Goes Beyond Brunch

You know those brunch places where the food is cheap, the drinks are unlimited, and the party goes until about 3 pm when everyone hits the hay for Sunday nap time?
 I used to think that was Calle Ocho, a Latin American restaurant on the Upper West side. The restaurant recently moved locations to a nearby space inside the Excelsior Hotel. I have been there for its bottomless sangria brunch, featuring many different types of serve-yourself sangrias and tasty Latin food, but had never thought to go there for dinner. 
The new space features several cavernous rooms with bright paintings and low lighting, creating a festive, upscale atmosphere. 
 Mojito
I have never been able to stray from the sangria before, but these mojitos are my new go-to drink at Calle Ocho, whether they are included in the price of brunch or not. Very strong, but well balanced with sugar and fresh mint, just one of these had me buzzed. 
Yeah, I am that lightweight.
Pao de Queijo
This Brazilian cheese bread was similar to a gougere in its lightness and cheesy interior. Gluten free and made with yucca flour, the rolls were positively airy inside, and almost dissolved in the mouth without chewing, leaving behind the grassy, nutty taste of Queso Fresco. 
Bean Dip
They were especially delicious when paired with the hearty, aromatic bean dip. It tasted sweet and spicy at the same time, a welcome contrast to the comforting cheesiness of the rolls.
 
 Marinated Aji Tuna, Ginger, Cilantro, Mustard Vinaigrette and Cured Salmon, Aji Amarillo, Sour Orange, Pineapple
These ceviches set the tone for the meal to come – herbal, fresh, pungent flavors. 
The tuna was good, if not outstanding. The fish was obviously high quality – mild flavored and with a soft but not mushy texture. The problem was that the marinade overpowered the fish’s delicate flavor. The heady cilantro, spicy ginger and tangy mustard totally obscured the tuna’s natural taste. A bit more tuna or a bit less marinade would have done this tuna well. 
The salmon, on the other hand, was one of my favorite dishes of the night. The salmon was absolutely silky in texture, and the orange and pineapple in the marinade complimented the salmon’s natural fatty mouth feel and buttery taste. The aji amarillo was the perfect amount of spice – a bit sweet along with the front-of-mouth tingling spice. It broke up the salmon’s comforting taste and texture and made the dish interesting and delicious. 
 Colombian Sweet Corn Arepa, Ropa Vieja, Crema Nata, Criolla Salad and Bacon Wrapped Almond Stuffed Dates, Hearts of Palm, Cabrales
The arepa was delicious, just what you might expect an arepa to be, but with a lush and rich filling that belies the arepa’s humble background. The arepa itself was almost custardy – sweet and moist, redolent of corn and summer. The shortribs were extremely rich and full in their beefiness. The salad beneath it, with bitter greens, cut through the richness of the meat and added freshness to the rather heavy appetizer. 
The dates were my favorite bite of the meal, no question. Sweet, soft dates surrounded crunchy almonds and the whole thing was wrapped in salty, smokey, crispy bacon. The whole thing was drizzled in a foam made of pungent, funky blue cheese, making the dates sweeter, the bacon meatier and the whole dish round and satisfying. I have no idea how the hearts of palm were, because I couldn’t tear my mind away from the dates. They blew my mind and are a must order. 
  Roasted Stripped Bass, Serrano Ham-Chick Pea, Roasted Pepper Sauce
This was a very earthy take on fish – the fish was flaky and mild, falling almost into the background of the sweet and charred taste of the roasted pepper sauce. The ham and chick pea ragout was another hit of depth and earthiness – salty and robust, with toothsome chickpeas and salty, crunchy bits of ham. Though this was a well made dish, I prefer a bit more of an oceanic taste when I eat fish – this is more for someone who craves smoky or earthy flavors.  
Cuban Style “Steal Frites”, Traditional Chimichurri
This blew me away! Not because of the yucca “frites,” which I actually found oddly chalky and dry. Not because of the chimichurri, which was pleasantly herbaceous with cilantro, parsley and citrus zest. Not even because of the perfectly fried onion strings, sweet and crunchy, juicy in the middle and caramelized to a burnt crisp at the edges. IT was because of the steak. The steak, cooked to a perfect deep pink, had an almost sugary crust that varied between sweet and spicy with the zip of black pepper. The steak had a bit of chew to it, with a slightly aged, funky taste to it. Just fatty enough, and with a strong beefy flavor. This was the entree I would get again. 
Though I had to leave before dessert, I have no reservations about saying that this meal surpassed my expectation. The prices are commensurate with the neighborhood, the service is efficient and helpful and the food is very tasty. Not quite a destination restaurant, Calle Ocho IS a great destination for a drink and some appetizers – at least some of those stuffed dates.
Calle Ocho – not just for brunch anymore. 
Calle Ocho on Urbanspoon
*Note: My meal was paid for by the restaurant.  I was not paid or required to write a review, and my opinions are my own and, I feel, impartial.*

Bar Rafaeli and East-Meets-West Roast Chicken

When Marx Foods contacted me to participate in a recipe contest, I was psyched. I love cooking. I love chilies (what they specialize in). And I LOVE free stuff. You know what else I love? Breaking stereotypes. This recipe is for everyone who thought the only hot thing about being Jewish was Bar Rafaeli. This is for everyone who loves fusion dishes like Kimchi Quesadillas. This is East-meets-West Shabbat Chicken.
This roast chicken takes the flavors of Asia and Latin America and fuses them into one powerful roast chicken dish. Rice vinegar, a sweet and tangy vinegar used to give sushi rice its distinctive taste, blends with spicy Puya peppers and sweet Aji Amarillo chilies to create a sweet, hot and deep glaze for roast chicken. Fresh and pungent cilantro adds a final kick to the savory dish that is nothing like your mom’s roast chicken…unless, of course, your mom was WAY cooler than mine (sorry, Mom).
Serve it with mashed potatoes and challah at your next Shabbat dinner. It’s also delicious with coconut rice. And latkes. And I bet it would be amazing with some guacamole on a warmed flour tortilla…
So…what are you waiting for?! Time to prove that Natalie Portman isn’t the only hot Jewish dish.
EAST-MEETS-WEST ROAST CHICKEN:
INGREDIENTS:
2.5 Lb. whole chicken or chicken pieces
1 cup sesame oil
1 cup rice vinegar
1.5 Tbs. minced fresh, peeled ginger
1 Tbs. low sodium soy sauce
3 dried Marx Foods Puya Chiles
3 dried Marx Foods Aji Amarillo Chilies
1 cup fresh chopped cilantro leaves
2 Limes, zest and juice
1/3 cup honey
1 Tsp. togashari pepper
2 minced garlic cloves

1) Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. 

2)Reconstitute dried chilies as according to Marx Foods website, and chop into small pieces -about 1/2 inch each. Be sure to keep the seeds. Throw away water used to reconstitute.
3)Combine all ingredients except chicken in  a large bowl and mix well. 
4)Place chicken in a large, foil lined baking sheet, skin side up and pour marinade over it, being careful to pat the peppers onto the skin of the chicken if they fall to the bottom of the dish. Once the peppers are on the chicken, they will stay put. 
5)Roast the chicken until a meat thermometer says it is done, basting every 20 minutes. Serves: 4-6.
*Disclaimer – I was sent these chilies courtesy of the company to participate in the recipe contest. The recipe is my own.*

Sushi Samba – The Exception to the Rule

Sushi Samba. The name sounds simply ridiculous – like some strange Japanese cartoon character that Disney has backpacking through Brazil looking for her fish who lost a fin…
But the food is no joke.
Bright, bustling and chic, Sushi Samba had a true mix of locals and tourists of all ages. It still seemed a little bit too cool and gimmicky for me – sushi and Brazilian food?  But the waitress was super friendly and the menu really did seem sort of intriguing…

And when the sparkling wine I ordered came with a strawberry, I was sold. Strawberries and champagne (or sparkling wine…even sparkling wine that is a little TOO sweet, like this one) is just a divine combination. The strawberry just brings out the champagne’s sweetness, and the champagne’s dry edges make the strawberry taste deeper and more earthy.

My date, Sarah, and I ordered the seabass and miso anticucho to start with. Anticuchos are like Brazilian shish kebabs, except these were served with a sweet miso glaze. They are served with Peruvian corn – think corn on steroids and massive butter injections.
The meal was off to a great start. The fish was moist, mild and covered with a sweet and salty glaze that was just perfection. The corn was buttery, toothsome and hearty and really played well off that delicate fish. So far…Sushi Samba was kinda rockin it.
We next got the Kobe beef gyoza, with kabocha puree, because, if there is a dumpling on a menu, you have to order it.
Like voting, it is your duty and your privilege to order dumplings.
These were good, but not great (somewhat like the incredibly inept picture above). They were beefy, a little onion-y, a bit ginger-y, but no flavors really popped. Nothing said wow. And there was really no reason to use Kobe beef in this preparation – any fatty, sweet flavor of the meat was obscured by the other spices. The dumpling skin was a little thick for my tastes, and though the kabocha squash puree was nice, it didn’t seem to meld with the rest of the dish. Don’t get me wrong – for $10, this would have been a great plate of dumplings. But for nearly twice that much, it just didn’t measure up.
We then got some sushi rolls. From the left:
Samba 7 Roll crispy lobster, scallion, cucumber, celery, jalapeño, wasabi-chimichurri dipping sauce-this was DELISH! The lobster was fresh, sweet and tender underneath its crispy coating. The jalapeno added a gentle heat and the celery and scallion added lightness and an umami kick, respectively. The dipping sauce was toocreamy for my personal tastes, but the rice was well made and the tempura claw and tail they give you are very much appreciated. Gold star for this one!

Inca-salmon tataki, snow crab, romaine lettuce, caper mustard
Excellent-fresh, fatty salmon, sweet, clean crab, and the caper-mustard mayonnaise was a refreshing and welcome addition to the dish.
This was a pretty awesome meal, I have to say! I would go back for more of the anticuchos – they have one with foie gras, so I REALLY am dying to go for THAT.  Though the gyoza were disappointing, the sushi was so great that I would love to go try some more rolls there. This is not about the kind of minimalist, exquisitely formed, omakase sushi that I especially love. This is the kind of sushi that is wild and crazy and I love anyway.
Because…when you get down to it…how do you not love a place called Sushi Samba?
Sushisamba 7 on Urbanspoon