The inviting space on Burnet Road is classy and modern yet comfortable and relaxed with a neighborhood restaurant feel
Reviewed by Claudia Alarcón, Fri., July 28, 2006
4800 Burnet Rd., 469-9988
Sunday-Thursday, 11am-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-11pmwww.sampaiosrestaurant.com
After a fantastic trip to Brazil in 2004, I haven't abandoned my almost obsessive quest for everything Brazilian. I was eager to check out Sampaio's to see if this newcomer offered a little taste of things Brazilian that I have saudade (longing) for. The inviting space on Burnet Road is classy and modern yet comfortable and relaxed with a neighborhood restaurant feel. The blue, glass-tile column in the center of the dining room divides the space from the bar, and with the green-and-yellow ceiling tones, it creates a stylized Brazilian-flaglike interior. Cool Brazilian rhythms permeate the atmosphere, and the tropical patio is inviting even on a hot day, especially to enjoy a few tropical drinks after work.
The restaurant's distinctive cocktails are well-prepared and refreshing. A Brazilian Mojito ($7), made with rum, cachaça, fresh mint, and lime served in a tall glass topped with club soda, is the perfect foil for the summer heat. The frozen caipirinhas feature flavors like guava and passion fruit. The wine list is not extensive, but it is well stocked with inexpensive yet good bottles with an emphasis on Argentina, Chile, Spain, and Portugal.
While the food is not strictly "authentic" Brazilian, it is still the closest that Austin has to the real deal. Since our first lunch visit was during a Brazil game in the WorId Cup, the place was full of effusive people clad in yellow and green. The cooks had been engrossed in the festivities, and they had not prepared a lunch special. Regardless of the distractions, what we ordered off the menu was very good. We started with Croquete de Salmão ($10), smoked salmon cakes topped with mango relish. We also sampled the Bobó de Camarão ($12.95), jumbo shrimp in a dendê (palm oil) and yucca sauce with tomatoes and bell peppers, served atop white rice. Although it was different from what I had had in Brazil, it was nevertheless delicious. However, the Churrasco Misto ($16) disappointed. The menu described two skewers of beef, chicken, sausage, and bell peppers served with a tomato vinaigrette and Chimichurri. Instead, they were drizzled with a creamy sauce and a tiny drop of Chimichurri on the side. Here, I would rather see a more traditional Brazilian churrasco, with good cuts of beef that showcase the natural flavor of the meat, rather than small mixed skewers. The Mexido de Galinha ($8.95) was a light dish of chicken sautéed with crimini mushrooms, corn kernels, and fresh cilantro tossed with white rice and topped with succulent fried plantain slices. The star of the lunch menu was the Pamonha de Porco ($11), perhaps best described as a "tamal" made with mashed yucca wrapped in a banana leaf and filled with the most tender, flavorful shredded pork, sauced with a hint of coconut curry. It is worth noting that this dish, as well as their feijoada, is not available at dinnertime. And, although the prices seem high for lunch, they are the same price and size at dinner.
The dinner menu holds its own surprises. We started with a tasty appetizer that we had tried in Brazil, Coxina de Frango ($7), consisting of spiced shredded chicken wrapped in mashed yucca and fried until golden. The malagueta pepper vinaigrette for dipping was fabulously spicy. We also enjoyed the Conchas ao Forno ($10), baked clams on the half shell topped with crispy bacon, peppers, and lemon butter. And the Salada da Casa ($5.50) is one of the nicest salads I've had recently, not only in its appealing presentation, but the zesty flavors. (I am a huge fan of hearts of palm.)
For our entrées, we tried three outstanding seafood dishes. The Camarão ao Molho de Cachaça ($18) features jumbo shrimp in a garlic and cachaça butter sauce; the Peixe Assado ($18) is grilled snapper with an Amazonian marinade and sautéed vegetables; and the Peixada Nordestina ($19), full of shrimp, mussels, and salmon in a spicy coconut broth, reminded me of the moquecas and ensopados I had during my wonderful stay in Bahia. Although I am a big fan of Milanesa ($12), it was the weakest entrée at Sampaio's. The Italian tomato sauce and melted-cheese topping and side of white rice were nothing special.
Sampaio's shone again at dessert time. The Chocolate Flan ($7) with fresh strawberry purée was silky and creamy and everything I had hoped for. For the serious chocoholic, the dense Chocolate Mousse Cake ($7) was chock-full of chocolatey goodness. And, if a full dessert is too much, one can satisfy the sweet tooth with a Batida de Coco ($7), a classic Brazilian cocktail made with cachaça, coconut cream, and evaporated milk.
Overall, I enjoy Sampaio's. The atmosphere and cocktails are great, the service is friendly (if a little inexperienced at times), and most of the dishes are delicious and plentiful for the price. I'd like to see Sampaio's go for more "authentic Brazilian" without fear. I think Austin is ready for the real deal.
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