I recently took a spur-of-the-moment trip to Brazil. Without having to dig out my passport, pack a bag, or exchange currency. How did I do that? Well, I was invited to visit Montclair’s only Brazilian restaurant, Samba.
Owned by Ilson Goncalves, a native of Brazil, Samba recently welcomed a new chef and new menu. Chef Roberto Carnero, a graduate of the International Culinary Center in NYC, took over the kitchen in March, and has transformed the menu into a delicious, virtual trip to Brazil.
Chef Carnero offered one of his signature dishes, butternut squash soup with shrimp. Presented in the hollowed-out squash, the soup was luxurious and the shrimp were perfectly cooked. I scraped up every bit of the squash to make sure I didn’t miss one delightful mouthful.
One of Brazil’s traditional dishes has been transported to north Jersey with Chef Carnero’s bolinho de mandioca. Lovely little pastries made with yucca and filled with dried beef and more of that fabulous butternut squash. This was followed by a roasted beet salad topped with strawberries and creamy goat cheese.
The main act was Chef Carnero’s tender skirt steak served with roasted cauliflower and farofa (toasted yucca flour). Make sure you try farofa when you visit. This side dish reminded me of polenta, and had a tender nuttiness that I loved. Because farofa does not seem to be well known here, I asked the chef about this dish. “Through my research many restaurants use only the southern farafo,” he said. “I personally like the northern farofa. I like the texture. We use a Brazilian purveyor from the ironbound section of Newark. Preparing the farofa is tricky as the more milled southern farofa can burn quickly, which obviously changes the flavor. We bloom garlic and onion until it browns but doesn’t caramelize, adding saffron when the time is right. We then add the raw farofa until it’s cooked. If it not cooked, you get that raw chalky taste in your mouth.”
Two terrific desserts completed my little weekday visit to Brazil, a luscious mango mousse, and a flourless yucca-coconut cake with dulce de leche and passion fruit sauce.
Samba’s warm, casual interior invites you to linger awhile, and candles and wall sconces provide a romantic atmosphere. I understand there is a lovely outdoor patio that I look forward to enjoying next summer. But I don’t think I will wait that long to return to Samba. Chef Carnero’s inventive Brazilian-inspired cuisine in nearby Montclair may just satisfy my culinary wanderlust.
Terry Krongold is a life-long, passionate baker. In addition to a full-time job in the pharmaceutical industry, Terry has been involved with food for many years, including co-ownership of a dessert catering company in the late eighties called I Love Cheesecake, specializing in fine cheesecake and unique desserts. Terry is the author of The Cook’s Tour, a blog focused on food, baking, and travel. When not working, writing, or baking, she spends time planning vacations around restaurants to visit. She can be reached at [email protected]