New Austin Restaurant Review: Sampaios
- Travis Leroy Mar 29, 2006 11:17 PM
Located at 4800 Burnet Road. This is a very attractive, upscale Brazilian(?) place, but noisy. The menu had a lot of interesting items, many things I'd never heard of (mandioca griddles, farinha de mandioca, farofa) and the entrees were reasonably priced ($12 to $18).
For non-drinking vegetarians the experience was very limited. There was a wine list, which I cannot comment on. The drinks being served around us looked excellent.
There were no vegetarian entrees, per se, but there were two entrees listed with the notation that they would hold the meat for vegetarians. The dishes being served around us looked excellent.
We had two house salads ($5.50 each), which were very tasty, and two appetizers: the cheese puffs ($5) which were bland and doughy, and the potato and cheese stuffed rice balls ($5) which had a more interesting flavor and a nice red pepper dipping sauce. We shared the Mexido de Galinha, hold the chicken ($11 minus the chicken, $12 with). It was very good, but would have been better if they had substituted some grilled vegetables for the chicken.
Service was iffy. I hate it when several tables are seated after me and get promptly served while I sit with my closed menu, being ignored. But this is likely going to improve as they mature. It has only been open a month.
All-in-all, I think I would give it my highest recommendation. The average meat-eating, hard-drinking, fun-loving chowhound will probably love this place.
re: Travis Leroy
Sampaio used to be on San Jacinto near Speedway and the Crown and Anchor. There was a whole story about two guys owning it and one guy buying the other out. The name was changed to Sao Paulo and the food became less Brazilian (and I liked it less). Many of us were (are?) excited that they havbe reopened Sampaio.
Bacalao is dry salted cod. It is the food of the gods.
My Italian family knows it as Bacala. In the West Indies is is frequently called saltfish. It was originally the fish that the whole world ate. It was even a major product shipped during the triangular trade you remember learning about in middle school history class. Cod was cought and dried in New England. Cod and rum were shipped to Africa (some went to Europe). The rum (and some fish were traded for slaves in Africa. The slaves and fish were taken on the Middle Passage to the West Indies and South America where they were traded for sugar and molasses, which were taken to New England and made into rum, and salt which was used to dry fish. The saltfish was the main source of protein for the slaves that worked in the sugar fields and the salt pits of the West Indies. When the slave cookery was mixed with Indian and what all, the wonders of what is now Carribean cookery were born. Fleets of European fishing boats had been fishing for cod off the Banks for years before Columbus "found America." It is thought thay they may have landed and used the shores for fish drying but the fishermen were so secretive about their prime fishing grounds that no one else in Europe knew what was really out there. That's very simplified, I know, but I have already babbled far too long.
I've attached a link to a book by Mark Kurlansky on the history of the fish. It's a spectacular book for anyone with a passing interest in fish, food or history. There are even some good recipes in it.
Anyway, I love bacala. Usually at home I make it in yeast dough fritters, bacala frita, or in a saltfish fricassee served with roti. When I found a restaurant that cooked with salt cod, I jumped. It was excellent. Unfortunately it was so long ago and I only got to eat it once.
Sampaio's website is still under construction, including the menu, so I haven't been able to check and see if they have the bacalao.
Anyone know, or am I going to have to go there myself? Oh what a martyr.
re: Seamus Mitwurst
I too have an affinity (addiction?) to bacalao. As there are no Portuguese restaurants within a couple of hundred miles of me. I feel fortunate that I'm able to buy whole salt cod, very reasonably, right at the farm of the fisherman here in rural Maine. It is also an old staple here. Salt fish(bacalao) with pork scraps and potatoes, is, I feel a much more traditional Maine food than lobster. ( In the old days lobster was po' folks food and even fed to the prisoners in the state pen a 100 yrs ago!) Now to the point. Are there more places that serve bacalao than Sampalo in Austin?
No Balcalau at Sampaio's FYI.
Here's a link to some other posts about Sao Paolo.
When they were one restaurant, it was incredibly good and cheap. I ordered Balcalau mostly. I haven't had it since, and I can't confirm whether the dish exists in Austin. Sambamaster made the comment that neither owner believes that Austinites will eat real Brazilian food. (I know that a portion of my dining companions thought that the idea of a salted fish dish sounded weird).
We went tonight for dinner. Don't have a lot of time to write, but we had a chicken/crimini mushroom estroganoff (or something like that) for $12 and a shrimp dish piled with green beans atop a large shrimp masa-like round thing - it also had a cream sauce - $18. We had the uneventful cheese bread (more like a dim sum-like bread-paste) appetizer thing (I think I remember that at the old location), which was only okay because we were very hungry. I had the Sampaio Martini (good, but a bit overly sweet with curacao, and it didn't give me much of a buzz at all - $7) and she had the mango margarita (excellent flavor - she had two @ $5.50 and was happy).
Drinks were good, we sat outside, which was nice (except for the citronella smoke), food was tasty at first but became too heavy toward the end. I didn't realize that the dish also had cream sauce. It was extremely rich and there was too much sauce - left a quarter cup of it on my plate. The shrimp themselves were okay, but not as good as the flash frozen ones from HEB. They need a better source. The shrimp masa thing was, well, not bad but I didn't enjoy it.
The chicken was the better of the two dishes, and at $12 was affordable, but it was simply served over rice. Maybe this dish with a non creamy dish would be a better choice. We chose this because it sounded good and was relatively inexpensive. I guess we were thinking everything would be less expensive, since the old place had most dishes <$12 and many <$10, including bacalau.
We left and said that it was okay, even tasted pretty good at first, and at least the drinks were well prepared. There was nothing overtly wrong with anything, but we said that we might go back and give it a try again. Then we passed some other places that we like to go and thought that we'd rather have the food a t those places for a fraction of the $60+ that we spent at Sampaio. Not that it was expensive as hell ($12 - $22), but vietnamese food is so much tastier and cheaper. Later we said that it would be a surprise if we went back.
And Seamus, be warned: no Bacalau, Feijoada, or any of the familiar dishes that we loved so much at the very affordable Sampaio of past. The menu didn't look as "Brazilian" to me, but more of a watered down gimmick (not that I'm an expert, however). I didn't even see any beans in anything, unless there were unknown-to-me bean names in the descriptions.
My wife and i went two nights ago. Live close to the original location and were looking forward to it. I'd say given how new it is, they are doing good, not great. Wait staff is definately under-trained/experienced. Food was executed well. And, despite some others experiences there are non-cream choices (or were that night anyway).
We had rice ball appetizer with great sauce, snapper with garlic saucing that was very good, and shrimp, with yucca/shrimp cakes and green beans that my wife loved.
Wine list was uninspired, but drinks were very good.
What is strange, as has been mentioned, is what's not on the menu. No Bacalao, Feijoada (which is lunch only on the menu). We asked, and the person who waited on us said they weren't ordered enough, but you can request them. However, they were out of Bacalao.
On a Tuesday night they were doing a very good business which is encouraging because it seemed a lot of what was lacking can be worked through with time. And, if enough people ask maybe some of those menu items will make it back on the main menu.
Update on Sampaio's: Went there last night with a party of six. Despite some pro/con reviews here, I've been wanting to give it a try. Brazilian cuisine is not something with which I'm familiar, so was interested in trying something new. However, now that I've eaten there, I don't think I really had Brazilian cuisine. Nothing really seemed unique or different.
We got there at 7:30 (on a Saturday night) and got a table immediately - not really a good sign. The table they gave us was a long extended booth - a terrible set up, as people on one end couldn't talk to people on the other end. Trying to decide what wine to get for the table when you're having to make yourself be heard to the other end was difficult, but we decided on a bottle and went from there.
Two of our party decided they wanted to try the fried brie as an appetizer. If you're asking yourself what's so Brazilian about fried brie, well, that's the same thing I was thinking. I wondered why it was even on the menu, but hey - I like cheese. so sure, let's go ahead and get some. It didn't taste bad, but it didn't taste good either - there was absolutely nothing remarkable about it. I could have been in any style cuisine restaurant and gotten the same thing. My wife ordered the mussel appetizer, which arrived slightly cold and covered with a topping of diced vegetables and breadcrumbs. There wasn't much of the verde-anise garlic butter sauce. She was underwhelmed by the dish.
The entrees came and we were introduced to the word for the evening - salt. Salt. Salt. Salt. I got the Camarao ao Moho de Cachaca, jumbo shrimp sauteed and served with mandioca (which I guess is a starch common in Brazil), which had been turned into some sort of a "cake" and grilled. The dish had possibilities - the shrimp were nicely sized and cooked well, but the flavor of salt was pervasive. Both the sauce and the mandioca cake were extremely salty. I felt like I was licking the inside of a french fry container. The more I ate the dish the thirstier I got. Unfortunately, the person filling our water glasses seemed to be taking long breaks or felt I was drinking too much water, because I was without for most of the meal. My wife ordered the special of the day, a red snapper lightly breaded and pan-fried served with stuffed rotini pasta. Again, it could have been really good - the fish was fresh and well cooked, but the salt was omni-present. Another in our party got the same daily special and mentioned the saltiness as well. The stuffed rotini turned out to be rotini pasta piped with a surprisingly flavorless tomato paste like substance. The other dish I tried within our party was the Milanesa de Frango, which basically turned out to be their version of chicken-fried chicken. Again, there was nothing remarkable about the dish.
I was pretty disappointed by the experience. I had hoped to experience something new. The food wasn't awful, but the saltiness completely overwhelmed any other flavors. The service was adequate, aside from me looking for water for half the meal. The prices are lower than most high-end places in town, but still in the range were I expect better than average fare. All in all, I would not recommend it.
re: Ken W
Thanks for the update - good attempt at trying different things and comparing everyones thoughts and tastes.We've gone for happy hour a few times recently and have enjoyed the mussels and the salmon cakes tremendously. Especially the salmon cakes. Happy hour ends at 6:30, FYI. I can't remember what they are called, but the Brazilian frozen margaritas are pretty good and strong (and only three bucks at happy hour).
I also love the mussels at Sam Paio's. We always order the feijoada at dinner even though it's not on the menu. It's generally VERY good, but the last time we went, it was way too salty. This is my favorite thing at Sam Paio's when they make it right, though. They also are willing to do takeout sometimes, if you call ahead.
My partner and I tried Sampaio's last night for dinner for the first time. I'm a vegetarian, he's not, but we'd heard good things about the coffee-crusted pork disk, so decided to give it a shot. It was a Wednesday night (Halloween -- we were avoiding the neighbourhood kids :) and we arrived around 6. We'd made a reservation, but there wasn't a person in the place. We decided to sit outside, since the weather's been nice lately. Not the best choice, since Burnet is right there, and fairly noisy (for our entire meal). There was music playing to help drown out the traffic noise (?) but it just added to the general noise level, making it difficult to casually talk to each other during the meal. Over the hour+ we were there, a few other couples joined us outside, and one ate inside. Overall, business was very slow.
The waitress we had (dressed as a nun) was friendly and it felt like she was enjoying her job. We didn't ask a lot of her, and our service was good.
Started with some iced tea and the fried rice balls (we don't drink, but they had a few alcoholic drink choices which would have qualified for the pre-6:30 happy hour). The ice tea tasted like a powdered mix, unfortunately. Of course, not sure if it was, but that was both of our impressions. We mostly stuck to water, after drinking half our glasses.
The rice balls were fried perfectly and showed up very hot at our table. The texture/crunch was great. The flavour was acceptable -- sort of like a mildly-flavoured risotto on the inside. The tomato-cream sauce was were the real flavour was, and made it enjoyable enough. But in the end, after 1.5 balls each, we'd had enough. The flavour had gotten boring.
My partner got a house salad, which was wrapped in a zuchinni slice. He said it was pretty good. I later had a bit of this with my main meal, and I found it to be all right. Extremely oily (too much dressing), but not bad if you like that kind of thing. It was a regular mix of greens, finely diced tomatoes, green olives, and hearts of palm.
I got the pear-walnut salad, which was easily the dog of the evening. The lettuce on the salad was a small handful of greens on 4 giant leaves of -- spinach? Basically the large, tough outer leaves from the head. On that was an ENTIRE poached pear, and some candied walnuts and a little cheese. Drenching the entire thing was a dressing which was predominately made up of mustard seeds. Had a very tart, unappealing flavour to it (though at least it was different; some might like it). The real mistake, for me, was the thick warm poached pear, which had a rubbery texture and an unappealing flavour. I tried to muscle through it and appreciate it's "uniqueness", but had to stop, I was ruining my appetite. On the plus side, the candied walnuts were enjoyable, but probably store-bought (the glaze on them didn't look clear/fresh).
My partner's coffee-crusted pork dish arrived with the rice and a cherry sauce on top. It looked great, but I did notice the pork looked over-cooked (to my vegetarian eye :). He says it was actually cooked all right inside, but that it had been over-charred on the outside, giving it a burnt flavour. Not sure if that was the coffee-crusted flavour or not, or how much each was contributing. In the end, he nearly cleaned his plate, so it couldn't have been bad, but he said he wouldn't get it again (if we ever returned).
My vegetarian meal was a vegetable medley mixed with mashed yucca root and a curry sauce, all wrapped in a banana leaf. Everything arrived very hot. The sauce was rich and tasty, the yucca had a nice flavour to it, and the vegetables -- though I couldn't tell you what they were -- were the right complement. The rice served on the side had a very nice flavour to it (couldn't tell you what was in it), but it was overcooked and very slightly crunchy in places. Overall, a decent meal. If I went back again, I'd try something different, hoping for something better, but this wouldn't be a bad back-up.
All in all, our meal came to $50-something for two people. I'm not sure we'll be going back any time soon, but it wasn't a bad experience all-in-all. I just think there are probably better ones for us. :)
Maybe it was the influence of the alcohol, but I really liked the yucca with curry sauce! To note--they have a separate vegetarian menu with prices pretty much under 10 dollars. Had the brie, too--it was nice, but I agree that there was nothing "Brazilian" about it. Just tasty cheese.