Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Logo image courtesy of Samba Montclair
7 Park Street
Montclair NJ 07042
A Brazilian culinary gem in Montclair, NJ
Due to the pandemic, Samba Montclair has arranged tables on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant and now can seat up to 32 on their sidewalk patio. Tables are separated by barrels planted with large hydrangeas and crawling vines, thus keeping the recommended 6 foot separation, so you can eat outside if you wish or you can take food home and eat it. Whichever way you decide to dine with Samba’s dishes, most of the food is very traditional, and everything is tasty and satisfying.
I first fell in love with Brazil and specifically Rio de Janeiro in 1960, when I saw the Camus film “Orfeu Negro” (Black Orpheus), a Brazilian adaptation of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice set in Rio during the Carnival. The song “Manhã de Carnaval” from the film's soundtrack is a bosa nova classic and, whenever I think of Brazil, that piece of music is always in the back of my mind.
I was lucky enough to have had as clients of my marketing company two five-star hotels in Rio and, in 1990, I flew there to photograph and tape the hotels so that we could start a marketing campaign for them in the US. One hotel was located right off the Copacabana beach, the other was off Ipanema. It was during that two week visit that I discovered Brazilian cuisine and specifically, Feijoada Brasiliera, Brazil’s “national” dish.
Feijoada is a very flavorful stew made with brined pork meat, smoked pork sausage, chunks of carne seca (salted, dried beef), fatback and pork trimmings with lots of black beans cooked for a very long time on a low fire. Both hotels served feijoada for lunch in their Michelin-starred restaurants on Saturday in large black electric kettles lined up on tables, each with a placard indicating what the content of that kettle was (there were different individual kettles for ears, snouts, fillet, shoulder, trotters, linguiça etc. all cooked in the black bean sauce). Feijoada is not considered to be a sophisticated dish and it was a bit incongruous for it to be served in a starred restaurant. It has its origins in the black slave communities of Brazil and it is traditionally served with white rice, sautéed collard greens, orange slices and farofa i.e. toasted cassava flour. “Weekend Feijoada Lunch” in those two restaurants was considered a very fashionable occasion in Rio, and the upper classes would book lunch tables for the entire family; it was a “see and be seen” event.
Since then, I’ve had feijoada and other Brazilian dishes here in the US, but Northamerican feijoadas normally don't have the pork trimmings – somehow the trotters do make a difference in the taste, probably because they release gelatin in the bean sauce. At Samba, their feijoada version is without the ears, snouts etc.; the dish has linguiça (the smoked pork sausage), pork ribs on the bone, fatback, carne seca and, I think what looked ½ of a trotter (but I might have been mistaken). It is slowly cooked for 24 hours and is served with garlic rice and spicy shredded uncooked collard greens or shredded uncooked kale; there is also onion, green pepper and cucumber chunks in a vinaigrette and, of course, the orange slices and farofa. If not absolutely traditional, it is still very good tasting.
Serving true Southern Brazilian home-style dishes, as owner Ilson Gonçalves describes his menu, Samba has been in Montclair for more than 10 years. Samba Montclair is a restaurant one must try, if really flavorful food is what you are looking for.
Most Brazilian restaurants have a selection of Salgadinhos, savory snacks made with chicken, ground pork, fish or cheese similar to stuffed croquettes; they are traditionally found in every bakery in Brazil. Something very similar and equally tasty is also on the Samba menu under the Bolinho label in Entradas (Appetizers). The green sauce that is served with the Salgadinhos is a blend of almond milk, parsley, garlic and spices and almost tastes like a yoghurt/parsley dressing.
I happen to love Caldo Verde, a hot soup ubiquitous in both Portugal and Spain. Caldo Verde Com Ou Sem Linguiça, Samba’s version, is a soup of potato starch and shredded kale or collard greens with or without slices of Brazilian pork sausage (linguiça) – of course, mine is always with.
Bobó De Camarão, is Yucca pieces and puree with coconut milk, tomatoes and onion served with large shrimp and white rice. I enjoyed a very similar dish during a visit a couple years back to Valle dos Vinhedos, the center of Brazil’s wine industry in Rio Grande do Sul. This part of Brazil is Italian speaking because the residents are mostly descendants of immigrants from Italy’s Veneto and Lombardy regions that arrived around 1875. In their kitchens, they have adopted many of the Portuguese and indigenous culinary specialties in addition to the Italian dishes they brought with them but most still speak an Italian dialect amongst them and make wines from Sangiovese grapes, from vines whose cuttings their ancestors brought with them, when they immigrated.
Roger Gomes, Samba’s Brazilian pastry chef turns out a perfect Flan topped with a ripe strawberry and a very exciting Passion-Fruit and Coconut Mousse and, I was told, a deeply satisfying chocolate mousse which we did not try at this time.
And that brings us to the wine that I brought with me to Samba, which is, please note, a BYO establishment.
Normally, since the dishes I tasted at Samba are Brazilian, I would have brought wine from Rio Grande do Sul; they make some very descent bottles in that region. Unfortunately, I have run out of Brazilian wines and the River Edge retailer I normally buy from, doesn't carry any Brazilian producers. However, many of the wines I had during my Brazilian wine-trip were Sangiovese-based, therefore I decided on a 2013 Resultum Sangiovese Rubicone Umberto Cesari’s top of the line, elegant, silky and full bodied, 100% Sangiovese wine from Emilia Romagna. It is an outstanding bottle that offers a nose of plums, violets and mixed forest berries with hints of tobacco and cedar. There is sweet fruit on the palate with lightly nutty notes, fine tannins, lively acidity and some salt at the long, balanced and lightly balsamic finish. It paired beautifully with the feijoada, and it wasn't shabby with the rest of the dishes either. I would rate it at 96/100 points when paired with the right dishes, like what we had at Samba, or 94/100 when tasted without food.
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