Cha-Cha Chow

Samba Room

The provenance of some of the other dishes may seem less clear, making diners wonder how "Latin" the food really is. Samba Room, itself named after a Brazilian dance, has appropriated a number of Brazilian recipes, including xinxim, a stew comprising sautéed shrimp and chicken in coconut broth that has been thickened with crushed peanuts. This is one of my all-time favorite dishes, and Samba Room does an admirable if slightly salty job with it, ladling the plump shrimp and succulent, boneless chicken pieces over rice.

Anyone familiar with Brazil's colonial history knows that the Portuguese settled the country and then brought in African slaves. Xinxim offers a fine example of how those two cultures mingled to create an independent cuisine that doesn't feature many dishes of Spanish descent. However, no one would argue that Brazil is not Latin American, and my Brazilian friends assure me that, although they don't consider themselves Hispanic, they do call themselves Latin. So there's the distinction. Regardless, I'm not sure why the aforementioned fried-calamari appetizer, which was some of the tastiest squid I've had in a long time, is being billed as Brazilian. I would understand if the calamari were tenderized in coconut milk -- not buttermilk, as our server told us. In fact squid, while common in Spain, is so uncommon in South America that not a single cookbook I consulted, ranging from The Book of Latin American Cooking to Tasting Brazil, had a recipe for it.

I have a more decisive quibble with the jerk chicken wings appetizer, the "banana spliff" sundae, and the "Rasta rings" (onion rings) side dish. I don't care how far you stretch the definition: Jamaican is not Latin, it's Caribbean. Fixing the gaffe would be as simple as renaming the last two items, but jerk chicken wings are thoroughly Jamaican under any title. As for the onions, they were good if a little greasy. Their appearance at our table mixed with squid rings, however, was a clear sign that too many dishes were being deep-fried together. Someone's not paying attention to details.

The wait staff does some fast moves, but the choreography needs work
Melissa Jones
The wait staff does some fast moves, but the choreography needs work

Location Info

Map

Samba Room

350 E. Las Olas Blvd.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301

Category: Restaurant > Central American

Region: Fort Lauderdale

Details

Lunch and dinner Monday to Thursday from 11:30 a.m. till 11 p.m., Friday until midnight. Dinner Saturday from 5 p.m. till midnight, Sunday till 11 p.m.
350 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-468-2000.

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Latin fusion may be less welcome when it comes to sweets. I had no desire to sample a chocolate-ancho chile flourless cake; no matter how fashionable this trend is, I think chile-and-chocolate combinations should be reserved for mole sauces. And coconut crème brûlée sounded as if the grainy coconut would ruin the texture of the custard. We did extend our already excessively lengthy meal with a green apple-banana cobbler that was both tangy and mellow. It had a crunchy top and was served warm enough to melt the scoop of coconut ice cream that crowned it.

One of the best reasons to visit Samba Room, aside from some fairly yummy main courses, is for its cocktails. Cuba libres, mango daquiris, and caipirinhas (Brazilian mojitos), among others, are expertly mixed and garnished with pieces of sugar cane. Then if the restaurant is too busy to seat you, you can drink your dinner instead, reclining on one of the sidewalk sofas. While you lounge the staff will eventually clear the room and ready it for Latin dancing, which happens at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. By that time the only problem you might have is your footwork, because that's when the Samba Room really lives up to its name.

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