I don’t do the samba, but I know it’s an Afro-Brazilian dance. I’ve done the
Samba Room only once, but once was enough to know it’s no Afro-Brazilian disco of authentic delights. It’s more like some office holiday party of attempts at smooth South
American–fusion moves. You know? Like some diligent corporate lackey came up with a festive theme & went all out decorating the lunchroom & sending a link to step-by-step instructional videos on You Tube, but it’s still just the lunchroom, & every other coworker watched the rumba video instead, & the fun only ever starts when everyone gets loaded.
That probably sounds like an insult, & it is, but only insofar as the phrase
“corporate lackey” signifies. Ethnoculinary authenticity being
the bugaboo that it is in a postpostmodern, multi-if-not-postcultural,
globally-thinking-locally-acting (or at least collectively pretending to) society like ours, there’s much to be said for
home-grown, even small regional chain–grown, approaches to the cuisines of
the world. But when a menu is shaped less by some passionate restaurateur’s personal experience & extensive research than by the P &
L statements & memos with the word “branding” in the subject line
& etc. his or her hired feasibility-study guns shoot off—as appeared to mine
both eye & palate to be the case—then there’s still much to be said, but
not as nicely.
the fact that it references just about every place in the world but Brazil
& its African relations: Colombia, Peru, Cuba, Argentina, Japan,
France, Maryland, New Orleans, even Hawaii in the form of “island sweet rolls.” Where’s
the ximxim, the vatapá, the moqueca & so on to which the name de jure if not
de facto alludes?
& for that matter, where’s the salt?
Why, right there, in the shaker just behind your 4-foot gladiolus of
ceviche & plantain chips, you might point out.
& right you are; in fact, I used that very shaker to season the visibly peppered but noticeably undersalted signature app, “made using the freshest available seafood & shellfish,” aka tuna. Hey, nada wrong with atún, other than the Spanish getting the letters backwards; it’s just that the implication of the description (oh, why can’t words just mean what we want them to mean when we want them to mean it?) is that we can expect an assortment of finfish & crustaceans. Still, lush chunks of mango & crisp bits of red pepper & celery, plus trace amounts of jalapeno, melded in swell fashion with the cubes of tuna—firm yet juicy, being so thoroughly marinated they could function as their own lime wedges—& in short it was really quite good beyond its misrepresentation by the menu & want for salt, the latter exacerbated by a heavy sprinkling of sugar on the plantain chips that was not merely unnecessary but in fact distracting, except perhaps to American restaurant franchise consultants acting on the assumption that their consumer base will demand bananalike sweetness from bananalike objects.
Likewise undersalted was the avocado-lime dressing on the house version of a Cobb; though nice & creamy, it thus couldn’t quite stabilize the jumble of chopped smoked turkey, mango, tomato & egg with manchego, blue cheese & black beans. Though not exactly bland, it didn’t pop as it otherwise might have.
Whether or not my companion’s vaguely Asian-influenced pile of greens with wonton strips & ginger-mustard dressing was equally bereft of flavor enhancement, it was, she assured me, no model study in textures, the grilled chicken being as “dry & tough” & the strips as underfried as they look.
Less in disarray was the interior design, balanced appealingly between Latin vibrancy & urban gleam. I’d be down with happy hour at the bar sometime, but the odds I’d pair my pisco sours with arepas or empanadas on the potentially buzzkilling dare that they’d be made of sturdier stuff soulwise than the above are pretty small.