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Tiradito and Turf

At Samba Grille, David Guerrero is breaking the traditional steakhouse mold wide open.

Take a tour through Samba Grille's elegant dining room and fiery kitchen.

Steakhouses downtown are plentiful. Houston's central business district is a natural host to these types of meat-heavy, suit-filled, high-testosterone establishments, perfect for entertaining clients or out-of-town guests. Come to Texas and get a steak, whether you visit a standard like downtown's Strip House or a churrascaria like Nelore.

Samba Grille is not one of those places. This quietly elegant South American steakhouse in downtown's Theater District is something altogether different.

The silky beef hearts are ringed with garlicky-hot ají amarillo sauce.
Troy Fields
The silky beef hearts are ringed with garlicky-hot ají amarillo sauce.

Location Info

Map

Samba Grille

530 Texas Ave.
Houston, TX 77002

Category: Restaurant > Brazilian

Region: Downtown/ Midtown

Details

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 11 p.m. Fridays, 4 to 11 p.m. Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays. Caesar salad: $7
Lobster corn bisque: $10
Arepas: $12
Peruvian beef hearts: $12
Scallop sashimi tiradito: $13
Tamarind-glazed salmon: $23
Nine-ounce filet: $34
New York strip: $39


READ MORE
SLIDESHOW: Samba Grille Breaks the Steakhouse Mold Wide Open

BLOG POST: Samba Grille and Its Chef, David Guerrero, Are About More Than Just Steak


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This restaurant breaks the traditional steakhouse mold wide open, replacing boring standards with confident and exciting South American flavors that take their cues from the modern cuisines in Peru, Brazil, Chile and Argentina. If you order a New York strip steak, don't expect boring sides of creamed spinach and garlic mashed potatoes. Here, it's crispy yucca frites that are addictive in their unusual, starchy crunch or a deconstructed Caesar salad shining with lemon-infused croutons and a peppadew confit.

Samba takes the surf-and-turf conceit and turns it on its ear. Instead of the old standard, a crab cake comes plated in a brilliantly sweet maracuya beurre blanc next to a filet with a peppery, crusty char that gives way to a warm, pink center, melting like butter on the tongue. The creamy corn bisque is brightened with cheery tomatoes, a touch of cilantro oil and tender bites of butter-poached lobster, while an appetizer of silky beef hearts ringed with garlicky-hot ají amarillo sauce is so rich and thick it could pass for an entrée of its own.

But it wasn't always this way.

When Samba Grille first moved into the space between Mingalone and the Verizon Wireless Theater in downtown's flashy Bayou Place development in August 2010, it was a traditional rodizio steakhouse with gaucho-style meat served tableside from giant skewers.

It was very good, but nothing out of this world. I recall thinking on my very first visit that while the dining room was gorgeous and the wine list unique, Samba Grille would have to offer something else to attract Houstonians in an already meat-saturated city — one that also already has a dozen great Brazilian steakhouses to its name.

Samba Grille's owners apparently thought the same thing.
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Owners Nathan Ketcham and Estella Erdmann — both industry veterans who tackled downtown after years of working in The Woodlands — took a long, hard look at what their customers were ordering and what items were selling best. That meant the increasingly popular à la carte items became the entire focus of the menu when the rodizio menu was scrapped in June 2011, although steaks were still given equal treatment. The change was smart, because the endless choices provided by rodizio service encourage people to linger — not a good fit with the theater crowd.

New à la carte items included a sunfish in Samba's bright maracuya sauce, the passion fruit puree coaxing out a sweet, buttery flavor in the delicate fish. And the restaurant started improving upon its sides: a plush, verdant jade soup that was now creamy and well-balanced while empanadas had a fine-tuned flaky crust.

As the menu moved in a new — albeit still strongly South American — direction, so did the restaurant. And over time, Samba Grille became an entirely new creature, sleek and refined, its best elements distilled into a new whole.

The restaurant added a smart, three-course "business lunch" to complement its date-night vibe in the evenings. At night, the sleek dining room and elegant black-and-red color scheme call to mind a more chic update to the traditional steakhouse aesthetic, but by day it takes on a quiet, refined feel that's ideal for a business lunch setting. The simple patio out front lends itself to a more casual lunch and offers stunning views of the Theater District skyline.

That three-course lunch is only $19, a steal for the same elegant courses you'd get at dinner in slightly larger portions. The Caesar salad is there, as is the lobster-corn bisque. But at lunch you can try a few different options, like a Peruvian rotisserie chicken with papas fritas and an avocado salad or duck fried rice served with oyster mushrooms and Brussels sprouts in a rocoto-ponzu sauce (all of this a nod to the distinct Chinese and Japanese roots in Peru's national cuisine). And what would fried rice be without egg? Here, your egg is served on top, fried to a beautiful golden yellow.

But despite these changes for the better, Samba Grille has continued to face challenges. For one thing, only two days after its doors opened, the neighboring Angelika closed. Like dominoes, many of Bayou Place's tenants followed suit. But Samba continued to adapt and to hold on, and the Sundance Theater has now moved in, along with a roster of other businesses.
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Samba Grille's evolution meant it had to part ways with its initial chef — the talented Cesar Rodriguez, whose skills were more appropriate for its old rodizio menu — and find one that could continue steering the restaurant in its modern South American direction. The decision was made to promote from within, and sous chef David Guerrero took over in May 2011.

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5 comments
Mockingbird
Mockingbird

I liked Samba much better beofre the 'upgrade'. My 'go-to' dishes are gone now, and I was very disappointed.

Tom C.
Tom C.

Nice job. This fine restaurant deserves this review. Hats off to the whole crew at Samba Grille!

 
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