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Tiradito and Turf

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

It's Guerrero who developed most of the new dishes, even when he was still the sous chef, and who's equally responsible for the transformation of the restaurant itself.

Guerrero was diagnosed with brain cancer on April 17, 2010, at the age of 27. Like most in the restaurant industry, he has no medical insurance. After suffering a stroke during the surgery to remove a six-centimeter tumor from his brain, Guerrero lost much of the abilities in the left side of his body — including his Portuguese, his ability to play the piano and his sense of taste.

He lost his job as personal chef to Tracy McGrady when the Rockets player was traded to Detroit, but found a new one at Philippe after completing his cancer treatments. He ended up at Samba Grille shortly thereafter, as sous chef to Cesar Rodriguez, whom he eventually replaced. It was an impressive rally, to say the least.

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


Guerrero's new dishes, like a scallop sashimi tiradito bolstered with jolts of preserved lemon and stunning purple potatoes, surprised me in their complexity. The soft-edged scallops had been cured in chicha morada, a magenta-colored drink made from maize and sweetened into a popular Peruvian beverage that tastes of warm cinnamon and musky cloves. This type of culinary evolution — from rodizio to modern marvel — made me more excited with every successive visit to Samba Grille, wondering what Guerrero would have in store next.

He also redesigned the entire dessert menu, showing far more pastry aplomb than a savory chef normally does. There are the sweet desserts, like a housemade tres leches, to suit the typical sugar-seeking palates. But there are also elegant, understated choices like a pionono-style rolled cake filled with layers of soft, barely sweetened goat cheese served alongside a creamy scoop of maple-scented lúcuma ice cream.

Yet despite Guerrero's considerable talents and impressive dishes, I am always saddened to find the restaurant underpopulated. On my last visit, I sat with a friend at the sole occupied table for nearly two hours before another was seated at close to nine o'clock. Our waiter tended to us with great interest, producing each memorable course as if he were our friendly guide on a culinary tour of South America through Guerrero's eyes, and I happily dove into a wine flight showcasing four of the reds from Samba's wine preservation system, Winemaker, that allowed me to sample some excellent bottles for only $28.

My friend and I spent the entire car ride back discussing our meal, from an expertly concocted Pisco sour before dinner, to crispy arepas towering with tender shreds of chipotle-braised pork that managed to be both delicate and substantial at the same time, to a perfectly-cooked steak.

I have great hopes that Samba Grille will continue to turn in show-stopping numbers like these night after night, as it builds an appreciative audience for Guerrero's modern South American dishes. It's a great artist who can evolve and change without sacrificing his core. At this wonderfully nontraditional steakhouse, the steaks are better than ever — and the rest of the menu is, too.

katharine.shilcutt@houstonpress.com

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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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