$19 Lunch at Samba Grille

I know that Eating Our Words isn't meant to be a weather report, but bear with me here, as we've been experiencing some unseasonably shitty weather...

By Wednesday, it's supposed to be sunny and cold once again, with a low of 43 degrees. That's more like it. And by Friday, it's going to be flat-out gorgeous: sunny with a high of 73 degrees. In other words, perfect weather for enjoying lunch on Samba Grille's fabulous patio.

I know what you're thinking: Patio lunch weather in December? Just be glad it's not 90 degrees or -- alternatively -- sleeting and colder than a witch's tit. And just be glad that downtown has such a civilized place to enjoy it, glass of sangria in hand as you watch the traffic dart around Jones Plaza and the sun glint off the Wortham Center and the skyscrapers beyond.

Samba Grille's $19 three-course lunch is a steal for those downtown diners who want something nicer than Brown Bag Deli yet more affordable than a steakhouse meal. And it has one of those rarest of downtown amenities: a broad, pleasant patio.

It was there that I perused the menu not long ago, trying to decide between the thick Jade soup or the Chef Caesar's salad for my appetizer between sips of a clean white sangria made that tasted of crisp apple and soft white peach.

The $19 doesn't include that sangria, but it does let you enjoy your choice of four appetizers, four entrees and three desserts. Not many people would consider a churrascaria like Samba Grille for lunch, but that's why the restaurant is trying to change people's minds with this prix fixe menu. It includes options like a yucca-crusted chicken breast stuffed with tart goat cheese, chimichurri-marinated flank steak and a sauteed sunfish filet in a bright maracuya sauce. It's the sunfish that caught my eye that day and I settled on it along with the verdant Jade soup.

When I first tried the Jade soup -- made with spinach and broccoli along with a lot of cream -- on one of Samba's first nights, it still had a ways to go. It was a bit oversalted and out of balance overall. The kitchen here listens to feedback, and the result this last visit was a creamy, brightly earthy soup that allows the vegetables' natural sweetness to blaze through all that cream.

I'd never had fish before at Samba, though; only meat. But the sunny passion fruit sauce, its sweetness tempered by the addition of acidic tomatoes, melded with the buttery sunfish in a pleasant harmony that left little doubt in my mind that the kitchen can handle its fish as well as its meat. Between forkfuls of garlic mashed potatoes and that soft fish, I was full even before dessert -- a pair of apple empanadas in flaky shells -- hit the table.

Luckily, they traveled well and made the perfect dessert for that evening's light dinner at home. Not bad for $19.

And, yes, you can still get the churrascaria service at lunch (if you have a party of eight or more AND if you RSVP ahead of time). And, yes, it's totally worth it.

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