Chef Chat, Part III: Cesar Rodriguez of Samba Grille

In this week's chef chat, we caught up with Cesar Rodriguez of Samba Grille (see our conversations here and here). Our talk ended with a personal plea to sample the burger. But first Chef Rodriguez brought out an appetizer.

Called Lobster Bites and consisting of Serrano-wrapped pieces of lobster over cilantro grits and lightly dripped with a maracuya (passion fruit) beurre blanc (warm butter sauce), this starter was absolute perfection. The sauce, with its slight citrus flavor, blended well with the sweetness of the lobster, creaminess of the grits, and saltiness of the ham. This item was recently featured on Samba's V-Day menu, and I can only hope it makes a return visit.

Afterward, I tried the burger. It was served alongside a basket of yucca fries. The lightly salted and peppered yucca was a nice alternative to the regular potato, and happened to be fried very well--not greasy at all, and crisp. The enormous half-pound burger was magical. The peppery aji aioli set it apart from normal burgers. Dripping with cheese and topped with the normal fixings, along with some sliced avocado--this burger was delicious and unique. Chef Rodriguez had previously bragged about Samba's fresh breads, and the burger's bun certainly proved him right.

Next, I sampled the red snapper, topped with jumbo lump crab meat and a shrimp. It was served over some asparagus and Swiss chard. The entire dish was topped with some of that delicate maracuya beurre blanc. The crab and shrimp played well with the slight bitterness of the chard. The nice portion of red snapper, along with the other elements, almost gave this dish a hearty feel.

Last, but certainly not least, was the dessert--tres leches. I'm not a fan of tres leches. Now that you know that personal tidbit, I'd also like to share that this version was far different than any I'd previously eaten. It wasn't overly sweet, and it wasn't soggy--two attributes I almost always associate with tres leches. I highly doubt you'll find better in Houston. What a great way to end a meal.

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