We’d eaten at the Samba Room once before, and had been favorably impressed by the service but rather underwhelmed by the food itself. We decided to give the Samba Room another, try, though, so we made reservations for 7:00 on a Tuesday evening. I don’t think that reservations were necessary, as the restaurant volume never got over 40% while we were there, but we’d rather be safe than sorry.
We are big fans of the mojitos at the Samba Room, so we grabbed 2 seats at the bar and settled down for a drink before actually entering the dining room. We’d read online that some mojitos were 1/2 price before 7 pm, so we were excited to take advantage of this offer. Mojitos usually cost $8 there, so half price was a good deal.
My husband ordered the Mojito Con Pina, a mojito with fresh mint leaves, pineapple juice, and a sugar cane stick for swirling. I ordered the Mojito Dos Coco, a mojito with fresh mint leaves and coconut rum. After tasting both of them, we quickly decided to switch mojitos. I really like the taste of pineapple juice, and my coconut mojito was stronger than my husband’s mojito. He preferred the taste of the coconut mojito and, since I was driving, the switch worked out well all the way around.
We were disappointed when we got the check to see that we’d been charged full price for our mojitos! I know it said that only “some” were 1/2 price, but I wish that the bartender had said something about this when we arrived. Half price mojitos are a nice selling point, and one that they should talk up more; it would also prevent people from expecting a discount that they weren’t going to get.
After finishing the drinks, we decided it was time to move on to the main dining room. The hostess asked us whether we’d like to be seated on the patio outside or inside. Now, the last time we’d been here, we had opted for the gorgeous lake view of the patio, only to realize that this was a poor decision. I am one of those people who goes ballistic if I see a bug hovering around my food or drink, and sitting on the patio about drove me batty last time. This time, we asked to be seated at one of the tables near the window, so that we would get all the advantages of the view, without the disadvantages of the bugs. Here was the view from our table:
Our appetizer was the Peruvian Fried Calamari with a chimichurri tartar sauce. This was okay, but not great, and here is why. The calamari itself was very soft and tender, and it tasted fresh. The breading, though, was slightly under-seasoned. The calamari was topped with tiny colorful pieces of red, orange, yellow, and green peppers, along with red onions. When eaten together, the small pieces of pepper and onion added a much-needed kick to the calamari. The chimichurri tartar sauce tasted like avocado mixed with cream and parsley. I looked up chimichurri sauce online, and it doesn’t seem to have much in common with what we were served.
While the tartar sauce here was nice and creamy and mellow, it just didn’t work that well with the calamari. The calamari was breaded, and kind of oily, and adding the fat of the avocado to the fat of the calamari breading tasted very mild and quite rich. A nice citrus sauce would have been great with this, as it would have really cut through the grease. The best calamari we ever had was at a restaurant in Sonoma Valley called Deuce, and they served their lighter-than-air calamari with a lovely lime aioli sauce. It was heaven on a dish.
We then moved on to our entrees. My husband’s entree was an entire fried yellowtail snapper, which was the special for the evening. The server told us that it cost a dollar less than it actually did, so, again, we were disappointed when the check came. A dollar is not a big deal, but still…
This item was HUGE. I’m sure it looked very creative and flashy, but I couldn’t get over the fact that an entire fish face was watching me throughout dinner. Those breaded-over eyeballs were quite creepy, and I was strongly reminded of the extremely unappetizing Dancing Fish at Bluezoo. My husband was not bothered by the presentation, though; he thought it looked interesting.
The yellowtail was stuffed with a rice/bean/sausage combo, which was not good, because he doesn’t eat meat unless we’re on vacation. To be fair, he didn’t ask whether the fish had any meat included in it (which is what I did with my entree), but the server also probably should have mentioned this in the description. He said that the sausage added a nice smoky taste to the rice, which he reported as tasting like my mother’s rice dressing (I am from Louisiana, and rice dressing is a big Cajun thing). The fish had a nice fruity mango sauce on it that I enjoyed a lot. The flavors were very mild, though, and my husband thought that the fish itself could have been better seasoned.
My entree was a Crispy Florida Red Snapper, pan seared over a warm spinach and grilled red onion salad, Shiitake mushroom “Al Ajillo” and mango beurre blanc. Sounds good, doesn’t it? It wasn’t. The fish was exceeding UNfresh. It tasted strongly of ammonia, so much so that I kept thinking I was eating blue cheese. I couldn’t eat more than half of it. My husband had two bites, and he agreed that it had a strong ammonia taste that made it quite unpleasant.
You may be asking yourself why I did not send my fish back, and the answer is simple: I was afraid to. I was and am afraid of some horrible, disgusting retribution on the part of the kitchen staff if I send back a dish. I have visions of someone hocking a loogie into my dessert or my replacement item. Call me paranoid, but that’s how it is. So I sucked it up and picked at my fish.
The spinach and red onions that accompanied the red snapper were interesting, and I ended up enjoying them. The red onions tasted like they’d been pickled. I think it was just that the vinaigrette poured over them might have been very strong, but they were definitely different. The more I ate, though, the more I liked it, though it definitely isn’t the kind of thing that I’d order more of. Frankly, it was a better alternative than the fish, so that’s why I kept at it.
The last time that we ate at the Samba Room, my husband ordered the scallops and I ordered the salmon. I think that both of these dishes were better selections than what we ordered on this visit, which is why I mention them. Neither the salmon nor the scallops were earth-shattering, but they were definitely better than the red snapper, and probably better than the yellowtail snapper.
The Samba Room offers small desserts in four flavors: Banana Brulee, Key Lime Cheesecake, Mini Carrot Cake, and Chocolate Mousse. We selected the banana brulee and the carrot cake. The banana brulee was very nice: light, soft, and creamy. It wasn’t too sweet, and was a good way to end a meal. This was my husband’s favorite of the two desserts.
My favorite dessert was the mini Carrot Cake. This dessert was sweeter and richer than the banana dessert, and I am a fan of carrot cakes. The maraschino cherries inside the cake added a nice texture to contrast with the creamy frosting. The frosting, however, was the star. It was a ginger cream frosting, which was outstanding. The ginger added an unexpected kick to the carrot cake and raised it above the mediocre.
Would we go back? Probably not. We preferred the entrees at Timpano (right next door) to the Samba Room entrees, but Roy’s is still our favorite restaurant in this area. I couldn’t help but contrast my ammonia-tasting red snapper with the unbelievably fresh, soft, luscious tuna we’d eaten at Roy’s. The service at the Samba Room was very good; our server was very attentive, which we appreciated.
On another note, my husband’s dish has made me seriously re-think my dining habits. I stopped eating meat for one reason: I knew that, if someone handed me a cow (or chicken or lamb or pig) and a knife and said, “Kill this and you can eat it,” I wouldn’t be able to do it. And in that case, all I was doing was hiring a hit man to kill the animal for me. I felt like a hypocrite.
Now, watching those dried out, breaded over eyes as I ate my dinner, I realized that I found my dish to be superior because it couldn’t watch me while I ate it. But if I’m not comfortable with a fish watching me while I eat another fish, then maybe I shouldn’t be eating any fish at all. Hmmm… Is this the end of my pescatarian adventures, and the start of true vegetarianism? Probably not until after our anniversary trip to Disney World next month, but after that – who knows?