Monday, September 19, 2005

 

Sao Paulo's

It is definitely cool that there is at least one Brazilian restaurant in town, namely Sao Paulo's. This place used to be called Sampaio's, and they're opening up a new Sampaio's-named place on Burnet. FYI, the number to Sao Paulo's is 512-479-9988.

Since I was born to Brazilian parents, I'm guessing I'm supposed to be a fine critic of Brazilian food. Unfortunately, I haven't eaten a whole lot of it in years, even from my mom, since most of the real stuff has meat. For example, the "national dish" of Brazil, called Feijoada, usually contains pork (if not, then beef). So in a way, I'm a novice, at least since I went vegetarian. Please keep this in mind.

When this place opened, under its old name, I freaked out; it was advertising itself as "Brazilian & Tex-mex", AND they didn't even get the Brazilian flag right on their sign. This was all very scary. I took my parents there. It was all very scary to them, too. I suppose I can empathize with the whole "tex-mex is an option" thing, especially since the place is so near to UT, but I don't see El Salvadorian or Columbian restaurants in town adding "and tex-mex" to their taglines. Also.. this place oozes weirdness anyway, because it's kind of "upscale" in service and price, yet it's adjacent to a convenience store, which is itself adjacent to a sportsbar (Posse's, one of my favorite locations). There are college students everywhere around here, all the time. Like 24 hours a day.

My parents' verdict? All they liked was talking to the owner in Portuguese. I have to say that's my verdict, too, after going there maybe 4 times now. There are about 3 or 4 vegetarian options, but only one of them seems to be a sufficient meal (the Palmito ao Forno, because it contains lots of cheese). My latest visit was around Labor Day weekend. Here's the data I have....

ENTREES:

Palmito ao Forno: "Huh?", in Portuguese, is what my mom said when I told her about this dish. Ok.. I didn't think it was too bad, but it's basically a consolation prize for the vegetarians. A layer of decent white cheese on top of a mixture of vegetables... mostly green beans and hearts of palm. It was a bit too salty. My friend ordered the same thing and privately confided to me later that day that she "absolutely hated it". It came with breaded, fried banana slices, with some kind of sweet dip. I thought those were ok. I believe the same friend "absolutely hated" these, as well.

Veggie Sandwich: Ok... er.. This might no longer be on the menu, actually. I had it a couple of years ago. It was pretty good... but definitely not a complete meal. My memory suddenly runs thin.

Bobo de Camarao: This being a shrimp dish, I haven't tried it. My mom ordered it once though, and decided it was pretty authentic, but almost spat it out. A friend of mine ordered the same thing two weeks and was absoltely unimpressed. Shortly after, he said something to the effect of "You know, the food here isn't really very good."

Chicken Milanesa: Another friend ordered this the other day, and seemed to be very happy.. I think I almost heard him yelp with excitement. To put it in perspective, my dog never yelps ... even with excitement.

APPETIZERS:

Fried Yuca: My mom's fried yuca is spectacular. The fried yuca at Sao Paolo's? Give me a break. They're okay, but I'll take fries next door from Posse's over these any day.. And for half the price. Maybe they'd be interesting if you're trying fried yuca for the first time. It's basically like french fries... except a bit different.

Pao de Quejo: This translates literally into "cheese bread". It's essentially little balls of bread where cheese is smoothly, uniformly part of the dough. Pretty good stuff, even here at Sao Paolo's. This is the best item at this restaurant. Little balls of bread.

Nachos: I guess this is one of those tex-mex items.. with a "twist" (!!!). That twist is apparently using wheat chips instead of tortilla chips. That's it. That's the twist. Is this review almost over yet? I think it is.

DRINKS:

Mojito: Whatever. The one at Saba Blue Water Cafe is much, much better.

Caipirinha: The latest one I had here was fine, though not as good as my dad's. The first one I had here? UGH! I think maybe they changed the recipe....

Passion Fruit Juice: The same friend to declared the Palmito ao Forno to be the enemy, liked this drink. The waiter said it was not freshly-squeezed, but.. it was still pretty good. How often do you see passion fruit juice?

That's it. Besides the nachos, I haven't tried the tex-mex stuff. I mean, if I wanted to, I would rather be at, say, any tex-mex place in Austin. The atmosphere is cool, though the look they're going for is probably spoiled if you look outside. Also, they had a jazz band playing during my most recent visit. Then there was the quirky waiter. It's a locally-owned place, which is cool, blah blah blah. Maybe having more decent food would help. Or at least slash the prices by 70%. Make it a food clearance sale, all the time. This message goes out to the new location: please improve on the first one.

Comments:
i dunno, man. i like sao paolo a whole lot. admittedly the place has gone a little downhill since it opened as sampaio's (and got a horrid health inspection score at one point) but i've enjoyed every dish i've ever had there, and i have literally gone down the menu and ordered everything at least once. it's also hard on its waiters--nearly never do people stick around longer than a couple months. the thing i dig about them is not their brazilian authenticity, but the way that they make almost everything taste *different* and better--even the salads and the burritos are special and tasty. i love the stroganoff and the shrimp taco (huge. beware) especially. their paella isn't the best on the planet but it uses *actual* saffron instead of yellow food coloring and handwaving. also i dig the palmito quite a bit, but i guess we'll just have to agree to disagree.

things that (almost) anyone can enjoy about the place: banana tots! you are wrong, them + dipping sauce = heaven. also their happy hour is pretty decent, though i can't recall the time or details right now. cheap yucca/tots/etc, and ultracheap margaritas and they have a little patio section to watch the world go by upon. and so, so, so much less crowded than pussy fest or cranker on the same block on a friday afternoon.

peace.
 
Yeah... I guess I haven't found the killer entree there or something. No man, I thought the banana tots were decent.. I was fond of the dipping sauce, too... Was just saying that my friend wasn't.

Honestly, the authenticity thing isn't a big deal to me... In fact, I'm happy it's not totally authentic, because otherwise they would have zero vegetarian options... except for appetizers.

Admittedly, I will have to try their tex-mex section, but as far as the rest goes... it seems hard for me to find really good vegetarian entrees there. The palmito tasted good to me, but it didn't make me go crazy or anything... I was probably a bit harsh playing the authenticity card on it. I have to try the paella, if they have a vegetarian version; I do respect the saffron-usage thing. South Congress Cafe also used real saffron in their rice when I went there.

I'm glad you liked the strogonoff and the shrimp tacos, etc. I'll recommend those to meat-eaters in the future. We should go there sometime. You have convinced me.

BTW I would have to say "pussy fest" is an absolute misnomer for their next-door neighbor. :)
 
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The restaurant overcharged us and is refusing to refund the difference, even though we have the receipts and proof of the advertised prices. In addition, they are extremely rude about this. We have taken this up with the Business Bureau.

Oh and by the way, the whole place REEKED of BLEACH. YUMMMMM.
 
The phone number is actually 512-473-9988.
 
My wife and I ate there when it opend. I am sad to see that it is not what it used to be. i hope they stick around I really enjoyed the food.
 
I have noticed that in almost every city / town there you will find some restaurant / shop named after the place itself. Its really interesting...
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