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Downtown Review: SushiSamba Rio

By Amelia Levin in Food on Aug 29, 2007 8:10PM


Have you been to SushiSamba Rio on a Wednesday for “Favela Night?” Then again, have you even been there lately? The downtown Japanese/Brazilian/Peruvian hotspot has been open for some time now, but the weekday dinners definitely haven’t lost any hype. Chicagoist tried out the new fall menu, and boy, oh boy, if you haven’t been to Samba, now might be a good time to go.

The samba dancing, drum-beating, singing spectacle that takes place during Favela Night at 10 p.m. Wednesday alone is something to see — Brazilian dancers clad in like Vegas-style getups with glitz, glamour and feathered headbands; singers performing on a stage with a five-piece band; Congo street drummers pounding away; restaurant patrons getting up to join in the dance. It’s all a little much, but so much so it’s kind of silly, and it makes for some rollicking entertainment, especially when you’ve had a few mojitos, caipirinhas, sake, or, whatever.

The food is another plus. On this particular night we sampled a slew of some new menu items. One standout was the “quinotto,” a Peruvian dish with braised short ribs bathing in a creamy, risotto-like, quinoa mixture with nutty, sharp, manchego cheese and herbs. The term “wicked” is sort of outdated in our book, but it works for a description here.

08_2007_Chicagoist_SushiSamba2.jpgAnother favorite was the lobster and king crab gyoza. What a treat, and we’re told one of the most popular menu items — chunk shellfish in a toothsome and buttery, not greasy, encasing with a spicy-soy flavored sauce they refer to here as su-shoyu. We also liked the seared otoro Kobe beef — super-thin, super-delicate slices of carpaccio-style beef with sautéed shiitake mushrooms and a truffled tofu sauce that tasted nothing like tofu and everything like pureed truffles.

The rock fish a la plancha (pictured) was also a crowd-pleaser. Perfectly cooked (and we mean perfectly, as in not overcooked and maybe a little undercooked), meaty, and fresh white fish with a sweet-salty sauce made with grapefruit and something resembling a soy sauce. The jumbo shrimp ceviche (also pictured) with passion fruit, cucumber and cilantro had great flavor, but sadly the shrimp seemed a little chewy and overcooked.

SushiSamba can be a little on the expensive side, but if you’re looking for something a little more special and unique, it’s best to come in on these Wednesday nights. It was a lot of fun, and if you don’t have or care about it being a school night, head upstairs afterward to the super-chic lounge on the top floor with large windows overlooking city buildings, low-slung banquettes, a long bar, and nice spaces to hang with small, or even large, groups.

SushiSamba Rio, 312-595-2300, located at 504 N. Wells St., is open Sunday through Tuesday from 11:45 a.m. until Midnight, Wednesday through Thursday from 11:45 a.m. until 1 a.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11:45 a.m. (for brunch) until 2 a.m.