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Cafe Samba

Update 3/22/13: Cafe Samba was Samba Lounge for a while, and then became The Side Door Grill and Tap.

In a word: Cabana reduxion.

The specs: #0749  
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; reviews at Yelp, sarah learns; listing at Eat Drink Madison; official web site, Cafe Samba on Urbanspoon

Latest Cafe Samba news and reviews

JM ate the sirloin sandwich with a lemonade.
Kristine and Nino split the beef skewers, greens, and yucca fries with a caipirinha.
Nichole ate the feijoada with a Lakefront Fixed Gear and another $4 midwest tap special that escapes recollection.
The bill was about $18/person, plus tip.
JM, Nichole and Nino gave Cafe Samba a B+ (see our grading rubric).

Deja vu. Cafe Samba used to be Cabana Room, and merely changed its name, but our list rules called for a revisit. We brought folks who know from Brazilian food and enjoyed some happy-hour type specials and a few small dishes.

The bartender was a great hostess, and made a refreshing caipirinha which Nino said went down easy - "don't let the smooth taste fool ya!" Sadly the Fixed Gear was more sour than Nichole remembers (dirty tap line, perhaps?) - it's usually so hop-sassy - but by the time she picked a different tap for her second, we were too deep in conversation to remember the name. No objection to whatever it was. In general, beer drinkers will be happy here. There are 22 taps and a plethora of rum brands behind the bar (but no Cane & Abe? Travesty!), which we'd expect from a branch of Madison's Lee liquor empire.

FriesThere's food too.

Pale yucca fries with lime aioli were good. Simply salted and peppered, the thick wedges of mild root had a texture that was a "nice combo of crispy and mushy."

We drew the short stick with the rodizio skewers. They were on the "large plates" potion of the menu, and at $16 the beef was the most expensive of the meat choices (linguica, pork and chicken are the others). Yet there was probably no more than 6 ounces of meat total - certainly not enough to split and be satisfied. That said, they were delicious, each morsel of beef seared to a little char on the outside but juicy inside. A tambour of rice and sides of chimichurri and a tomato-based molho rounded off the dish.

We did find the generous side of perfectly done and not-too-salty collard greens, at under $3, to be a steal. The prices of meat versus veg probably reflect the true cost of the meal if you look at it from a Pollanesque perspective.

SkewersGreensSirloin sandwich

JM got a meat sandwich - the sirloin, which came on a crusty roll with barbecued, sliced beef and spicy giardiniera for heat, and aioli and goat cheese to tame it, though the sum of salt was superfluous. And while they weren't, they had the moves like sliders. (No fewer than two people thought they were the other dish. Maybe it was the presence of sandwich picks). The side salad was pretty bland, but it was included with the sandwich.

Nichole got the feijoada again. It was still good, and still too dark to take a picture of. It was full of black beans, sweet with orange juice, and topped with more collard greens. The old menu described it as "sausage, bacon and meats," which we thought was charming, and we noticed that it's now called "stewed beef and lamb."

Nino opined that the men's room was amazing, and "they should do a photo spread of it in Architectural Digest -- or at least Madison Magazine (if it's a slow month)." We'd read that. Other bathrooms we'd like to see in that feature:

Where else? (Thanks, Twitter people!)

Anyway, we apparently also went near the date that a recent Groupon was to expire. When our server brought the check she asked if we had a Groupon. Apparently we look like Groupon people.

Cafe Samba has changed a little more than just its name; the menu includes more seafood than it did, the sandwiches are different, and the prices are up about 25% since 2007. Our opinion has slipped just slightly from "let's go to Cabana Room!" to "OK, Fred, if you want to go to Cafe Samba, that's cool."


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Speaking of bathrooms ... the one at Trader Vic's on M wins the gas station prize. It's a beaut!

yea - I'm not quite as crazy about this new rendition. It's fine and I'd certainly go there if someone suggested it, but I used to love going to the Cabana Room for lunch - they had a very nice menu and some great lunch specials. Some of my favorites are gone - like the curry chicken wrap. Boo hoo.

I think the bathroom at Graze is pretty. We also joke about the beauty of the bathrooms at Cafe Samba. We use to frequent the previous incarnation.

The Glarner Stube in New Glarus has a famous urinal: http://www.urinal.net/glarner_stube/

The bathroom at Macha tea house is quite lovely!

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