Best Kept Secret Unvailed: Sampa Grill in Encino

I get really protective when it comes to restaurants I really, really, really love. I have no problem talking about my dining experiences anywhere else (good or bad) but when it comes to joints that I am absolutely head-over-heels for, I become hesitant to blog about them. Call it my culinary “I-don’t-kiss-and-tell” reaction when it comes to real love, or simply my selfishness to want to keep the hidden secret all to myself.

Sampa Grill, a Brazilian churrascaria located on Ventura Blvd. in Encino, is one of these special places that I’ve dined a several times in the past but never talked about until now. Why the change of heart? Maybe because I feel it’s time that everyone experience the pure culinary delight of this hidden gem. I’ve never been to Fogo de Chao, the super popular Brazilian BBQ with more than 20 restaurants in both U.S. and Brazil, so I am no expert on this type of dish, but I have been to a real, authentic churascaria in Brazil, so that should give me a little street cred in the meat department. Well, let me tell you … Sampa Grill gets an A+ in my book.

My boyfriend and I discovered this place a few years ago when it first opened, while looking for a place to eat on one of the iPhone apps, Urban Spoon. We weren’t particularly craving for meat that night but we were looking for a new place to try, and when we were done, we walked away with our new favorite restaurant! We were impressed with the friendly service (and many cute waiters, ladies) and the quality and quantity of the food.  Since then, I took my family here to celebrate my mother’s birthday last year.  The meats are prepared with salt and pepper only, and although you’ll never find a BBQ sauce here, the real flavor of the meat is enough to satisfy any hardcore carnivores. You won’t miss A1 or any other sauce that will take away the real flavors of the meat.

I made an homage to this gastro heaven last week because I just had to take Maya, another serious meat eater, to experience this true awesomeness while she was in town. I knew she would love it. 🙂 We got there just before the last lunch seating at 2:00 p.m. but there were still plenty of great appetizers, as well as hot food like my favorite sausages and black bean called Feijoada, at the bar to enjoy, before the endless servings of meat came by our table in a giant sword-like skewers.

This  little toy-like tool placed at each table allows us to prompt our hunger level!  The green means “more meat,” and red means “I am so full, I need to take a nap!”

I got California Roll, pasta salad, beets, caprese salad, Feijoada, and more, from the salad bar!

I enjoyed chicken, picanha (the prime-cut of sirloin), and tri-tip.

Look at these fine meats …

I absolutely love these little cheese puffs called Pao de Quejo. When you bite into it, you will be welcomed with soft and chewy cheese! I can eat these all day.

We managed to squeeze in a coconut flan for dessert. The plum sauce was not that good but the flan itself was amazing, with coconut chunks at the bottom!

Now that the secret has been unveiled, do yourself a favor and make a trip to Sampa Grill. It’s a guarantee good time and good eats for you and your family!

Sampa Grill
16240 Ventura Blvd., Encino, CA 91436
★★★★★

Let the Good Times Roll: Montana Grill Churrascaria

churrascaria-grill

Do you think these skewers will fit into my suitecase?

There are some things in life that are so fascinating that you just have to put it on your “things to do in your lifetime” list. For some, it may be to climb Mt. Everest. And for others, it may be to run a marathon in all 50 states. Although my action items are not that ambitious, I too have the “list,” and to nobody’s surprise, many revolve around food. I want to enroll in Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. I want to go (just to go) to Tsujiki Fish Market in Tokyo. And I want to experience churrascaria in Brazil. Well, thanks to my new friends in Brazil who took the time to show me the great Brazilian culinary ritual, I can check off one from the list.

Churrascaria, a Brazilian steakhouse where waiters serve different types of meat on a huge skewer at a table, is not only delicious, it’s an experience in its own. We went to Montana Grill located only a few miles from the office, and although the restaurant is not as famous as Fogo de Chao which is the oldest, and the most reputable churrascaria in Brazil (and has a restaurant on La Cienaga and around the world), it was still as authentic and still delicious.

churrascaria-drink

Cachaca with Passion Fruite. It’s typically made with lime.

The group that took me out to lunch this day was so out-of-this-world hilarious that I ended up crying the entire time from laughter, and when you add a few glasses of cachaca (the famous Brazilian liquor made out of sugarcane), you can just imagine how much of a side-splitting fun I had. It was me, Aldo, Essio, Gabriella, Monica and Bia, my little angel.

churrascaria-salad-bar

churrascaria-plate

The lunch started out with the visit to the all-you-can-eat salad bar that puts ordinary buffet to shame. My favorite items here marinated eggplants, white asparagus, beef carpaccio with mustard and capers, and pickled octopus. There were salmon sashimi and sushi rolls there too. (FYI, what you see on the picture above is my second plate … the first one was a lot more packed with food.)

churrascaria-barRight when I returned to the table, the skewers of meat started appearing non stop, and I had to flip the little card that reads, “no thank you” just so that I can pace myself! As each meat arrived, Aldo explained for me what it is. “Oh, this is ‘Picanha’, the sirloin, and the most popular cut of steak here” and “This is lamb, you’ll like it.” When Cordeiro arrived, however, Aldo couldn’t find the word to translation it, so instead, he pointed at his rib and said, “it’s this, it’s this.” And Essio, the comedian, said, “That’s not a rib, that’s FAT!” and we all died of laughter (note: Aldo is a slim man). Essio told me that his motto in life is, “I may lose friends but I’ll never lose my joke,” and Aldo’s is, “I may lose my self esteem, but I will never lose my joke.” In a span of just an hour, I had every part of a cow imaginable, including the heart which was chewy and flavorful. I meant to take more pictures of food but I was so busy devouring the meat 🙂

churrascaria-posing1Aldo, the adventurous one, took me to the kitchen to show me how the meat is cooked. The manager of the joint was so gracious for allowing us to go inside and even letting me pose with a skewer! I was so tempted to take it and run!

Montana Grill Churrascaria
Av. Pres. Juscelino Kubitschek, 817, Sao Paulo