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Bossa Nova

A Groovy Feast

A little piece of Brazil lives in a sweet SOMA spot called Bossa Nova. Easy to miss from the industrial, boxy façade of the exterior, the only thing distinguishing the restaurant/bar in any way is a small sticker of the Brazilian flag on the door. If you’re lucky enough to notice it and walk in between Tuesday and Thursday, you’ll be treated to a live bossa nova band. If you're looking for a cozy corner in which to dine, however, the glam scene and party vibe that often permeates the space could be overwhelming.

We checked out the restaurant on a Wednesday night and were delighted by the jazzy beats of a 3-man ensemble. We were immediately taken in with the sultry vibe of the music and charm of the décor, from slats of champagne riddling racks transformed into table bases to the mismatched chairs. And the creative flair of a chandelier fashioned by a glass plate rafting heaps of candles illuminated the room softly.

Even the foxy staff appeared to be having fun, sporting soccer tees and stylish caps, moving to the groove as they checked in attentively with their tables. Our friendly and helpful server was very well-versed in the menu, explaining its organization and noting some of the more authentic specialties along the way.

If there’s a drink that screams Brazil it is the Caipirinha ($7), made with lime, sugar, and cachaça, a liquor made from sugarcane juice, likened to rum. And if there’s a place that does it right, it is here, the only place I’ve seen with a selection of cachaças. I’ve tried and tried this cocktail at bars around town and have repeatedly been disappointed. Not here. It is just as perfect and refreshing as any I tasted around Rio. Try it with one of the aged cachaças or one infused with fruit.

With drink in hand, we studied the menu, which is broken down into small plates, churrasquinhos (meat skewers), main dishes and sides. We began with the hearts of palm salad ($7) tossed with peas, olives and tomatoes. While the flavors and textures worked and the hearts of palm elicited nice flavor and crunch, they were sliced too small and seemed too sparse to be the featured element of the dish. We also tried the “peixe com limao” ($11), a ceviche of Alaskan halibut, the Latin replacement for tartare on many menus these days. This nice rendition featured fresh and tender slices of halibut, dressed with Peruvian corn. The combination of lime juice, pickled jalapeno and red onion imparted a nice balance of citrus, tang, and heat. The salt cod croquettes ($7), deep fried fingers of creamy salt cod, were slightly over-fried; however, the flavor came through nicely and was paired with a spicy sauce for dunking.

The churrasquinhos ($7-12) are a good alternative to a main dish if you’re sharing. The skewers of grilled meats come with a trio of savory sauces -- chimichurri, salsa verde, and mango. For the meats, we chose the lamb tenderloin, beef rib-eye, and pork sausage, all grilled perfectly.

We continued our gluttony, sharing the Moqueca ($19), a national Brazilian seafood stew composed of coconut milk, soffrito and shellfish. The coconut rice ($4) is a good accompaniment to soak up the delicious stew. And the black beans with pork belly ($4) is another side dish worth ordering. For someone who doesn’t like beans, I devoured most of this rich, earthy dish all on my own.

The dessert selection was a letdown after the carnival of flavors up until this point. The selections were not tied in with the rest of the Brazilian-centric menu except for a tropical fruit plate that didn’t even seem to try. We craved something with açai or a treat made with condensed milk. We gave in to a dark and white chocolate mousse duo ($6). It unfortunately tasted frozen and store bought. I should’ve had another caipirinha instead.

If you’re not crazy for this cocktail like I am, there is always wine. The selection here is modestly priced, emphasizing South America, Europe and California. We tried a Bordeaux blend red from Bento Goncalves, Brazil ($38). Very drinkable, it was not half bad, considering Brazil is not known for its grapes as are Argentina or Chile.

There is something to be said, however, for good wine service, especially in this wine-obsessed city. Our first bottle came corked, so we politely informed our server. She returned after having most of the staff taste it only to request if we would like a different bottle of wine. She explained that it was a policy after this occurrence to not serve us the same wine. Surprised, we responded that we still wanted to try the wine, to which she obliged. Later, a manager came by to check up on us and apologized profusely for the quality of the wine. A corked wine is a corked wine to the fault of the cork, not the restaurant serving it -- a sign that management may be a little green to wine etiquette. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our second bottle of Brazilian red, this time cork-free.

With its fun, casual atmosphere, solid cocktails (and happy hour weekdays 5:30-7:30), really good food, and groovy beats, Bossa Nova is a winner all around.


Reservations Essential? No.