MONTCLAIR, NJ - Ilson Gonçalves owner and culinary director of Samba Restaurant in Montclair hosted a tasting at his quaint restaurant on Park Street this Friday at 12 noon.
What was for lunch? Gnocchi created by the Brazilian son of a German mother who owned a home-style Brazilian restaurant in Minas Gerais, Brazil. That’s what!

Gonçalves told Tap into Montclair that he helped his mother in the kitchen since the age of nine. Her restaurant was on the second floor of a building in Minas Gerais Brazil.

In many ways his restaurant is reminiscent of his childhood experience. This intimate and rustic location on Park Street features traditional home cooked Brazilian fare.

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Gonçalves graduated college with a degree in information technology but never felt fulfilled in that profession. He came to the United States in 2004 and began working for Blu Restaurant in Montclair. By 2010 he took over this location which used to be a small bagel shop and very soon was serving a population anxious for wholesome home cooked food.

Gonçalves told us that the Minas Gerais area of Brazil is referred to as the golden path, since the king walked along there when it served as a train route for mining supplies and exporting gold.

Gnocchi with pesto shrimp and crispy leek topped with Brazilian cheese (queijo de Minas) started the experience. Gonçalves told us he was not competing with the Italians when he created this recipe. In fact, unlike the Italian version made of semolina or potato, this gnocchi is made of yucca.

Next came an acorn squash filled with shrimp and butternut squash, in a light coconut cheese sauce that delighted the senses, both taste and sight. The deep green acorn squash contrasted with the bright yellow butternut squash and purple garnish, which was served on a wooden platter. We were told there was no heavy cream in that recipe, instead a mild requeijão, which is a Portuguese style loose ricotta-type cheese.

The gluten free vegan appetizer was made with yucca and fresh vegetables. The accompanying (soymilk, basil, garlic, vinegar) mayo was also vegan.

When participants thought it could get no better, dessert was served. Chocolate, guava, and dolce de leche cups, accompanied the warm churros rolled in sugar.

Pointing to a portrait of Carmen Miranda he said, "Brazil isn't all green and yellow you know. Mostly you will find this kind of rustic atmosphere in restaurants in my hometown."

Gonçalves explained that he has no plans for expansion in the near future, as a big part of the environment is the fact that it's intimate.

Gonçalves shared that he is now looking for formal training in New York, but he made sure to add, “Not the French Institute, the ingredients are too heavy”. Gonçalves wants to veer his cuisine to an even more healthy and organically sourced menu.