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On a dining landscape wrought with sameness — even among ethnic restaurants — Cafe Bossa Nova stands alone. We've been to Central and South American-themed restaurants that offer dishes that would be at home at your usual Mexican joint. But that's not Bossa Nova.
We all have our favorites at certain restaurants, the go-to dish that's hard not to order. Ours at Cafe Bossa Nova is Salpicao ($17.29), a Brazilian take on chicken salad — shredded breast, bits of Fuji apple, carrots, English peas, herbs and spices, bound with not too much mayonnaise and served over rice. The accompanying Mista salad (spring mix, mandarin orange segments, sweet nut clusters and slivered almonds with a sweet vinaigrette) makes for a nice summer plate (or winter plate, for that matter).
Another fallback for us is Mineirinho ($13.99), simple and good — black beans and rice with two eggs served on top. We get our eggs fried, which makes for a gooey mess of wonderfulness. The collard greens salad provides a pungent complement.
Our usual dessert is four-layer pie, something many of us have had at church potlucks but rarely done this well. A fabulous pecan shortbread crust is topped with cream cheese, chocolate pudding and whipped cream with a dusting of crushed nuts.
Determined to break out of our tasty rut, on a recent trip we started with Bolinho de Arroz ($4.99 for five), deep-fried rice balls bound with egg and laced with Catupiry, a creamy Brazilian cheese featured in several dishes at Bossa Nova. An herbed mayonnaise sauce accompanied.
We also had a cup of luscious vegan black bean soup ($5.79 for eight ounces). It is rich, hearty, and while it obviously is animal-fat-free, it's not fat-free, and that helps. Soups are a highlight here: Count on chicken with hearts of palm and chili as well as a couple of others.
We got Almondegas ($6.79) — another killer appetizer — as one main course. Two herby, tender meatballs are encased in puff pastry and served with a hot dipping sauce that's like a Brazilian Tabasco.
Our second main course was Panquecas de Frango ($18.79), two large chicken crepes served over rice. We chose the Catupiry cheese instead of the homemade marinara, and it worked well. The crepes aren't bland, but neither are they boldly flavored. This is comfort food at its Brazilian best.
Our chocolate flan ($4.75) was not as custardy as most flan. It's not jiggly and therefore doesn't threaten to slip off your spoon. The chocolate taste was subtle. Key lime pie ($5.75) is an absolute winner — a huge slab, tall with a creamier-than-usual filling and whipped cream atop a thick, crumbly graham cracker crust.
Cafe Bossa Nova is consistently fabulous — in variety, authenticity, taste and service. Our waiter knew all there was to know about every menu item, which makes sense as he's the nephew of Rosalia Monroe, the owner and namesake of the adjacent bakery.
But what Cafe Bossa Nova is not is inexpensive. Quiche with salad is $15.29. Sandwiches with salad (lunch only) are $14-$18. But some things are worth paying for, and that's why we put Bossa Nova near the top of our list of favorite restaurants in Little Rock.
Love Cafe Bossa Nova? Then head next door to Rosalia's Family Bakery. Dan and Rosalia Monroe, of Cafe Bossa Nova, opened the bakery in 2010, and it's great for breakfast, lunch, or picking up pastries or other goodies to take home.