“Fish with personality.”
That’s how one of the regulars at Bossa Fish described his meal to owner Philip Carvalho and his father, Eliot, who taught his son all about authentic Portuguese and Brazilian cuisine.
Raised in Brazil and surrounded by a family unaware of the food business, Philip Carvalho grew up riding shotgun in his father’s food truck. After the family immigrated to the US decades ago, the pair brought their love for seafood to the Garden State with Bossa Fish nine months ago. Nearby in Newark, a huge Brazilian and Portuguese population already demands the best, and Bossa Fish hopes to rise to the challenge.
“Food is in our blood; it’s our passion,” Philip Carvalho told NJ Advance Media. “Dad and I were inspired by our love and passion for seafood. I have to tell you; our customers have been coming back and giving us rave reviews.”
Bossa Fish differs from other seafood spots as customers may buy one of the many fresh fish sitting in ice — as one might select a lobster from a tank — then have it cooked any way they like. They can also order a prepared salad, sandwich or entree from the geographically eclectic menu, which covers cuisines from Brazil, Portugal and Spain.
“We may specialize in the taste of Lisbon, Barcelona and Rio, but all of our fish is sourced locally. We have black sea bass, snapper, New Jersey fluke, and more fresh fish from the waters here in Jersey.” Carvalho said. “We love our location here in Elizabeth near the ports. Our customers are hugely diverse, and we match this diversity with our food.”
The menu at Bossa Fish is filled with authentic Latin influences like the Portuguese bacalhau a casa ($21.99), a cod filet surrounded by Spanish potatoes and topped with grilled onions. The cod was flaky and tender, and the combination of potatoes and onions complimented the dish in a beautiful and understated way.
Next was the fried salmon with rice and broccoli rabe in a deeply addicting garlic sauce ($19.99). When I asked Carvalho about the sauce, he turned red and said, “Sorry but it’s a secret family recipe.” They do sell it in jars, and I made sure to snag one. Maybe I can have it chemically analysed!
Back to the dish: The generous pieces of fish were moist with a flavor that lingered and left me wanting more.
When Carvalho peered at me with questioning eyes, I said with a full mouth, “I can’t stop eating.” He gave his dad the thumbs up and Eliot’s grin from the kitchen was a mile long.
The cod brought the taste of Brazil and Portugal together by reflecting the diverse colonial and indigenous nuances of those cultures. I imagined Latin music playing on the midnight streets of São Paulo, with restaurant owners shouting at you to try their food.
Next was the Bossa combo of fried shrimp, scallops and flounder ($21.99), which brought more exceptional taste. The dish may resemble fish and chips, but it packs much more international feel and flavor. The flounder was so tender, I had to question the fact it was fried.
Then I tried an appetizer of tender shrimp croquettes with a hint of spice ($9.99), followed by the Ipanema salad topped with grilled shrimp ($9.99). Both were savory, aromatic and delicious.
The fried scallops were not as tasty as the rest of the Bossa combo. They left me wishing for a tender scallop sautéed in olive oil with a touch of salt and cracked pepper, not fried.
The other thing that stood out was the seating. Bossa Fish is not very big and the number of tables might have made customers feel squeezed in. They have added a bar top to accommodate more eaters.
I guess that’s a good problem to have.
The atmosphere at Bossa Fish is humble and inviting, with friendly staff. Both Philip and his father Eliot are real, salt-of-the-sea folks who want their customers to leave happy. They seem to know everyone who comes in and greet them happily.
One woman dining with a friend saw Philip Carvalho walk by their table and yelled at the top of her lungs, her arms waving and her smile stretching from ear to ear, “Hey sweetie, this is mmm-mmm good!”
Carvalho blushed and waved; I think she wanted to pinch him!
The bottom line
Bossa Fish adds an exotic note to an already crowded restaurant scene in Elizabeth, but they do stand out with their approach of directly serving Garden State fresh fish — and allowing customers to select which fish they wish cooked. Dishes are innovative, authentic and have oodles of personality. They should have no problem poaching some customers from Ironbound a few miles away.
Karim Shamsi-Basha may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @karim_s_basha. Find NJ.com on Facebook.