Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Las Vegas, part II - Sushi Samba

Have I mentioned yet that our dinner on Saturday was epic? It was. It was E-P-I-C.

My brother had been to Sushi Samba twice on a recent business trip to Vegas, and both times he had indulged in their tasting menu. When he told me how fantastic it was, we agreed we'd splurge on that instead of coughing up the $165 per person to see Love, for which my parents had received a couple of free tickets. So Larry, his wife Roseanne, Chris and I headed on over to Sushi Samba on Saturday night to find ourselves a little Vegas dining experience of sorts. And find it we most certainly did.


Sushi Samba is a fusion restaurant, blending the cuisines of Japan, Brazil, and Peru. I personally don't balk at fusion so long as it's done well, and I think Sushi Samba falls into this category. While I don't think everything we ate necessarily melded together to create a cohesive whole, I also thought everything we tasted was outstanding; for me, that's enough.

Like most of the upscale Vegas dining institutions, Sushi Samba is located in a hotel on the Strip - in this case, the Shoppes at the Palazzo. After all I'd heard about SS, I was surprised that the decor seemed just a little thrown together; for example, the sign outside appeared to be a non-permanent banner. The interior combined edgy design elements with judicious use of bright color to interesting effect, but the presence of several large television screens ruined it for me. I never, ever, ever want a television screen in the dining area of a restaurant. Ever. And that is doubly - no, triply - true when I'm paying a chunk of change for my meal.

The cool, sans-television portion of the decor.

We had reservations and were promptly seated. There was a little scuffle when we asked our server if we could move to another table (with nicer lighting so I could better photograph my food - although we did not confess this to her) and one of the other servers got cranky, I think because we were encroaching on her territory. However, she eventually huffed off and we were left with our original server, Vanessa, who was fantastic.

See, this lovely shot of the menu would not have worked at that other table.
It was just too dark.

I started my meal by ordering a Chu-cumber, which is basically a cucumber martini (or, as SS calls them, "Chu-tinis") made with Japanese shochu rather than vodka. This particular cocktail was made with iichiko and fresh cucumber mixed, inexplicably (but tastily) with St. Germain Elderflower (apparently, Japan, Brazil, and Peru don't have a good enough selection of liquor, so France had to get in on the game, as well). Odd mix that it was, my Chu-cumber(s) were downright delicious - not too sweet, refreshingly light, and far too easy to drink. A very nice accompaniment to my meal.

Don't-chu think this looks good?

Sushi Samba's tasting menus come in two varieties; a 7-course traditional omakase for $100 per person and a 7-course meal comprised of signature items selected by the server in conjunction with the chef from SS's regular dinner menu for $80 per person. Larry had tried the $80 version on his previous visits and had thought it superb, so the two of us went with that (note that all the photos below show both of our portions combined).

The first course that arrived on the scene was a pair of taquitos made with yellowtail, avocado, and roasted corn miso served with fresh lime and a sauce made from a Peruvian red pepper called aji panca. The raw yellowtail combined with the avocado made for a lovely, smooth texture that contrasted well with the crispy taco shell, but I thought the strong corn note in the shell overpowered the yellowtail a little too much. Tasty, to be sure, but at $6 apiece for a pretty small taquito, I don't think I would order these again.

When you live in Texas, even yellowtail taquitos have
a high standard to live up to.

The next course was the stuff fusion dreams are made of. It was a quartet of sashimi tiraditos (a tiradito is the raw-fish doppleganger of ceviche). There was a sake (salmon) in an orange and mustard miso sauce; a kanpachi (amberjack) bathing in a sauce made of yuzu, sea salt, and black truffle oil and topped with scallions; a hamachi (yellowtail) with red jalapeno and lemongrass in what I believe was a tomato-based sauce; and a maguro (tuna) with granny smith apple, serrano, and lime.

Now this is fusion.

Vanessa suggested that we eat the tiraditos clockwise, beginning with the salmon. As I ate my way through the progession, I was reminded of Violet Beauregarde, the girl from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who met her fate while chewing a piece of gum that, flavor-wise, served up three full courses in a single piece. The flavors were all utterly unique, and just when I thought my palate understood each bite, the notes would suddenly shift, and develop into something completely different, yet beautifully complementary to that which had preceded it. After blissfully savoring the entire assortment, I tried mightily to choose a favorite, and eventually settled upon the kanpachi. Even now, four days later, the ocean-y fresh flavor of that fish - followed by the juicy yuzu, the hint of truffle oil, and the magically subtle finishing note of the sea salt - still lingers on my tongue. Marvelous.

We didn't have long to mourn the departure of the tiraditos before we were forced to turn our attention to the arrival of a pair of SS's interpretation of anticuchos.

This photo does not do this plate justice at all.

This version was made with sea bass in a lovely miso sauce and served with the most amazing Peruvian corn I've ever tasted (OK, it was the only Peruvian corn I've ever tasted - quite possibly the best corn I've ever tasted). The kernels were huge and plump, and the texture was absolutely perfect - soft on the outside with a surprising, very fresh-tasting firmness on the inside that was just delightful. When corn is competing with sea bass on the deliciousness scale, you know it's good. And that is not at all to say the sea bass was at all bad; it's just that the corn was so startlingly good that it simply shone. It's all about expectations, isn't it?

It was at this point that I realized we had only had three of our seven courses. Could I make it? Oh yes, I could. We soldiered bravely onward.

And then. And then the sushi course arrived. I nearly fainted when Vanessa set this plate down in front of us.

Oh sushi my sushi.

There were three rolls; the Samba Strip, which was Maine lobster with mango, tomato, and chives rolled in soy paper, covered in crispy rice and served with a peanut curry sauce. This was good overall, but oddly bland; I thought it was much better with my usual soy and wasabi blend than with the curry sauce that came with it.

Then SS's version of a spicy tuna roll, the Neo Tokyo - yellowfin rolled in rice with a bit of tempura flake, covered with a slab of maguro, and dotted with "eyes" of the aji panca sauce. Excellent, but not as special as some of the other parts of our meal.

Finally, there was a BoBo Brazil - kobe beef with avocado, kaiware (sprouted daikon radish seeds), shiso leaves, a smidge of red onion, and chimichurri sauce, of all things. The menu said the beef was seared, but it tasted very much raw to me (which is a good thing). This roll had my number. Again, fusion at its best - ingredients I would never have thought to put together but somehow, as a whole, it just worked. I think this may have been my favorite part of the dinner; there would probably be some sort of duel to the death between the BoBo Brazil and the tiraditos, and I'm pretty sure both the winner and the loser would be doomed to being eaten by me.

After we had had our way with the sushi course, the final savory course arrived - a wild mushroom toban-yaki topped with a wonderful, impossibly tender duck breast. Ohhhh so good standing alone, particularly the mushrooms, which, like the Peruvian corn, had that wonderful firm freshness about them, but I don't think the course quite held a candle to the I-just-might-order-this-for-my-last-meal status of the tiraditos and BoBo Brazil. And the rich heaviness of the duck in its creamy sauce was a little confusing after the wonderful lightness of the sushi.

A bit more rich than I wanted at the moment...and yet, just look at that beautifully rare duck.

Before I tackle dessert, I should also mention the outstanding dry aged New York strip that Chris ordered in lieu of the 7-course feast. We all thought he was nuts for eschewing the tasting menu (because he is), but I have to admit that this was a damn fine piece of meat. And it came on a tray the size of Brazil itself that was literally groaning with the weight of the myriad of sides and sauces that accompanied it. Worthy of note: the mound of collard greens cut into neat ribbons and sauteed to perfection.

Here is where the Brazilian part of the fusion comes in handy.

Just when we thought we couldn't eat another wafer thin mint, the dessert course arrived. Or, I should say, the dessert courses. There was a warm chocolate banana cake with maple butter, banana chips, and ice cream; a Choco Duo - dark and white chocolate custards layered with hazelnut croquant and finished with a bit of gold leaf; and a pair of taquitos stuffed with banana, doce de leite, and Peruvian chocolate in a crispy taco shell drizzled with honey.

Oh baby



The chocolate banana cake was the star of the show (the attention-getting sparkler on the plate didn't hurt), but all were terrific. I think the Choco Duo was my least favorite, but that's probably in part because it was the least unusual, despite its gold leaf adornment.

I probably ought to wrap up this post before it takes as long to read as our seven courses took to eat. Overall, I was very pleased with our dining experience at Sushi Samba. The food was truly outstanding, and although I sometimes had a little trouble marrying the courses to one another to create a unified experience, each course standing alone was wonderful enough that I didn't mind a bit. Service was excellent, and I thought the price was not at all bad considering the quality and quantity of our meal. Now if they would just do away with those televisions...

Nonetheless, definitely worth a visit. If you get a chance, samba on over to Sushi Samba and see for yourself.

Sushi Samba
3327 Las Vegas Boulevard
Las Vegas, NV 89109


  1. I'm so glad we switched tables so you could get these photos. Amazing!!!

  2. I LOVE SUSHI SAMBA!! SOOOOO jealous!!!! Beautiful pics. It looks like y'all had a GREAT time! Did I mention that I'm jealous?

  3. YUMMY, SO SO SO SO DELICIOUS, Can i get one?


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