It's crowded in here.
Sitting inside SushiSamba restaurant on a Wednesday night, the traffic is flowing steadily, both in the restaurant and at the front bar. This is where passersby see the Carnaval-inspired décor and glass enclosed robata grill. A large ribbon-like art installation soars throughout the restaurant, giving it movement and rhythm. And for people like me, who usually make a beeline for only the most aesthetically intriguing stores and restaurants, it caught my interest.
SushiSamba is a 14,000-square-foot restaurant that features a 150-seat dining room, a 21-seat sushi bar, and a 35-seat drink bar. The neighboring Sugarcane Lounge, seats 174 people and has a 20-seat VIP area.
Now, inside the restaurant, I'm in a cozy booth watching pictures of a seductive Brazilian Carnaval festival while drinking my Samba juice (a sweet and lively libation) enjoying the crowd. SushiSamba has a lot going for it. It's located on the second floor of the Palazzo, in the mix with other shops and restaurants. It boasts a tried and true team of restaurateurs who have successfully and methodically branched out the SushiSamba name to its premier location on the West Coast.
And then the food starts flowing. A nice fusion of Japanese, Peruvian and Brazilian dishes (and everything in between), SushiSamba delivers a perfectly respectable menu of robata items, sushi and churrasco meats, as small and large plates come rolling out of the kitchen.
An apertivo of Sawagani, flash fried Japanese river crabs (yes, they could be the very ones in the glass canister sitting atop the hostess stand) are served crispy. Favorites like tempura and edamame also serve as great starters.
Small plates include taquitos with Maine lobster, fresh lime and Peruvian chile aji panca sauce or a fresh lemongrass sauce. A simple rock shrimp tempura gets punctuated with tobanjan alioli (a Spanish garlic mayonnaise) and bibb lettuce with black truffle vinaigrette.
At our table, we had an unusual pairing of Peruvian corn, jumbo-sized kernels, and baby corn, grilled on the robata grill and served with filet mignon with grilled scallions and key lime.
Next, we tried something from the raw bar - Alaskan king crab legs, served with a variety of dipping sauces and drawn butter. The meaty crab didn't have a chance.
One must-try is the kanpachi tiradito. Tiradito has gained recent popularity over the past few years and is a dish close to ceviche with Japanese and Peruvian roots. The kanpachi, a buttery jack fish, also called amberjack, melds well with its firmer texture, and yields to the yuzu, sea salt and black truffle oil. It was delightfully delicate in flavor.
The rather unique El topo roll, with mozzarella and crispy onion strings, is made of salmon, jalapeno, and shiso leaf. This is definitely a heavier (and not so figure-friendly) sushi roll, but very tasty.
At this point, I was slowing down. No, I had stopped. But then the desserts started coming. Crispy honey taquitos were a sweet delight. Other options include mini-tacos filled with banana or mango and chocolate, mochi ice creams and Japanese churros, hot chocolate with ginger cream, and a chocolate duo with dark and white chocolate custard with a hazelnut croquant.
I won't tell you how I stumbled toward the door to exit, but I will tell you that SushiSamba left a lasting impression on my stomach.
-- Review by Nikki Neu