Saturday, July 16, 2011

Doin' the Samba in New York

Just when I thought I had finally completed the Sushi Samba tour (my trip to both of New York's Samba locations–7th and Park Avenue–would have checked off the list: Miami, Chicago, Las Vegas, and the Big Apple), I learned that a new one was slated to open in London soon. Sushi Samba fever is spreading...obviously. One must wonder when the chain will finally spring one up in L.A. The waiting is the hardest part. It's torture.

New York's Sushi Samba is famous for being the film location of a "Sex and the City" scene–Samantha splashes her cocktail at the face of her philandering lover as she scoffs "Dirty martini? Dirty bastard!" and saunters off–but the opinions concerning exactly which of the city's two restaurant locations the part was shot in are conflicted; a guide for the Sex and the City TV tour says it is one and a restaurant manager conjectures it is the other. But considering the décor in both places is similar–a Latin-inspired tropical lime-and-orange motif–it's easy to see how they can get confused.

But aside from a fun and funky color scheme, Sushi Samba has a reputation for being a hip and happening hangout with an energetic, club-like vibe. Its Latin-Japanese fusion menu is unique and tantalizing; nothing in this place hints at traditional sushi, and that is perfectly fine in its own right. You appreciate it as a marriage of flavors from two distinctly different cultures. Sushi and sashimi get a whole new treatment here with layers of South American-inspired spices and ingredients: farofa, lime, aji amarillo-key lime mayo, chimichurri ponzu, jalapeños, red bell peppers and mango. Luscious, plump giblets of Peruvian corn are served with sashimi tiraditos and even various anticuchos.

One of the fun aspects of taking a Sushi Samba tour is noting the subtle menu variations from one region to the next; even the two in New York are slightly different. For instance, there is always one signature roll at a particular Samba location that the other ones don't have. At Sushi Samba 7 on 7th Avenue, it's the "Samba 7 Roll," which comes with crispy lobster, scallion, cucumber, celery, jalapeno, and wasabi-chimichurri sauce for $16. For the same price, at Park Avenue's location, the signature maki is the "Samba Park Roll," with spicy lobster, scallion and passion fruit mustard. (Vegas' Sushi Samba Strip has one with Maine lobster, mango, tomato, chive, and crispy rice; it is wrapped with soy paper and served with an amazing peanut curry sauce. That one is $19 and worth every red cent. Chicago is home to the Samba Rio Roll, with lobster tempura, except it comes with mango, tomato, chive, crispy rice, soy paper, and red curry).

Mix and match the seviches and tiraditos at Sushi Samba to make your own four-part platter: my choices were tuna with yuzu soy, hickory oil, toasted garlic; tuna with grapefruit, serrano, cilantro and coconut; shrimp with passionfruit, cucumber and cilantro; and kanpachi with yuzu, sea salt and black truffle oil.

The Crispy Taquitos served with fresh lime wedges are to die for at New York's Sushi Samba 7, especially if you choose the Maine lobster-filled ones as opposed to yellowtail. The ingredients are frisée, palmito and jalapeno dressing (I have yet to try Sin City's version of this, which comes with lemongrass, frisée and hearts of palm). These miniature tacos are served with the crispiest shells, and the jalapeno dressing is shockingly tart as well as spicy–a perfect complement to the overflowing chunks of red and white Maine lobster meat. Even the lime is served with style: one wedge props the tacos upright while the other sits inside a shot glass.

Unique to Sushi Samba Park, there is the large plate called "King Crab, Three Ways"–broiled with aji amarillo, tempura with yuzu kosho emulsion, and amazu seviche (with red onions and strawberries) for $32. It's a veritable paradise for crab lovers, and a must-try for those who dare to resist becoming a crab convert.

Sushi Samba also has a sumptuous alcohol menu available; popular drinks include Latin classics like the caipirinha and the mojito, both of which include lime and muddled fresh fruit. A signature cocktail known as Samba Juice, which contains raspberry, watermelon-infused rum, açai, passionfruit, creme de banana and guava, is ordered quite often, as is the Kumori, which has nigor sake, shochu, gin, muddled cucumber, and a nori-salt rim.

At all of Sushi Samba's locations, Latin lounge music with Brazilian beats emanates from the speakers as you dine, adding to the South American-themed ambience.

Sushi Samba 7
87 7th Ave. South, New York, NY


Sushi Samba Park
245 Park Ave. South, New York, NY

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