SUSHI JUMPS THE SHARK (Part Deux)
Sushi Samba in The Palazzo is practically the poster restaurant for how bastardized sushi and sashimi menus have become. Is it a Japanese restaurant? A Brazilian churrascaria? A Peruvian-fusion ceviche joint? Who knows? You certainly won’t after a meal there, and ELV couldn’t figure it out after three.
The true(?) sushi options are relegated to the back pages of the book-like menu while five sashimi seviches(?) and four sashimi tiraditos are pushed front and center. The difference between the seviches and the tiraditos is the seviches contain slabs of inartfully sliced raw fish, whereas the tiraditos toss them and sauce them (tirado means “to throw”) with orange and mustard miso, yuzu and (tasteless) black truffle oil, and jalapeno and lemongrass. None of these overwrought concoctions are awful, but they have as much to do with true sashimi and seviche as a turkey burger does with a Butterball. The sashimi seviches, besides being a contradiction in terms, lay out the fish in cut strips on the plate while it sauces them with everything from ginger/garlic/soy to passion fruit cucumber and cilantro. They look like overlarge strips of raw fish and taste like something an impressionable cook would throw together after one trip to Nobu. It’s all very hip and trendy, but in the hands of novices, flavor distinctions are obliterated by the drenching they take from all that citrus.
Even more disappointing is the garden-variety sushi offered. Snaking your way to the sushi bar, you will be assaulted by incessant samba music and non-stop, soft porn videos that appear to be celebrating womanhood in all its worldly guises, but which, in fact, exploit the semi-nude female form in a number of ways. Whether you think this is prurient and voyeuristic, or au courant, probably depends upon the number of tattoos and piercings you have.
Once you find a spot at the sushi “bar” you’ll notice three things; one: the refrigerator case facing you is dirty inside and out; two: the small amount of fish inside that case is so tired and dried out you’d swear you were in some cheap, all-you-can-eat joint; and three: the sushi chefs are elevated two feet above you, making interaction with them impossible.
Not that you’d want interaction with chefs who present Japanese snapper (madai), so crudely cut it looks like it was sliced with a butter knife, or a hotate (scallop) that is oversized, tasteless and gummy. Equally bad were Japanese mackerel tasting of cheap, pickled herring, salty and stale ikura (salmon roe), and a salmon and avocado roll that tasted of neither.
When it comes to cooked food, the kitchen at Sushi Samba is particularly fond of sweet miso glaze, so expect that slick red bean paste to show up on everything from lamb chops to sea bass to a Berkshire pork belly with butterscotch(?) miso. All are decently prepared, but before you get to them you’ll have to fight through the “taquitos” – perhaps the worst use of the hard taco shell since an Old El Paso slashed the roof of my mouth twenty years ago. Here, they get loaded with lobster, yellowtail and spicy tuna, to no great effect – other than to threaten your mandibular safety – and come with a spicy aji panca (Peruvian chile) sauce with, yet again, more lime.
Among the truly awful fusion-food fiascos are quinotto (creamy Peruvian quinoa with barley, Manchego cheese, wild mushrooms and (once again) tasteless fresh herbs) a dish that looks like something the baby upchucked and smells barely better, and “El Topo,” a “samba” roll containing salmon jalapeno, shiso leaf, melted mozzarella and crispy onion. The Neo Tokyo roll is a garden variety spicy tuna roll – for fifteen dollars – and the tatami iwashi (crispy dried sheets of pressed sardines) are greasy highway robbery at ten bucks a bucket.
If all of that isn’t enough to pique your interest, there are also twenty-two robata-grilled dishes, and a complete lineup of Brazilian steakhouse (churrasco) items. Whew!
The bottom line: Sushi Samba is trying to be so many things it isn’t really good at any of them. But it’s been packed from the get-go by hipsters (and hipster-wannabes) who want to believe the food is much better than it really is. My guess is they also want to believe they’re eating fresh, healthy, authentic Japanese and Japanese/fusion food – and they’re not doing that either.
Sushi and sashimi are priced between $6-12 for two pieces, and $4-17 for individual cut or hand rolls, seviches and tiraditos. “samba rolls” are priced between $10-20. A full meal including non-sushi items will run at least $150 for two.
In the Palazzo Hotel and Casino
3265 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109