tel aviv 88.
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'Wow, this looks like the New York restaurant," said a colleague impressed by the design as we arrived at SushiSamba in Tel Aviv. Indeed, there's a lot of New York flair to this buzzing new restaurant tucked among the hi-tech buildings of Ramat Hahayal.
The lounge bar at the entrance was crowded with slim, scantily clad women, and hip, coolly dressed men, all deeply engaged in conversation on high-end mobile phones. Most of them sipped cocktails while watching the chefs artistically prepare sashimi nigiri and other rolls at the sushi bar.
Seated in a separate dining room at the back of the restaurant with a group of journalists, we savored some sake while waiting for the fiesta to begin. Chef Nitzan Raz, who worked as sous chef at Nobu in New York and joined the kitchen at SushiSamba Park Avenue in 2001, is the executive chef and co-owner of SushiSamba Tel Aviv.
He created a menu of unusual dishes, bringing together elements from Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian cuisine. This three-culture blend was formed in the late 19th century, when thousands of Japanese immigrants settled in Sao Paulo and Lima.
We started with edamame, a Japanese appetizer of fresh steamed soybeans with sea salt and lime. While nibbling the healthy finger food I ordered chu-cumber, an excellent cocktail of Japanese liquor, muddled cucumber, sugar and fresh lime juice.
Then Raz presented his Samba pizza: a flat crisp tortilla topped with salmon, red onion, hearts of palm, black olives and mozzarella cheese. Not precisely what I'd expect from a pizza, and the toppings' diversity proved confusing for my palate.
We also sampled a seaweed salad, a very nutritious dish consisting of four variations of seaweed: hijiki, wakame, red tosaka, and goma wakame. Each seaweed was garnished with a different dressing to complement it.
Though the appetizers hadn't wowed us, we were having quite a pleasant night. Nitzan Raz and his business partner Steven Lobel made us feel at home, the service was good, and the place had a cool vibe - not too much to complain about.
Then came the dish of tiradito, Peruvian-style ceviche. The beautifully presented, very colorful dish including tuna, yellowtail, and salmon seemed promising. I'm sorry to say that I found the fish all had the same acidic taste - perhaps they were not "marinated" in lemon, but hosed down with it, instead.
Just as inept was the dish of skewered grilled salmon, which shouldn't have been difficult to deliver, but because the kitchen decided to dress it with heavy miso sauce, it turned it overly sweet.
It came as a surprise when the anticuchos - Peruvian shish kebabs - actually worked. The grilled skewered strips of marinated beef with aji (hot Peruvian chili pepper), chicken and aji amarillo are a favorite street food in Peru.
By the time two huge platters of sushi arrived at the table, our palates were already puzzled by the many flavors. We were quite astounded by the odd combination of samba rolls and few of us dared trying the mozzarella sushi, while those with the adventurous palates sampled the eel topped with Japanese mayo.
Desserts were good but not comforting enough.
It isn't too late to right this mess. SushiSamba indeed has a warm energy which makes it a wonderful place to dine. What a shame its food is more of a bad joke.
SushiSamba TLV. 27 Habarzel Ramat Hahayal, Tel Aviv. Open Saturday to Wednesday: 7 p.m. to midnight, Thursday and Friday 7 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. (03) 644-4345
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