Dining Review: Sushi in the city

Walking into Sushi Samba is like being beamed into New York City, where the chain's Manhattan branch was made famous in an episode of Sex and the City.

sushi samba 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
sushi samba 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Walking into Sushi Samba, located in Tel Aviv's Ramat Hahayal hi-tech area, is like being beamed into New York City, where the chain's Manhattan branch was made famous in a 1997 episode of the chic television series, Sex and the City. The place is inviting and caters to just about anyone. Whether you want to sip cocktails while relaxing in comfortable chairs at the lounge/bar, sit outside at the entrance deck on sofas with a smoke and a beverage , have a meal at the long bar (where you can your food and drink while watching the sushi chefs at work), or eat in the larger dining area at the smaller bar or a table - the choice is yours. Tel Aviv's Sushi Samba is the only one of the chain's seven branches located outside the U.S. Although one of the owners is Israeli, the concept here is true to the chain's philosophy, to fuse Brazilian, Peruvian and Japanese cuisine and atmosphere. The Brazilian influence is readily evident with the waist to ceiling glass mural illuminated in red, orange, yellow and green, and the pulsating samba music blaring from speakers above the bar. The Japanese influence is patently palpable, with the many sushi chefs walking around as well as the inordinate amount of different kinds of sake in various-sized colorful bottles lining the walls behind sliding glass-door cupboards. There's more to sushi than just eating it. It's a real art that gives rise to myriad questions such as: what exactly is inside, how is it made to look so appetizing, why doesn't it fall apart and how do they cook the rice? We were very excited to learn that twice a month, on Friday afternoons, a course called Sake/Sushi 101 is being launched at the restaurant . The hands-on workshop takes you through the process of preparing sushi and sake from A to Z. Participants at the workshop will learn such essential sushi knowledge like whatthe ingredients are and where to buy them, the names of the various types of sushi, the different fish used, how to make sushi rice, how to filet the fish, how to roll sushi and more. "Everyone can learn to make sushi - it's not Torah from Sinai," says Nitzan Raz, the gregarious executive chef and co-owner of Sushi Samba. "The idea is to inspire you to eat sushi - here and at home," he adds. The course, which costs NIS 320, might sound a bit expensive but Raz promises that the participants will have fun, learn new skills and partake in some delicious cuisine. The course also makes for a really nice present. Raz, who gained his expertise at New York's Nobu and Sushi Samba, has created an Omakase (chef's) menu consisting of either five or seven set courses priced at NIS 190 and NIS 220 respectively. "It changes every day. You never know what you are going to get," he says, his eyes sparkling. It depends on what is fresh and available in the market. On the evening we went, we were served seven outstanding dishes and couldn't imagine it getting much better. First we were served an amuse-bouche of magi tempura with mango sauce, a light delicacy. This was followed by pea soup with wasabi that was perfectly balanced. Next we were delighted by the Peruvian touch, a ceviche of scallops served with the most basic of Japanese sauces - vinegar, soy sauce and lemon juice. Following that was the beautifully served crispy barbounia in chili and soy sauce, which, we were amazed to discover, was flown in from France since the fish is not available locally. The New York strip milk veal chop was so tasty that we continued to chew the bone once the meat was devoured. Then came the sushi, which Raz says is traditional to serve last. We joyfully received a large platter of rolls, nigiri sushi, sashimi, maki, and tempura sushi of the freshest and most varied kinds of fish, including salmon, tuna, yellowtail and eel. With each course, we were given a different kind of sake, beginning with the warm version (also the cheapest) to the purest and most expensive. Gal, the restaurant's sake sommelier, assured us that we were in no danger of a hangover from the rice beverage (which has 14 percent alcohol). And, in the aftermath of six glasses of sake followed with a glass of plum wine, turns out that he was right. Whether it's a special night out or the skills to prepare sushi and sake that you seek, there is no need to search any further than Sushi Samba. SUSHI SAMBA, 27 Rechov Habarzel, Ramat Hayal, Tel Aviv (03) 644 4345 Open daily noon to midnight. Not kosher.