04 May 2005

Sushi Samba is the sixth level of Hell, I'm sure of it. I'll get back to all the wonderful food and wonderful people of Japan, but for now I just have to vent about what I came back to. What I came back to was a lovely dinner with ALC and some folks visiting from out west. ALC made the reservations on short notice while holding up the rest of the world, so she's not to blame for being asked to book a sushi restaurant and picking Sushi Samba.

OK, points against the place as I walked in:
1.) Fusion restaurant
2.) Pink lighting
3.) Salsa music
4.) Chock-full of assholes in $400 shoes
5.) Overpriced
6.) Mentioned in Sex & the City

Sorry, for being wordy. I guess the last one implies the first five.

Points for:
1.) Ostensibly serves sushi.
2.) Has a liquor license, if all the sake bottles lining the walls are any indication.

I don't know if this place has some sort of restricted liquor license, but ten people who arrive fairly early on a Tuesday should be able to get beers when they want them. When the waiter mentioned before appetizers that he lived in Williamsburg, I died a little. I thought maybe, just maybe, living in Williamsburg, he would at least understand the importance of keeping the beer flowing. He brought them one or two at a time, on a tray. We got several bottles of sake, each of which we had to order three times. Before I get into how awful the food was, just realize that we sat down at 7 and got up at 10:30. Thank god for good company.

OK, so we ordered the tasting menu because we couldn't decide what to get and the company was paying.

The first course was an arugula puree and soft goat cheese "shooter". This was when I wanted to go down to the chef and say, "OK, look, you don't have to impress us. None of us is looking to fuck anyone else at the table, so it doesn't need to be some sort of magical combination of aphrodisiac sushi and the hot Latin blood. Just food, please." This shooter was like a loogie floating in a shot of wheatgrass juice.

Next came the first of several "ceviches". I realized afterward that when you're in a restaurant on Manhattan, the only common ground between Japanese and South American food can possibly be the fact that they both eat raw seafood. Just so happens they both love beef, cooked seafood, charcoal-seared chicken skewers, and think mostly that salads are for suckers. If you want true Latin/Asian fusion, Asia de Cuba's pretty good. This place had kind of painted itself into a corner with sushi being in the name.

This ceviche was a nice little slab of yellowtail topped with dressed bean sprouts and a tiny ball of avocado "gelato" (che? Non ci credo.). There was a vinegary sauce that the gelato was supposed to cut. It would have. Next time you sit down to a bowl of ice cream, try eating it with chopsticks. The dish was fine, though, overall, except for one failing: bean sprouts. Normally, their earthy taste is a nice counterbalance, but not to the smooth fish and smoother avocado. The crunch was welcome. Maybe daikon would've worked, but not bean sprouts. It was like getting french kissed by a beautiful woman wearing Chanel No. 5 and dirty sweatsocks.

"Beef Sushi". Seared meat, sliced and placed on rice balls. It was too salty, fine, but the hard, gummy rice made me despair for the promised sushi that was coming later.

The second "ceviche". This one is what really put me off. The fish was flavored with grapefruit essence, which if you'd like the recipe:
3 slivers sashimi-grade tuna.
3 overpriced yellow, green and orange "grape" tomatoes, quartered.
sprinkling of "microgreens"... (weeds).
Deep Woods OFF!® insect replellent

- Arrange first three ingredients on plate.
- Spritz liberally with OFF!®.
- Serve.
- Charge $20.

NOTE: Deep Woods OFF!® is toxic and should not be used for this or any other culinary application. Luckily, grapefruit essence can be substituted for the insect repellent with little change in flavor.

The waiter occasionally brought us a bit more sake, a bit more beer, but never enough that everyone at the table had a drink. He'd deliver a bottle of sake and ignore four empty beers. He'd deliver a beer and not backfill the five empties he took away.

There was some underdone, tough veal. Something I liked quite a bit that had "rocket" in it. Which is just arugula, which they already used. It wasn't bad, but I can't remember much about it, so it couldn't have been that good, either.

Finally, the sushi came! Five warm, flaccid, thin drapes of fish covering five gummy rice balls. Tuna, yellowtail, salmon, shrimp and crab, a quincunx of boring sushi.

Thank God for good dinner companions. We emerged over 200 minutes later and split up. They went downtown to Pravda, which I like, and I took a cab home and miraculously didn't throw up.