Chicago Eats: Sushi Samba

photo via Sushi Samba's website.

photo via SushiSamba.com.

Last night was an absolute blast. A college friend of mine is getting married in a couple days, and for her bachelorette, the bride’s sister planned an absolutely fantastic little outing. She knew her sister well, for there could not have been a better place for my friend, whose two loves are latin food and sushi.

Sushi Samba is a sushi-fusion restaurant, combining Japanese, Peruvian and Brazilian influences for an absolutely unique sushi experience. It’s a clever and well-done combination; all three cuisines use raw fish, but to different effects. The fusion’s results are original and delicious.

The ambiance of the place, if I had to pick one word, is fun. It is a perfect environment for nearly anyone – from coming in for a lunch on your own to bringing a large party. A circular bar surrounding an open kitchen is the perfect spot for someone coming in alone or with a friend for a casual lunch, where you can watch your food being prepared in front of you. Intimate booths for two in the dim lighting of the restaurant are the perfect setting for a date, and sushi is the ideal meal for sharing. And the floor has a number of large tables for big parties (like ours), and parties have the option of a flat-rate three course meal selected by the chefs (we poor college grads did not opt for this option).

Prices per dish were reasonable – entrees ranged from $14 to $20, and appetizers around $12. Of what I tried, some favorites were:

Wagyu Gyoza (appetizer) – house made pot-stickers. A relatively traditional pick, but with a surprising sweetness from a bean paste sauce.

Samba Rolls (Sushi Samba’s house-made sushi rolls):
Neo Tokyo – a sushi roll with tuna*, with a sweet and sour bean paste sauce. Has a nice kick from Peruvian red pepper, for the spicy-lovers out there.
Bobo Brazil – a beef-wrapped sushi roll with avocado. An interesting mix of latin and asian spices.
Unagi Tamago – an eel and tuna sushi roll with a wasabi cream sauce. This was my absolute favorite, though the Neo Tokyo earned a very close second.

A final comment: trust your server. The staff was extremely hospitable, and knew the menu well. Our waiter was able to offer some wonderful suggestions for people ranging from hesitant to adventurous, pointing out choices that were well-loved by everyone, and to some personal favorites for the sushi-lovers and risk-takers of the group. (Also, the manager treated all 13 of us to kamikaze shots, in honor of the bride-to-be. If that doesn’t seal the deal, I don’t know what could.)

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* Sushi Samba has chosen not to serve Bluefin Tuna, an endangered species of tuna, at any of their restaurants. I was a fan from the start, once I saw this noted on the menu. (The US government has refused to add the Atlantic bluefin tuna to national protected lists, so many places in the US still sell it, contributing to the overfishing of this species.)

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