Samurai Sushi & Hibachi,
7125 Mills Civic Parkway
#110, West Des Moines, 223-4888.
Mon. - Fri. 11 a.m. - 2:30
p.m., 4:30 p.m. - 10 p.m.,
Sat. 11 a.m. -10:30 p.m.,
Sun. noon - 9 p.m.
Samurai Sushi & Hibachi
Check your assumptions at the
door of Samurai Sushi & Hibachi
(SSH). The latest new restaurant
in Jordan Creek is a cultural
melting pot that boldly redefines
both language and cuisine. SSH
greets visitors with a huge, framed
slab of marble hanging on the
wall — not in a protective frame
but in the kind of portrait frame
one expects to see around a Goya.
A second wall holds a large rock
waterfall. Framed marble and artificial
waterfalls are creative uses of
this restaurant’s exceptionally
tall ceilings, but mainly they
announce that this restaurant
dares to be different.
Traditionally, sushi is served
in cozy, minimalist places where
the food is the star attraction.
SSH is something else. First,
it’s not Japanese. The owners
are from Hong Kong and staff comes
from all over China. Japanese
words have been erased from the
sushi menu, making some translations
vague. Language problems plagued
service. It took several visits,
and twice that many servers, to
answer some simple questions,
though they were eventually answered
expertly. Secondly, SSH have no
hibachis. That word is applied
here to teppanyakis — large flattop
grills that burn gas, not charcoal.
They were popularized in America
by the Benihana Steak House chain,
whose style is emulated here.
As at Ohana in West Des Moines,
SSH chefs perform behind the grills
for their audiences. One chef
tossed somersaulting eggs in the
air before catching them in his
jacket pocket. Another flipped
food from his spatula into diners’
mouths. Kids of all ages seemed
to love the shows, which included
much of the original Benihana
routine, including “flaming onion
volcanos” and similar pyrotechnics.
For customers uninterested in
dinner theater, the hibachi room
is completely separated from the
main restaurant and sushi bar.
I didn’t even notice it, or its
menu, on my first two visits.
My sushi ($2.50 - $5 per piece)
was underwhelming. Yellowtail
had a good, fresh sheen, grilled
eel had a nice flavor and crispy
salmon skins were well executed.
However big eye tuna (inferior
to blue fin), salmon, striped
bass, mackerel and clams all left
something to be desired in freshness
and texture. (Tuesdays and Fridays
are delivery days, so timing might
help.) On sushi rolls ($4.50 -
$16), spiced mayonnaise was used
as a hook to entice new sushi
eaters, like sweet & sour
sauces were used to lure Americans
to Chinese food.
Tempura ($4 - $8) was superior
— light, crisp and brightly golden
— at least when ordered at early
seatings. It was as good as any
I’ve had in town, and standard
orders included taro root, a rare
treat. Two tofu dishes — “yakko”
(cold bean curd with ginger, bonito
and scallions) and “age” (fried
curd with crisp skin) — were the
next best items. Soba and udon
(noodles) dishes seemed a bit
expensive ($12-14). Dumplings
were strange, edges were stale
like packaged fried noodles while
the rest of the wrappers were
soggy and separated from their
filling by air bubbles. Several
menu items that I wanted to order
were repeatedly not available,
including advertised daily specials.
Hibachi work was more fun to watch
than good to eat. Chicken was
overcooked, even after asking
the chef to be wary of that. Steak
was chewy and squid (or cuttlefish)
was tough, despite theatric tenderizing.
Shrimp were the best teppanyaki
dishes, six jumbos in a $10 lunch
with fried rice, grilled vegetables
and a sliced mushroom in a chicken-flavored
broth (ask for the miso instead).
Bottom line — SSH redefines the
sushi bar — lavish instead of
cozy, more theatrical than culinary
and more American than Japanese.
Iowa State Fair butter sculptors
reduced the size of Shawn Johnson’s
thighs by four inches. The butter
cow requested a facial tuck for
next year… The skywalk Coney Island,
an original skywalk vendor, is
now closed… Raw Food’s next Meet
Up will be Monday Sept. 8 at East
Village Books. CV
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