There’s something gratifying about watching an expert chef cook a piece of high-quality meat right in front of you. When you dine at a Japanese steakhouse, you also get a bit of theatrics and a front-row seat in the kitchen, so the experience feels more like a show than a meal.
Samurai Grill and Sushi Bar on Montgomery in Northeast Albuquerque is no exception.
If you’re willing to sit really close to a dangerously hot grill, you can experience the joy of watching in real time as a raw slab of meat goes from being inedible and dangerous to being deliciously wholesome with just the expert application of heat.
A recent visit started with a small salad of lettuce and carrots drenched in a delicious ginger dressing and a clear, savory soup with whole mushrooms and fresh vegetables. They were basic, unadorned appetizers, but their simplicity was a great start for a heartier meal.
Also delicious were the egg rolls ($4.95 for two), made by hand and stuffed with vegetables and pork and served with a small bowl of a thick, red dipping sauce. It was sweet and savory, but not sour, and it went perfectly with the egg rolls.
Like all good teppanyaki, the main course started with theatrics. The teppan chef wheeled out a cart full of carefully prepared raw ingredients and got to work. He stacked onions like a volcano, a standard icebreaker in Japanese steakhouses, and drenched them in a flammable liquid and then ignited them. After breaking an egg into a pile of rice, he tossed a wooden egg at another diner, a teenage girl who was momentarily startled but still managed to catch it. Once he began the main courses, he was all business, and the show was thankfully more mesmerizing than interactive.
Instead of flashy, the chef’s knife work was simple and skilled. Freshly made fried rice with a perfectly scrambled egg and about eight types of fresh vegetables came off the grill first, and they were excellent. He grilled a couple of jumbo shrimp until they were golden-brown, then squeezed fresh lemon and piled them on top of the plate. Meanwhile, he seared another diner’s big slab of salmon and sprinkled sesame seeds on top.
Then he placed a beautiful, deeply red, roughly 10-ounce filet of beef ($25.95) onto the grill. The meat sizzled and steamed, and before long he diced the whole steak into little chunks, he rolled them all around on the grill until they were all seared brown, then piled the chunks onto my plate with a side of teriyaki sauce.
The beef was perfectly cooked (medium), amazingly tender, and very lightly seasoned. The flavor of the beef was on full display, and with sauteed vegetables and a huge mound of fried rice, it was incredibly fresh and very filling. Ginger, sesame, soy and a bit of pepper mixed together beautifully with the beef, but didn’t overwhelm it or overpower the flavor. It was an awesomely prepared steak, at a reasonable price.
The menu features enough variety for every taste, even vegans and diners with food allergies. It also has a sense of humor – a salad with fresh vegetables, raw fish and a special sauce is called the Viagra Salad, though I’ll have to try that next time. A full, extensive sushi bar divides the restaurant, though I stayed on the steakhouse side of the house, but diners can order both types of food. A full bar and takeout are also available.
The decor is also notable; the place is aged, but the vibe feels like an authentic Tokyo restaurant. A small stream runs through the middle of the restaurant, and a little bridge connects the dining room with the sushi bar. A fish tank with exotic species and a bunch of potted plants greet visitors when they walk in.
Samurai is as authentic as it gets in New Mexico, priced fairly and located in the heart of town. With high-quality meats and seafoods, and chefs with just enough flair to be memorable but not get annoying, this place fits well into the Japanese steakhouse tradition.