Nikkei is the combination of Japanese and Peruvian cuisines, two styles of cooking and eating that might appear to be disparate but actually meld together beautifully. Nobu Matsuhisa is the essential designer of this hybrid, his signature “Nobu style” born from his early years working and living in Peru and Argentina after completing his training as a classical sushi chef.
In Las Vegas, there are two Nobu restaurant locations, but there’s a different restaurant that dives deeper into this fusion and offers a more broad array of nikkei-style dishes. SushiSamba opened in 2008 in the upper corner of the Grand Canal Shoppes at Palazzo. It serves hotel guests and conventioneers in the same way Tao is the de facto sushi spot at Venetian—they’re the only places to get Japanese food in the towering twin resorts.
But SushiSamba is much more than sushi, and two years ago it added Maui native Joel Versola, a veteran of the former Shintaro at Bellagio and both local Nobu restaurants at the Hard Rock and Caesars Palace, as executive chef. Just as the master Nobu learned and then demonstrated, this kitchen understands fusion is not about a freewheeling flavor mashup; it’s about composing harmony with the right choices of ingredients and presentation.
Familiar nigiri, sashimi and rolls are still available, but take advantage of SushiSamba’s more unique creations, like the El Topo roll ($15), which adds melted mozzarella and crispy onions on top of salmon, jalapeño and shiso leaf. That’s a SushiSamba signature, as are crispy Hokkaido scallops ($7 each) and yellowtail taquitos ($6 each). Tiny, crispy, raw fish tacos are favorite appetizers everywhere, and these are as good as you’ll find.
There are a handful of larger entrées, but you’ll get a better taste of the place if you dabble in smaller plates. New menu highlights—and dishes you won’t find elsewhere—are the crispy egg ($24) with layers of phyllo, shiitake mushroom, asparagus and truffle with kabocha gnocchi, and the inventive foie gras seviche ($28) with heirloom tomato and potato crisps. Seviches and tiraditos, raw seafood prepared with citrus and other fresh, acidic dressings, are a staple of Peruvian cuisine and SushiSamba’s menu.
But you don’t have to go raw. The robata section offers charcoal-grilled meats and vegetables, perfect to pair with Latin-anchored side dishes like blissful purple potato mash, coconut rice and sweet plantains (all $7). Everything from filet mignon to whole squid comes off that grill. My pick is the perfectly charred hamachi kama ($13), the unctuous, fantastic yellowtail collar.
These items are just the beginning. SushiSamba also does tempura, “Nobu-style” classics like tuna tataki ($16) and crispy rock shrimp in spicy mayo sauce ($18), full-on churrasco platters of grilled beef with rice, beans and greens on the side, and even a selection of A5-graded Japanese Wagyu. Versola and crew will plan a custom tasting menu for you, and they recently introduced yuzu- and miso-infused freshly grated wasabi to complement the already vivid flavors coming out of the kitchen. Funny that such vibrant food exists in such a quiet location. If you haven’t visited yet, you’re overdue.
SushiSamba Palazzo, 702-607-0700. Sunday-Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m.; Thursday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m.