The Albany Sushi Meetup made a special evening of gourmet sushi at Samurai Japanese Restaurant after one of our organizers had an extraordinary experience there during the summer. With some advance planning and a decision on the prix fixe the group of 20 allowed the chef to serve his choice of delicacies. This is a group that has been eating sushi together for several years, so there were high expectations and high spirits as the crowd gathered in the sushi bar area. Going to dinner with a group of 20-40 other sushi lovers truly enhances the experience, especially once the introductions are made and people warm up and the sushi starts arriving at the tables.
The hibachi grill in the next room was in full swing and announced the entrance of Zena, Goddess of Fire with a huge ball of flame. Once the Goddess was seated and introductions were made, the evening's banquet unfolded, course by delightful course. Our table companions were a great young couple who are new to the Meetup and who love sushi - so we had a great basis for conversation.
I, like most of the sushi lovers in the room, have found myself going for the same sushi flavors after awhile, and so handing the choice over to the chef was an adventure worth taking.
Below is the lineup of courses:
Tom Yum Soup
Crab, seaweed and octopus salads - wakame with the octopus and a delightful salad.
Fresh scallop with fresh wasabi and lemon - adorable lights under the shell cheerfully twinkling and changing colors. That is FRESH wasabi on that slice of scallop and the curled darker pieces are the membrane. This had so many things going on that the four slices were gone before we knew it, but each slice allowed us to experience this dreamy shellfish in a different combination.
Sea urchin - one serving of uni per table was enough to give us all a plentiful taste. I had not had uni for about 20 years, so it was a great walk down memory lane.
Hamachi collar with the most wonderful fish sauce in the world. This was a great cooked course and provided a whole treasure chest of flavors. Then there was the sauce. Oh my.
The man in the photo below is JP giving us the rundown on the platter, which served as the "main" course. We were almost defeated at that point, but when the party is all about sushi, one soldiers on for the cause.
In spite of having to serve 20 sushi lovers the same sushi dishes at the same time all evening, the wait staff was very cheerful and helpful. They were prepared so that even the platters could all arrive at all of the tables at the same time - that's an organized staff. They didn't rush, and they did their best to keep up with drinks and sundries and to explain and introduce what we were getting. There were breaks between courses that allowed for conversation and a pause to recover one's palate and prepare for the next course, and that gave the staff time to clear dishes, refresh drinks and keep on top of what everyone needed.
We should all definitely start demanding fresh wasabi with our sushi instead of the paste, by the way. We all saved our little dishes of wasabi in order to dip and slather it over various kinds of fish and I for one will seek it out in all future sushi evenings. It's funny how over the decades of sushi in America the range of what is served has narrowed to a few standards. This dinner was a great reminder that sushi exotica is still possible.
The shot glass in the middle is an oyster, quail egg and scallion with a heavy drop of srirachi. After the staff poured a thimble full of hot sake on top it was ready for shooting. We did. It was a burst of about fifteen separate and combined flavors. The oyster was magnificent and the last flavor.
Ice Cream and Bananas
After groaning that we couldn't eat another bite, we caved in to the ice cream and bananas dessert. Zena, Goddess of Fire had to save several overwhelmed diners. It was a light ending to an incredible night of foodie adventure. There were enough delights to tweak even the hardened sushi veterans in the group, and the crowd dispersed among exclamations about one course or another as people talked over their favorite dish of the evening. We groused about how much there was, and if I could do it over again I'd give the customers more control over the quantities of what was served.
As we wandered into the night Zena took me under her protective cape to make sure I got into my ride safely, although the poor darling was like one of those bees that drinks all the sweet pickle juice from the picnic table. I don't know what exactly got saved later that night, but I think she might have taken one of the fire chariots instead of taking off to her next destination a la Wonder Woman.
Bryan Fitzgerald reviewed the hibachi side of Samurai in the Times Union: