This past Friday night, before catching Alonzo Bodden at The Improv comedy club, we headed upstairs for dinner at Samurai Blue. The original Samurai Blue is located in the Centro Ybor entertainment complex in Ybor. A new location has opened in Westchase on Racetrack Rd.
We had dined once before at Samurai Blue about two years ago and had an okay meal. The kind of experience where you might try the place again if you're in the area, but you aren't in a rush to go back. After last week seeing Times restaurant critic Chris Sherman name Samurai Blue one of his five "best sushi" restaurants, we decided it was time to give the place another try.
Located inside the historic Centro Espanol building, the atmosphere of the Ybor location is hard to beat with its old-meets-new mix, which includes lots of exposed brick and towering 30-foot ceiling. On this visit, we decided to sit up at the sushi bar to be closer to the action. We started with a bottle of a refreshing cold sake and a grilled beef roll appetizer. The beef could have been more flavorful, but was solid. Little did we realize this dish would set the pace for the rest of the meal.
For our main course, I ordered three different kinds of sushi rolls and Traci went with the mango chicken. This large dish came with several chicken breasts served over white rice topped with diced fresh mango. I sampled the chicken, and it was juicy but not particuarly flavorful. While my sushi was fresh, it certainly wasn't among the best sushi I've ever had. Maybe this was just bad luck on my part in the selections I made, but out of three sushi rolls, I'd expect one to be a knock-out.
Sushi joints aren't cheap, and when you add just average-tasting sushi, and a fast, but unfriendly server to the mix, the net result is a fairly mediocre experience. Unfortunately, I felt like we did after the first time we visited Samurai Blue - in no rush to go back. The only other local sushi joint I've tried is Cafe Japon in International Plaza and I'm in no rush to revisit it either.
Note that Samurai Blue did average on its last health inspection report with 5 critical violations.
I'm not a big sushi person, but I would like to find one or two really good local sushi places. In my experience, some of the best sushi comes from small litle places where the sushi bar doesn't feel like a giant assembly line. Fellow Sticksian, Jason, has recommended I give a new restaurant called Sakana on south Gandy near MacDill a try. So what's your favorite local sushi joint and why?
Bottom-line: Samurai Blue's sushi didn't knock my socks off, but the restaurant's Ybor location, with its towering ceiling and old-meets-new vibe, still makes it a unique destination.