It´s lucid and uncomplicated. Lustrous and pretty, it´s a nuance of luxury without flamboyance. I love it because of its purity, its honesty, its wholeness. It´s cloudless, crystal clear in its flavors and textures.
I love sushi. I love it so much that I almost worked that first paragraph into a haiku.
The SMS message regarding Saturday night dinner plans read: “Come on, Jessica, I know you are skeptical about sushi in Prague, but we should give it a try. If it´s bad, I will never suggest it again.”
My friend, Annette (who notably had a palette reminiscing her two-month stay in Japan), was right about my skepticism.
Sushi and I split up when I arrived in Prague SUPPOSEDLY due to my constant whining and high expectations. But if you ask me, it wasn´t my fault. I just felt neglected and alone.
Prior to the Euro-move, I had an obstinate sushi habit that accounted for an Asia-sized portion of my bank statements, which I rationalized with the health benefits. Classic sushi story: It delightfully filled me as it emptied my wallet, without a tax of guilt.
It wasn´t just the land-locked factor that abruptly ripped the wasabi out of my life, but my failed attempts to satisfy the cravings in places such as Made In Japan, in Prague 1, where the experience was all-around outrageously laughable, while the check was outrageously not.
Before Samurai Japanese Cuisine in Vinohrady, I had mistakenly given up on sushi in Prague, and felt forced to live life without it. (I wish I could say Prague had this same effect with unhealthier habits of mine.) There IS great sushi to be had in this city—beyond the second-rate. And I found it in a place that goes the whole nine-yards with the dining experience.
Samurai´s atmosphere is serene, sleek and polished, contouring traditional Japanese style, complemented by the custom-clad staff. Beyond the front dining room, the restaurant is structured in a maze of private seating areas, some rooms furnished like a private sushi bar for parties of about ten. We sat beneath a muted light that glossed over the curvy table settings, comfortably separated by a shelf-ed wall from one joyful, sake-infused party. It was perfect to be just separated enough to feel enclosed in our own personal dining space, yet still within an ear´s and eye´s range of the cheer of other patrons.
The variety of maki and nigiri sushi is thrilling. We initially went with one of the sushi sets. These are combination platters of maki and nigiri sushi, opening with a misoshiru soup that transforms an insipid time-passer into a savory overture. We chose the “ninja” combination, which delivered 5 pieces of chef-selected nigiri and 6 pieces of maki. The platter arrived with a plump, glistening array of fresh raw fish in pieces that could almost be swallowed whole if my game wasn´t about stretching every divine second by method of slow dissolve.
The chef´s choices on the ninja platter didn´t include unagi (eel), a favorite of mine, and so I later ordered it separately, along with hokkigai (Japanese clam), and tamago for my companion. The nigiri pieces were uniformly impressive, as is the sashimi, although unless you want to stress out your jaw until the US solves its economic crisis, I wouldn´t recommend the octopus. I can´t say the same for the maki that accompanied our combination platter, three salmon roll pieces, and three plain cucumber pieces (ker-snooze). They weren´t worth any attention, particularly with the dramatic arrival of the California maki, and the spider roll. The spider roll encompasses fried soft shell crab and lettuce, embellished with sesame seeds, and it tastes as delicious as it sounds and even more delicious than it looks. And both of the aforementioned are plentiful in portion.
Before I sway you closer to your phone to make reservations at Samurai, let me forewarn you that the experience isn´t cheap, of course (not that “bargain” sushi would spark anyone´s interest). It´s an elegant restaurant that goes all out to offer an authentic Japanese experience. The presentation is certainly a part of that, I think, as I specifically recall the yasai tempura, which arrived more stunning than its menu photo. Fried vegetables never looked so good. And how rare is this?: it looked just as beautiful in the morning light, after I got too full from everything else and had to take it home with me.
Yes, the menu is financially navigable, and I could have gone about it better, e.g. not nodding my head every time I was asked if I wanted another Sapporo, at 120CZK a bottle. The ninja set is 490CZK, the two additional pieces of unagi were 140CZK each, the spider roll is 370CZK, sake is 70CZK. It´s enough to satisfy two people, and it totals 1590CZK. Not including the beer. Or any of the many other delectable items I sampled to land me a mountainous bill.
But you already know you have to be armed with a strong wallet for quality Japanese dining, especially in Prague. Sushi is an oxymoron, anyway, in that it´s an essential luxury.
Our focus was sushi, but Samurai´s menu spans far beyond that. In fact, the menu is a bit overwhelming if you´re looking past sushi and sashimi, so you might have to flip through oodles of noodles before deciding. We included the agedashi tofu and udon noodles in our order, and both were lovely and engaging, my companion insisting the udon noodles are true to Japan. I have no complaints with the food at all. The timing of the deliverables was perfect, with special thanks to the two heedful and devoted servers who took care of us.
Samurai, I´m sure, has been a favorite of expatriate sushi savants for a while now, and I´m ashamed I hadn´t tried it before (and thankful for my friend´s optimistic payoff). While it alleviated my skepticism on the availability of quality raw fish in Prague, it has set the bar quite high on other, newer Japanese restaurants that I´m now willing to brave and report on.
One final note. I´m rarely one to rave about desserts unless they really deserve it, but I was wowed over. So wowed over that it inspired me to write the following two-verse haiku:
Lovely green matcha,
I love Samurai.
Sipping the sake,
The server brings us the bill,
Can I wash dishes?
And with that brilliance, who could ever doubt my opinion?
Londýnská 73, Prague 2
+420 774 422 217
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Disclaimer: All stars are relative to an establishment´s context.
Jessica Rose can be reached at email@example.com