Many sushi lovers rave about Sushi Sam’s. I had lunched at Sam’s many times and considered it a good but not exceptional sushi option. Having just gone for dinner I now understand the praise.
Elaine and Don suggested that we head over on a Tuesday, the night when Sam often has the greatest variety of special fish. Yesterday he offered white salmon, kanpachi, black cod, snow crab, king crab, butterfish, needlefish, anago and kobe beef, and we tried them all as nigiri.
The quality of fish we sampled was excellent, likely comparable to Sakae. Some of the preparations were very simple. The king crab is a great example and it was among the best crab I’ve had. Similarly, the fatty kanpachi was lightly coated with just the right amount of soy. Other preparations were more fanciful. The unusual white salmon was topped with a heaping of scallions. To the sumptuous butterfish was added a thin slice of fried garlic. And, the uncommon black cod nigiri was sauced with a citrus yuzu. The tastes were complimentary but I felt the garnish came to close to overwhelming the wonderfully subtle nigiri.
More often than not Sam struck the right balance. The needlefish with shiso leaf and fresh wasabe was just as it should be. And, the inventive special toro roll is reason alone to head to San Mateo. Sam’s toro is beautifully marbled and I thought it would be sacrilegious to chop it for maki. Don ignored my concerns and placed the order, and after eating two of the six pieces I was delighted he did. Toro, pickles, teeny toasted rice crackers and seaweed combine to form a roll you have to order.
On my next visit to Sam’s I might inquire about sashimi options or “naked” nigiri, but I’ll likely just ask for the omakase dinner and leave to decisions to Sam. Sakae is still the champion of bay area sushi, but Sushi Sam’s is a more reasonably priced contender that may get a title shot soon.
Sushi Sam’s: 218 E 3rd Ave, San Mateo, CA (650) 344-0888