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After nearly 30 years in business, Samurai Japanese Restaurant is practically a North County legend.
First opened in 1979 by David Song, it was the first Japanese restaurant in the area, said Song’s son, Charlie Song. It was located on Highway 101 in Solana Beach, until it was destroyed by a fire in 1986. Yet like a true warrior, the business survived the tragedy, and reopened a year later on Lomas Santa Fe Drive.
Today, the establishment continues to thrive under Charlie Song, who took over as owner when his father died in 1992. Guests can choose various types of settings — whether it’s relaxing at the sushi bar or cocktail lounge, relishing a meal in the dining room, watching chefs slicing and dicing their way through foods at a teppan grill, or experiencing the fare “Japanese- style” in a Tatami Room.
Originally, Samurai only served sushi, but the menu has expanded over the years, featuring authentic Japanese cuisine prepared in the “old-style tradition,” Charlie Song said.
In the teppanyaki dining room, patrons are seated around a teppan table, which features an iron griddle. Chefs provide entertainment of sorts, playfully flipping utensils while preparing grilled fare such as chicken, steak, scallops, prawns, mahi mahi, salmon, calamari and vegetables. Customers can request them individually or in various combinations, including the Samurai Special with filet mignon and lobster.
Teppan dinners are served with miso soup, salad, a shrimp appetizer, vegetables and rice.
Those who are seated in the dining room have a different set of menu options. They may start with an appetizer such as Yakitori, a shishkabob with alternating pieces of grilled chicken lightly glazed in a sauce with peppers and onions.
Other starters include Gyoza (pork dumplings), Fried Calamari, Harumaki (egg rolls), several types of tempura (deep-fried seafoods and vegetables) and more than a dozen other choices to whet the appetite.
Entrée selections range from Tonkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlet), Sukiyaki (sliced beef and vegetable soup) and Teriyaki Chicken, to Yosenabe (seafood, chicken and egg soup) to Lobster Tempura.
Since it started as a sushi establishment, Samurai is most widely known for its raw fish. Among its specialties is the Rainbow Roll, which has an outer layer of avocado
and assorted fish, and an inside that contains the standard California Roll fillings of avocado, cucumber and crabmeat. The rice is prepared in a mix of vinegar and a dash of sugar.
Another popular draw is the sashimi, with varieties such as bluefin tuna, hamachi (yellowtail), sake (salmon), hirame (halibut), tako (octopus) and albacore.
In the semi-private Tatami Room, guests pad barefoot across mats and settle on cushions placed on the floor before low- platform tables. Then, patrons put trust in the chefs’ choice to create a delicious meal (omokase). Reservations for these rooms are required at least a day in advance, and the cost is between $80 and $120 per person.
For a less formal setting, patrons can head to the recently remodeled cocktail lounge or the 50-seat sushi bar for happy hour specials on select wines, beers, well drinks, hot sakes, sushi rolls and appetizers.
Samurai Japanese Restaurant
979 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach
The Vibe: Elegant, casual, exotic
Signature Dishes: Various kinds of sashimi (sliced, raw-fish sushi)
Happy Hour: 5-9 p.m. Monday, 5-6:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Monday-Friday, 5-10 p.m. Saturday, 4:30-9:30 p.m. Sunday
• RECIPE OF THE WEEK: Samurai's Sunomono Salad
1 bowl fresh seaweed (wakame)
1/2 cucumber, cut julienne-style
1 cup ponzu sauce
2 ounces fresh octopus
2 ounces salmon
2 ounces maguro (bluefin tuna)
2 ounces hamachi (yellowtail)
2 ounces halibut (hirame)
— Method: Put all ingredients in a bowl and finger-toss. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top. For a spicier version, add jalapeño and dabs of sriracha.