Dining out: Last Samurai

Published: Friday, Jan. 8 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

I know people who think Japanese steakhouses are gimmick restaurants along the lines of The Mayan or Hard Rock Cafe, where the emphasis is on the "experience" rather than the food.

Maybe that's true for some of them.

Without meaning to, I put that premise to the test at Last Samurai, when my husband, our son and I had lunch at this downtown restaurant on a recent weekday.

The "teppan" area, with the big grills around which customers gather to watch their food showily cooked, was completely empty. A little intimidated by the thought of invading that pristine space — and worrying about how long such a lunch might take — we opted to sit with the rest of the customers in a small nearby dining area with a few tables and a row of enclosed booths.

The booths were cozy and nicely appointed, with comfortable seating and coat hooks, but they were small. Four adults would feel a little squished in there.

To start, my husband ordered gyoza, one of his favorite Japanese foods, competently done at Last Samurai. I had hamachi sushi, two delicate, satiny slices of yellowtail with a mild, clean flavor, prettily laid over mounds of sticky rice with a sprinkle of green onion and lots of wasabi and pickled ginger nearby.

However, I liked best the crispy shrimp roll, a wonderful, dark-brown and crackly skin filled with ground shrimp and pressed flat, cut into pieces and served with just-spicy sweet-and-sour sauce. Each piece was great, super-crispy with loads of shrimp flavor.

"Teppan" lunches are available if you sit at one of the big grills, but for obvious reasons, we went with food from the kitchen. My husband had the teriyaki chicken noodle bowl, a generous portion of noodles tossed in sweet teriyaki sauce with tender, juicy chicken. The cooking methods of Japanese steakhouses result, more often than not, in very juicy seared meat. Whether it's good depends on the quality of the meat itself, and Last Samurai uses superior products.

With his teriyaki, my husband also got a California roll, which included strips of crunchy cucumber in addition to the avocado and creamy crab filling. He's not much for any kind of sushi, so I had a little and saved the rest.

Our little boy had a side dish of teriyaki noodles, while I had the steak with fried rice. I especially like the fried rice at Japanese steakhouses, with its smoky, just-grilled flavor and general freshness. This rice, though it wasn't cooked in front of me, didn't disappoint, and I got a huge portion.

But the steak was the real standout of this meal: cooked medium-rare, super-tender, beautifully seared and nicely sliced, it was just wonderful, and a bargain at $10 for the meal, which also included a salad of greens with tangy Japanese-style dressing and a bowl of hot miso soup with plenty of tofu and greens.

We thought we might have some green tea and chocolate ice cream for dessert but were told they don't have it "yet," only vanilla. So we declined dessert — our stomachs were full, anyway.

Lunch prices: appetizers $4.95-$6.95; teppan lunches $6.95-$12.95; entrees $8.95-14.95; sushi and sashimi $4.95-$11.95; rolls $6.95-14.95; sides and salads $1.95-$9.95.

Last Samurai

Rating: ★★★

Where: 214 W. 600 South (also in Park City)

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Sunday, 5-10 p.m.

Payment: Major credit cards accepted

Phone: 801-532-2436

Wheelchair access: Easy

Also: Lunch specials available; restaurant is on a one-way street, so customers must approach from the east, heading west

Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret News. e-mail: skratz@desnews.com

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