Jihye Chang

January 2011

Samurai Asian Fusion Reustaurant and Sushi Bar

Samurai Japanese Cuisine in Fargo has been open for only a few weeks, but it has already generated a lot of buzz. (Last week I got 2 emails from my friends urging me to check it out!)

I have so far tasted their Chirashi, Mackerel (saba) sushi, Ikura (salmon roe) sushi, spider roll, volcano roll, green curry with tofu, shrimp and vegetable tempura and tempura ice cream. I was skeptical at first as they have such a huge menu that ranges from nigiri sushi to Singapore noodle and general Tso’s chicken, but everything I had was surprisingly good.

First of all their fish quality is probably the best in town. The white tuna and salmon on my chirashi were of very good quality. (although it did not have a lot of fish considering the price at $17.95) Many new restaurants tend to put out their best in the first few weeks and then eventually downgrade. But I hope the ingredient quality at Samurai will continue to be good.

I also liked the way they cook their sushi rice. (In my humble opinion, sushi is as much about rice as it is about fish.) Of course you can’t compare it to the sushi you eat at great restaurants in Japan, where the sushi master takes amazing amount of care for their vinegar, rice, particular kind of salt, etc. But at least it was not sticky or gummy or too sweet as some of other sushi places in town, and the rice-other ingredients ratio was very good as well.

Ikura sushi was good enough, but the seaweed outside was a bit dried out. Probably it would be better if I sit at the sushi dai and eat the sushi as soon as it’s made. Spider roll and saba sushi were good, too. Volcano roll was tasty but probably won’t order again as it’s a bit too big and on the pricey side without being special.

Shrimp tempura was very good. Japanese tempura is not made with panko, and it should have light and crispy texture to it. The tempura at Samurai was better than any other tempura that I had in town. To my taste it had a bit too much little “tempura flowers,” but still very crispy and light. The shrimp quality was good, and the oil was drained very well. Tempura sauce was also good.

Thai green curry  was tasty, too. Unusual to have fried potato pieces in Thai curry, but everything else was well balanced and it was made with good ingredients. Salad and miso soup are OK. I looked at other tables, and all the food looked good. (Pad Thai, Crab cake, tuna dumpling, etc.)

I talked to the manager, John, for a little bit. I asked him how he manages to have such a big menu, and he told me that there is a “master top chef” who knows everything in the kitchen, and there is also a chef only dedicated to doing teriyaki stuff. There are also 2 sushi chefs at the sushi dai. Interior is very modern and minimal, (the blue light makes you feel like you are in the Tron: Legacy!) and the service is good. Since my husband liked eating at Samurai and won’t refuse to go, I think I will be back for sure. At least it’s worth trying for more than once, just to check out the menu. 🙂

They don’t have a website up yet, so here are a few essential information:

Address & Phone number: 1775 45th Street South, Suite B/ 701-356-8882

Open hour: Monday-Thursday 11am till 10pm (11am – 3pm, lunch hour)/ Friday and Saturday 11am till 10:30pm/ Sunday noon till 9pm

Sample menu:

Miso soup $2.5, Tom Yum Soup with shrimp $3.95

Samurai seafood salad $10.50

Gyoza $4.95, Beef negimaki $7.50, Crab cake with pineapple salsa $6.95, Shrimp tempura $7.50

Usual items for nigiri sushi and sashimi from $4.50-$7.95

Many choices for special rolls and what they call “sashimi roll” $4.95 – $19.50/ Chirashi $17.95/ Unagi-don $15.95

Fusion Asian entrees such as lychee duck, grand manier shrimp, soft shell crab Thai style

Other items include Thai curry and basil sauce stir fries/ Japanese noodle soup (Udon)/ Chinese items such as eggplant with garlic sauce and Genera Tso’s chicken, Japanese teriyaki, etc.

UPDATE (as of February 10, 2011) – I have visited three more times after this initial review and tried many other dishes. I think sushi is still OK, and some Thai dishes (green curry and pad Thai). Udon was not good at all (broth was salty and not flavorful/ had same vegetables as the Tom Yum), and the tempura had an odd detergent (?) taste.

Still a very nice service, good sushi rice, and variety that a lot of my friends liked. Not sure if I want to keep this in “Good eats in America” category, but it’s the best Asian/Japanese restaurant in FM area in my opinion.

Korean “Ssam-Bap” (rice and other toppings wrapped in lettuce leaves)

“Ssam” in Korean means something wrapped. What David Chang serves at his Ssam-Bar is a variation on something called “Bo-ssam”, which is steamed pork belly with radish kimchi, bossam kimchi, or cabbage leaves. There are many restaurants in Korea specializing in Ssam, and the fare usually includes rice (sometimes seasoned and shaped nicely), various kinds of wrapping leafy-things, and many condiments and toppings.

When Koreans eat grilled meat, meat is not the main actor. We put small pieces of meat in the middle of red leaf lettuce or sesame leaves and top it with many kinds of sauces and other vegetables.

I cooked “ssam-bap” with tofu and grilled beef Bulgogi (marinated ribeye) for New Year’s Eve, and my friends all loved it. So here is a list of simple recipes and ingredients.

1) To Grill

Bulgogi – I got Ribeye steak and sliced it myself. You can purchase really thin slices for “Bulgogi” at Korean markets. Or you can freeze the meat 20 minutes and then slice as thin as possible. Season with salt and pepper.

Easy way: Marinade 1lb beef with 3TB soy sauce, 2TB sugar, 0.5TB sesame oil, minced garlic 1TB, chopped green onion, little bit of black pepper, and 1ts rice wine (Not mirin, but cooking rice wine or sherry or sake). Some recipes will call for more sugar, or some mirin, some chopped green onion. But this is the basic and you can adjust with what you like. (more sesame oil, more sugar, molasses, brown sugar, honey, etc. I don’t put any vinegar in my beef marinade, though.)

Fancy way: Marinade 1lb of beef with 2TB Asian Pear juice, 1 TB sugar for 10 min.

Then add to this marinade for 30 min: 1 TB cooking rice wine (or sake), 1 Tb Sesame oil, 3TB soy sauce, 1 ts sugar, 1TB chopped green onion, 2 clove chopped garlic, 1 TB honey. (Taste this and adjust seasoning. You don’t have to use all of the marinade. Originally it’s for about 600g of beef, and a pound is 450g)

For pear juice, grating Asian pear would be the best option. If not available, you can use canned juice (shown in the picture gallery) instead.

Also you can just grill small slices of your favorite steak cut with some salt and pepper.

Tofu – this is not a typical item to grill for ssam, but my vegetarian friends liked it very much. Prepare firm organic tofu. Salt and let it sit for 20 minutes. Wipe off excess water with kitchen towel. Fry in oil until golden brown and crispy.

Pork belly (“Samgyeop-sal) – you can find thinly sliced pork belly in Korean grocery stores. You just grill the sliced pieces until they are golden crisp.

Mushroomsenoki and shiitake are very good. The “Sae-Songi” mushrooms at Korean grocery stores are really good, too. They are long and fat white mushrooms.

Green onions (2 inch long)  and onions (sliced as rings)

2) Wrapping vegetable

Red leaf lettuce, sesame leaves (you can find them at big Korean grocery shops such as H-Mart.), mustard greens, steamed cabbage leaves, etc. (Romaine lettuce doesn’t work so well, though.)

3) Sauces – you can prepare as many or little as you want!

a) Ssam-jang: 3 TB gochujang (Korean chili paste. Get Soonchang brand or Haechandel), 1 Tb doenjang (Korean fermented bean paste), 1 TB chopped garlic, 1 TB sesame oil, 1 TB sugar, 0.5 Tb corn syrup, 2 Tb chopped green onion (optional: 1 Tb toasted sesame seeds)

b) Sesame-Salt oil: 1 part pepper, 3 part salt, and 2 part sesame oil. Mix with this proportion. This mixture is very good for pork belly and any non-marinated meat.

c) Tuna ssam-jang: 1 can of tuna in olive oil, drained. Chop 1 serrano chili and half an onion. Put 1 TB sesame oil in a medium sauce pan. Put the tuna and stir fry a few minutes. Put 2TB doenjang (Korean fermented bean paste), 1TB gochujang (Korean chili pepper paste), 1TB toasted sesame seed, 1TB chopped garlic, 1/2 ts ginger juice, 1/2 TB sugar, 1/3 cup water and 1TB mirin (Japanese sweet cooking rice wine)

d) Ground beef with Korean chili paste (Yak-gochujang): Prepare 1/4 lb ground sirloin. Marinate with 1 ts soy sauce, 1 ts sugar, 2 ts chopped green onion and 1 ts chopped garlic for 10 minutes. Put 1 TB sesame oil in a medium sauce pan. Add the marinated beef and cook until about 80% done. Add 3 TB Asian pear juice and cook until the meat cooks and the water evaporates a bit. Add 1 cup of gochujang, 1 Tb sugar. Stir and cook for 10 minutes. Mix with 2 TB honey.

4) Side Vegetables

a) Shredded cabbage and onion with mustard sauce: Mix 2 Tb soy sauce, 1 ts prepared mustard (or wasabi), 1 Tb rice vinegar, a bit of sugar – add to very thinly sliced cabbage and onion. If you can find Asian chives (very thin, pungent smelling green vegetable), add some of them here.

b) Green onion salad (“Pa-Jeori”): You need to find thick green onions called “Dae-Pa” from a Korean grocery store. Slice it as thinly as possible. Make the seasoning with 1ts salt, 1 ts sesame oil, 1 Tb toasted sesame, 1 Tb powdered red chili (“Gochugaru”) and 1 ts sugar. Season right before serving.

Prepare the sauces/ Prepare the meat/ Make the side vegetables/ Wash the wrapping vegetables/ Set the table/ Grill the meat…then ENJOY! 🙂