Sam’s Sushi Bistro
654 Horseblock Rd., Farmingville
SERVICE: Exceedingly warm and attentive
AMBIENCE: Intimate and Spartan
ESSENTIALS: Open 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 12:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday, 1:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday; easy lot parking; credit cards accepted; wheelchair friendly; reservations recommended on weekends; beer, wine and sake only
When Sam’s Sushi Bistro opened in February, it did so in a heady way. The restaurant’s Facebook page was full of beauty shots of needlefish sushi rolled into dainty cigars and side-plated bluefin toro dotted with golden nasturtiums.
This was a pretty big sushi development for this stretch of Horseblock Road in Farmingville, where (at least farther down the street) Mexican, Turkish and plenty of Portuguese food takes precedence. As it was, owner Sam Chen had taken over a former Chinese restaurant, Szechuan Garden, to transform it into this sushi bar, where you are greeted with a hot towel and showered with attention — warmth that helps offset the Spartan décor.
Was there an untapped market for shima-aji (striped jack) and orange clam in these Suffolk hinterlands? Maybe, but some of the restaurant’s early enthusiasm for innovation may have faded — possibly because the traffic just wasn’t there. While items such as live scallops and Kumamoto oysters remain written on the specials board, the restaurant was out of both across two visits. Shipments of the more offbeat fish arrive once a week, apparently, so hitting them at the right time may be tricky.
In the meantime, Sam’s standard-bearing sushi is serviceable — and the sashimi quite handsome and fresh — but it’s some of the Chinese-influenced dishes that carry the day.
For instance, shrimp dumplings that are made in house, and are pockets of comfort lurking in a buttery broth. Ditto for the “juicy” dumplings — essentially soup dumplings, five to an order — that burst with gingery broth as you crush one in your mouth.
Lobster is omnipresent on this fusion-y menu; there’s lobster rangoon, lobster salad wrapped in tuna, plenty of lobster specialty rolls. The crisp lobster spring rolls, with plenty of meat inside, are a luxe reimagining of a common snack. Grilled baby short ribs, by contrast, are leathery and best avoided. A few raw (or barely warmed) appetizers held more charm, such as supple flaps of yellowtail, positioned just so in ponzu sauce with slivers of jalapeño (though some seeds may still cling to the pepper, so watch out) or something called “new style sashimi” — wisps of sliced fluke soaking in a citrusy yuzu sauce and drizzle of warm olive oil.
The sushi itself is a mixed bag: While the cuts can be floppy, fresh and generous, the rice is underseasoned and might crumble apart during a chopstick lift. Better, in both structure and substance, is sashimi, sliced like thick jewels. A “love boat” for two — but that really can feed three or even four — is loaded with both sushi and sashimi, from the usual suspects (salmon, yellowtail, two kinds of tuna) to unagi, octopus and more of that striped jack. It’s a deal at $60, which also lands you a specialty roll. We devoured the 2017, a tumble of multiple fish smeared with miso sauce. The list of specialty rolls is so long that it almost becomes a blur. But the rolls are pretty to look at, well-proportioned and sometimes include unusual accents such as green beans, seared filet mignon and banana tempura.
The rest of Sam’s menu lassoes various Asian cuisines; true to them, the fried rice is quite elegant, but hibachi-grilled meats and fish nearly drown in overly salty sauce and nabeyaki udon is almost clunky — among its disparate parts are giant broccoli spears.
And then there is the orange clam. Sometime during the meal, it may be proferred — a special that was pushed during two visits, possibly because it’s something of an acquired taste. This giant clam is chopped into coins, served dramatically on a bamboo platform alongside its giant shell with a tangy dipping sauce and an orchid accent (there are lots of orchids here). The flesh is chewy, super briny and has a long finish — one that might seem interminably long to some.
Sam’s sake list is solid, with attractive choices at multiple price points. There’s also Japanese beer and generous pours of wine, as well as an exuberant cocktail menu — but one that must wait for the liquor license to come through. By then, enough people may have discovered Sam’s to jump-start the shipments of special fish, so those early aspirations can come to be.