It’s difficult to think of The Last Samurai without thinking of Tom Cruise as an American-accented samurai warrior. That’s unfortunate. Still, The Last Samurai is a pretty good name for a Japanese restaurant, especially one that features, if not swordplay, at least some pretty impressive knife slinging.
The Last Samurai in Park City opened last year, and the Salt Lake City Samurai on 600 South has been open for a couple of months. I’m told there’s another planned for Layton this summer. The Last Samurai is a teppanyaki-style restaurant. Unfortunately, I sort of have an aversion to these places—I mean, once you’ve been to Benihana, it’s a case of “been there; done that.” For the uninitiated, teppanyaki is dinner and a show: Customers sit on the outer perimeters of a large teppanyaki table/grill, where the food is cooked right in front of you. Of course, all these teppanyaki places feature scripted banter between the chef and customers, sometimes-dazzling knife play, and fire … lots of fire.
Our teppanyaki chef said his name was Hung Lo. I never could quite determine if he was having a laugh with us or not. Anyway, Hung began his show by making a “volcano” from rings of an onion. He then poured fuel into the center, and flash—a volcano! Pretty cool, actually; I’m going to try it at home some evening when I’ve been dipping into the sake. Next, Hung took a petit filet mignon—I’d ordered a filet and scallop combo ($18)—and butterflied it with his razor-sharp chef’s knife, simultaneously cooking noodles for yakisoba, a large hunk of calamari, veggies, and a serving of sea scallops. Every now and then, to get our attention, he’d pour more fuel onto the grill, creating a six-foot high flame that threatened to singe our eyebrows, but never did. I won’t be trying that at home.
Here’s a little secret: The teppanyaki lunch at The Last Samurai is one of the best bargains on the planet. At dinnertime, the grilled calamari “hibachi” is $19. At lunch, it’s priced at only $8, which includes miso soup, a house salad, steamed rice and grilled vegetables. That’s a lot of food for less than $10. Everything was cooked perfectly.? Scallops were surprisingly tender and not overcooked (a miracle) and the filet was medium-rare, as ordered, chopped into small cubes—literally the most tender meat I’ve ever eaten. Likewise, a large slab of calamari—which I’d sort of expected to be rubbery and chewy—was also tender, cut into bite-sized cubes. An order of yakisoba noodles in place of steamed rice (a $3 surcharge) was plentiful enough to be a meal all by itself. And even at night, the teppanyaki options are a good deal: The filet mignon and shrimp combination is $22; chicken and salmon is $19; the Geisha Special (New York Steak, shrimp and chicken) is a mere $24, including soup, salad and sides. Oddly, lobster-tail teriyaki is priced at a whopping $50, while filet mignon and lobster tail is only $37. Go figure.
The Last Samurai also features a small, 7-seat sushi bar along with a handful of booths near the sushi bar to complement the dozen teppanyaki tables in the restaurant. During one visit, we opted to forgo the teppanyaki show and took the sushi bar for a spin. It was much better than I’d anticipated; not at all second fiddle to the teppanyaki. Our sushi chef was an amiable gent named Togi and our server was Boston-born Richie, who teaches skiing in Park City during the winter. If I owned a restaurant I’d fill it with servers like Richie—very professional, but with a great sense of humor as well. In fact, a good sense of humor seems to be part of the job description at The Last Samurai; Togi and Hung gave us a few chuckles, too.
After ordering a large Sapporo ($8.95) and a glass of Columbia Crest Chardonnay ($8) from the rudimentary wine list, we tucked into an order of six pork-filled gyoza dumplings ($7), which were quite good, each dumpling being nicely crisped on one side. At The Last Samurai sushi bar, we stuck pretty much with nigiri sushi and sashimi, forgoing most of the specialty rolls and deep-fried rolls, of which there are many. I really wanted to get a sense of how fresh the fish was, and it’s easier to hide inferior fish in a maki roll than it is as nigiri or sashimi. We did try the spicy hamachi roll ($7.95), however, which was exactly as advertised: spicy. Saba (mackerel) nigiri was fresh, delicious and relatively cheap, at $4.95. Ditto for the hamachi, priced at $5.95. Aji (Spanish mackerel/ horse mackerel) was outstanding, served as two large pieces of nigiri, along with two pieces of cooked filet with teriyaki sauce ($6). Togi even threw in the fried fish carcass, along with crunchy, refreshing shredded daikon. The very generous portion of uni (sea urchin) had to be handled in stages it was so plentiful—a steal for $7.25. The only sour note was our tekka maki ($6.95); the tuna’s texture suggested that it was less than perfectly fresh. It had likely been frozen and defrosted. All in all though, our sushi experience at The Last Samurai was every bit as enjoyable as the teppanyaki meal.
Understand, this is not inventive, Takashi-style Japanese cuisine I’m discussing. But for solid, family-friendly teppanyaki and sushi, The Last Samurai has the right stuff.
THE LAST SAMURAI
214 W. 600 South, 801-596-2293
6520 N. Highway 224, Park City, 435-655-7080