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story.lead_photo.caption The Filet, Chicken & Shrimp hibachi dinner comes with fried rice and vegetables at Samu in Little Rock. - Photo by Jennifer Christman

When a new restaurant serves cuisine similar to that of the previous tenant, comparisons are inevitable.

So we can't help but weigh Samu Bar, Sushi, Hibachi against Oceans at Arthur's, which previously occupied the Village at Rahling Road space before it relocated to its snazzier Chenal Parkway digs.

While Samu is a Japanese restaurant and Oceans serves a variety of seafood, both specialize in sushi. And while Samu has a dizzying double-sided menu of nigiri, sashimi and signature rolls, we'd have to declare Oceans' more dazzling creations the winner. If we were just wanting sushi -- or a more stylish setting -- we'd go there.

That is not to slight Samu, which has its own thing going on. Featuring a few booths, wooden tables and chairs, warm walls, dim lighting, a Christmas tree, a muted TV showing sports and friendly service, the restaurant has a relaxed feel. It's where you can feel welcome after your evening sweat session at the gym; several couples fitted that description on a recent Friday. It's also where you can gab with your girlfriend for a two-hour Saturday lunch without imposing and while even receiving a free dessert. (Thanks, Samu!)

Beyond sushi, the restaurant has a full menu of hibachi dinners -- cooked in the kitchen, not at tables with tricks. If you ever wanted your shrimp and fried rice without sitting with strangers and without the circus of pyrotechnics, onion volcanoes and tail tosses, Samu is your place.

Gallery: Samu in Little Rock

But soon after arriving for our Friday dinner, we contemplated leaving for the nearby Mexican restaurant instead. Two larger parties demanded most of the two busy servers' attention, and we were feeling neglected, hungry and borderline cranky. Once our order was taken, however, food was served without delay, starting with the steamed, salted edamame ($5) we asked to come out first.

Two crunchy pork egg rolls ($3.50), served with a sweet dipping sauce, were standard. The standout, however, was the Tuna Tataki ($13; beef, $10, is another option), nine stunning and scrumptious slices of lightly seared, ruby tuna on a bed of grated carrots with ponzu sauce, wasabi and ginger.

Samu Bar, Sushi, Hibachi

Address: Village at Rahling Road, 27 Rahling Circle, Little Rock

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4-9:30 p.m. daily

Cuisine: Japanese

Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Carryout: Yes

(501) 448-2310

tinyurl.com/samusushi

Hibachi meals come not only with fried rice -- with no upcharge! -- and vegetables; they are preceded by salad and soup. We imagine the salad here -- just lettuce, fried wontons and ginger or ranch dressing -- would still consist of chilly iceberg even when there isn't a romaine scare. Soup is a fairly bland miso or a more flavorful onion broth.

My date's Filet, Chicken & Shrimp hibachi dinner ($28.50) was a protein-hearty platter featuring tender chicken, satisfactory shrimp and supple steak, intuitively cooked to a desired medium rare, though he wasn't asked for his preference. I chose the Salmon Teriyaki hibachi dinner ($17) and enjoyed the sweetly sauced mild dish. Both meals included a heap of savory, sesame-seed-studded rice, a vegetable medley of squash, broccoli, onion and carrot and two mellow, creamy dipping sauces -- a ginger and a mustard.

The next day I'd return with a friend to share sushi. I ordered Three Chef's Special Rolls ($36), plus choice of soup and salad.

The Godzilla ($11) is a deep-fried bundle of tuna, salmon, yellowtail and snapper topped with a good amount of spicy crab, as well spicy mayo and eel sauce. It was our favorite of the ones we sampled, but it still wasn't as good as Oceans' Godzilla, probably my favorite roll of all time, anywhere.

The Lion King ($12.50) is a baked California roll topped with salmon, spicy mayo and eel sauce. While it was tasty, the bottom of it stuck to the foil, making it a bit messy. The Lobster Roll ($12.50), tempura lobster with asparagus, eel sauce and white sauce, was slightly tough and the least memorable.

My friend also ordered the Garlic Udon Noodles ($10), expecting noodle soup, but instead receiving a flavorful plate of wide noodles with beef (chicken, shrimp also available) and a smattering of vegetables.

And then we were delighted by the thoughtful aforementioned free dessert -- a green tea ice cream sundae with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and a cherry.

Both visits we left Samu feeling happy and fat as Shamu.

Photo by Jennifer Christman
Samu’s Tataki appetizer can be ordered with tuna, as shown, or beef.
Photo by Jennifer Christman
Samu’s varied sushi menu includes the deep-fried Godzilla Roll (front) and the baked Lion King Roll.
Photo by Jennifer Christman
Steamed, salted edamame is an appetizer option at Samu.

Weekend on 12/06/2018

Print Headline: Samu makes waves in old Oceans

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