Explore Sake and Japanese Cuisine Via Regional Omakase Dinners at SushiSamba Rio

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Opening the cask to start dinner. Photo: Galdones Photography

SushiSamba Rio is a brightly-colored carnival of a place, but if you think it doesn't have room to get quieter and more contemplative about Japanese cuisine, you should check out the series of omakase dinners they're planning beginning January 18. Inspired by the trip of their culinary team to Japan, it's a series of dinners focused around rare and outstanding sakes produced in different regions of Japan, with a multi-course menu tailored to reflect the region of that night's highlighted sushi. (As Hayes Swope, the restaurant's regional director of operations and, incidentally, a certified sake sommelier, admits, "You don't necessarily want a complete menu from some of these regions— it will be 12 kinds of root vegetables." But some dishes, at least, will reflect the area from which the sake comes.)

To judge by the preview dinner this week, it's quite a window into traditional Japanese culture, beginning with the ritual of smashing open the casks of sake, proceeding to a demonstration of fish carving by the sushi chef, incorporating an eight-course meal of delicate flavors, from sashimi to tempura to grilled black cod, and concluding with a green tea ceremony. But most interesting of all is the assortment of sake pairings, which includes many rare bottles not generally available in the U.S., which range from aperitif-style sparkling sake to smooth junmai sakes.

The first dinner, Friday, January 18, is devoted to sake from Hiroshima; January 25 highlights producers from Akita, February 1 focuses on Nagano, and the final dinner on February 8 is centered on Nigata. Space is limited to 20 seats per event, so make reservations at 312-595-2300.