“Bright flavors. Bold colors. Sweet, sour, salty, hot.”
Concise despite his gregarious persona, Executive Chef Herb Wilson effortlessly depicts the keys that have driven SushiSamba’s success since his arrival in 2011. Many would think that integrating Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian influences all in one menu would be a daunting task. It certainly is, but comes naturally for a seasoned professional whose global background has landed him in some of the most famous kitchens, and now TV shows, out there.
“It’s like a roller coaster ride,” Wilson says of his career that took him across the world before landing him in Sin City. “Before you realize you’re on it, it’s over.”
The momentum only continues to grow, however, for Wilson and SushiSamba. Summer 2012 saw him on the Today Show, where he prepared some of the restaurant’s favorites in front of 6 million viewers. This past winter he won the Culinary Clash, a tournament that pits together every chef in the Venetian and Palazzo. Now, Wilson will be on next season’s Top Chef Master’s as Las Vegas’s sole representative, competing for the American Heart Association.
This all comes after Wilson’s work with esteemed chefs Patrick Clark and Larry Forgione in New York, then in three-star Michelin kitchens in France, including Gerard Pangaud and Le Freres Troisgros. He returned to the big apple to become Executive Chef of Le Refuge, open up the award-winning Bambou, and [run] Bull Run in the financial district. Wilson may be the only chef to have earned a prestigious two-star review from The New York Times by three different reviewers at three different restaurants.
Even after all that, the move to SushiSamba Las Vegas was an easy choice.
“I’ve known the owner for 20 years,” Wilson begins. Having been in the spotlight on so many occasions has seasoned him well. He’s got that soft smile and pep in his voice that makes everything he says a refreshing combination of calming and fascinating. “He asked me to relocate…and I was thrown into the fire in Las Vegas.”
For the past two-plus years, Wilson has handled the fire with grace. Too many people place SushiSamba in the blunt category of ‘sushi.’ You’re certainly going to find that namesake here, but it’s the whole package of Asia, South America and all the cultures within them that puts this restaurant into a genus of its own.
“It’s an experience. That’s what makes a good restaurant,” Wilson said. “The music, the walls with graffiti, the brightness, the energy level and consistently exciting food.”
These aspects drive looks and taste throughout the restaurant without question. The DJ booth and samba dancers add further pizzazz. The restaurant is not just an eatery, but a production, made possible only by a disciplined, close-knit team devoted to innovation and success.
“We have an incredible working relationship based on communication,” says Wilson of his staff. He extends his relationships to competitors as well, focused on the mission of delivering the best dining experience to the customer. “There’s a comradery of good chefs of a like profession. It’s good to be more collaborative.”
The culinary result is certainly what you’d hope to find in creative fine dining in this city, applying a small plates concept to very different kinds of food and open late to boot. Ceviche, robata, tempura, ramen, churrasco, and of course, sushi, all make their way onto a labyrinth of a menu, in addition to just enough familiar offerings to keep everyone around the table at bay.
Rock shrimp tempura, exceptional sashimi of yellowtail, salmon, tuna and king crab, and ‘large plate’ Brazilian-fired meats are just the beginning. SushiSamba is one of the only non-steakhouses in town with Japanese A5 Wagyu beef, literally the finest meat in the world. Wilson and company incorporates this delicacy into one heck of a gyoza, as well as the hot rock, where guests dress thin slices of the meat into an assortment of sauces, oils and salts, then flash-cook it over a 500-degree lava rock. Expensive, you bet. But if you’re ready to spend this is a prime way to indulge.
Seafood is nothing short of exceptional. The Chilean sea bass will be some of the best you’ll ever taste. This quality translates seamlessly into the sushi, where any of the Samba rolls uphold Japanese prestige while taking you to far reaches of the world. And in the restaurant’s grandeur, SushiSamba is home to perhaps the fanciest roll of sushi you can imagine. The Yamato—tuna, foie gras, osetra caviar and gold leaf.
Wilson smiles humbly. He knows it’s a crowd pleaser.
SushiSamba is located on the second floor of the Shoppes at the Palazzo, near Table 10. Open 11-1 a.m. Sunday-Wednesday and 11-2 a.m. Thursday-Saturday. Out-the-door price for food and 1-2 drinks is ~$90/person. For reservations or more information call (702) 607-0700 or visit SushiSamba online.