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But time heals all wounds, including whatever gum-gouging went on before. I found my way back to Samurai with a sushi-loving friend and ordered too much for two people to eat (we ate it all) and decided I wanted to go back.

It may take time for restaurants to find their feet, unfortunately, and those unlucky test subjects who experience early rough waters may not be the forgiving type. If you ever shied away from Samurai, it’s time to give it another shot.

Strip-mall neighbors to Pizza Hut and Jersey Mike’s, Samurai is pretty small. There’s a sushi bar and a few tables; that’s it.

The menu is not small. It has lots of rolls to try, so forgive me if I concentrate on the highlights.

If you can resist the siren
call of an appetizer called Monkey Brain ($4.95), then you’re a better
man than I. Shaped a bit like a muffin cut in quarters, the “brain” is
avocado topped with spicy tuna and crab with a tempura top and a sweet,
mildly spicy sauce. A bit of a mess to eat, it’s a nice little combo to
whet your appetite.

It’s
nothing compared to the gyoza ($3.95), which I recommend you get
pan-fried. These little dumplings are a tad greasier than most, but I
think it’s because they are made on-site. Filled with tender pork and
vegetables, they are a delicacy most dangerous. You will not realize
you’ve eaten them all until you look down and then see your dining
companion’s scowl of displeasure.

The
sushi sample appetizer ($6.95) is just five pieces of nigiri, but the
simple presentation complements the dish. A chef’s choice of fish on
rice, ours was the usual lineup of tuna, salmon, crabstick and the like.
And you know what? It was good, honest sushi.

That said, if you like specialty rolls and sauces and things that are tempurafried, Samurai is happy to serve you.

It’s
a one-man show in the kitchen, so far as I could see, so don’t be
alarmed if food takes a minute to show up. We were quite pleased with
the Crunch & Caliente roll ($7.95). Basically a spicy tuna roll with
avocado, tempura and spicy sauce on top, it was the favorite of the
bunch — proof, perhaps, that a lot of ingredients doesn’t always
guarantee a better roll.

Which
is how we felt about the Phoenix Tail ($9.95). A mix of salmon, tuna,
crab and avocado, fried and topped with eel sauce, it wasn’t bad. It
just didn’t make much of an impression.

Better
was the Bomb Bomb ($11.95) with a California roll under crab and spicy
tuna with scallions and the house spicy sauce. It was a little crunchy
and had plenty of heat.

Look
for lots of old favorites — veggie rolls and Philly rolls — and combos a
little less common. The Boston roll ($5.25) combines steamed shrimp
with avocado, lettuce and cucumber. I’d have it again.

There
are more cooked entrees, as well, but the best things I had were the
simplest. Tuna Tataki ($9.95) is a plate of seared tuna slices in a
spicy ponzu sauce. This is what I love about Japanese food: one dish,
done extremely well, and it made my entire meal better.

My
only reservation in telling you about the small Samurai is that I’m
afraid I won’t be able to get in the door when people realize how good
this little restaurant on 23rd Street is. But it’s too good to keep
secret.

Such is the power of one good meal. (Well, two. I went back for more.) Suddenly, you can’t wait to tell everybody.

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