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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Little Things, Part 2 - SUSHISAMBA

"A jazz musician can improvise based on his knowledge of music. He understands how things go together. For a chef, once you have that basis, that's when cuisine is truly exciting."

Las Vegas is a town becoming renowned for hospitality. Yeah, I know. That seems self-contradictory, but it’s true. The bad customer experience...and I've written about a few previously...is a surprise these days. A far cry from the impersonal buffets and indifference service staff, today’s Vegas is becoming highly dedicated towards individualized service. 

They have to. 

The competition for dollars has become intense, perhaps more than ever before following The Great Recession, which saw Las Vegas go through difficult and perhaps eye-opening times. Those challenges forcing service providers from hotels to tourist attractions to restaurants into a strong focus towards the customer experience. No longer is the attitude Old Vegas’ “we’ll put it out and you figure out how to enjoy it”, it’s largely become New Vegas’ “how can I make this better?” 

But perhaps more startling is when someone goes above and beyond, demonstrating a true dedication to the customer experience.

One of our favorite restaurants worldwide is the SUSHISAMBA in Las Vegas. Located at the Palazzo Hotel, it's a nice getaway with delicious food regardless of the occasion. Despite the fact it was involved (unknowingly) in the notorious nosebleed event of 2012*, it remains a must-do with every trip. 

(SUSHISAMBA, as the name implies, is a terrific fusion of Brazilian, Peruvian and Japanese cuisine and culture. The menu alone is an experience in cross-border/oceanic design and flavor. We have yet to have anything there that wasn't delicious.)

In the times we've eaten here, we've seen the staff under a variety of conditions, from swamped and chaotic on a Saturday evening to virtually empty on a Sunday night. 

In each circumstance the employees worked hard, presenting the food beautifully and keeping the water (and martini) glasses filled. It's not hard to return to a restaurant with that kind of a performance record. 

Needless to say, we highly recommend this place, and it would be hard to identify a way they could improve our customer experience. Las Vegas aims to achieve these days, and it's this sort of establishment that raised the mark.

We were a few bites into our appetizers — delicious of course — when the manager, Drago, approached our table to do the customary food and service quality check. How was the food? (Excellent.) How is the service? (Terrific.) Did we need anything? (Not at the moment.) Was this our first time? (No, we had been there several times and visit every time we're in town.)

In other words, a return customer.

Upon hearing this Drago smiled, expressing his appreciation for our return business, thanking us for the kind words about the food and his staff. What I picked up immediately was his enthusiasm. It seemed quite authentic and sincere. We started talking with him about the various things we've had, as well as the two or three must-haves every time we visit -- our favorite is the yellowtail sashimi tiradito. (We tend to stick more to the sushi end of the menu, but the sea bass and churrasco choices are also excellent.)

He took the time to chat, making us feel warmly welcomed and our interaction with himself and his staff personalized rather than “operational”. After a moment or so, having heard our favorites and taking the time ti get to know us, he leaned in rather conspiratorially and asked "do you have any allergies to seafood or shellfish?"

We shook our heads no.

"Ah. Okay, I have just the thing for you to try."

Not telling us what it was, he smiled conspiratorially and thanked us again, excusing himself to go check on other tables — no doubt making them feel as important as he had done for us. A few minutes later a plate of two scallop shells arrived, beautifully plated with Peruvian Bay scallops presented with a shiso lime butter crust. As amazing as it sounds, and a little amuse bush for us to enjoy. It was a thoughtful gesture, and appreciatively received. It was a small gift and the grand scheme, but certainly made a large impression.

The rest of dinner went equally as well. Our server was attentive, the food arrived regularly, was presented well and tasted brilliantly good. (The best sushi is a sensual, visual and textural experience in addition to taste --  SUSHISAMBA fires admirably on all four cylinders.) Drago checked in periodically, pleased that we were enjoying ourselves completely.

It was, to be brief, one of those dinners you remember for all of the right reasons: ambience, food, location, and most certainly the people who serve you. SUSHISAMBA hit all of the right chords in all the right order, and not for the first time — which is why we continue to return there each time we’re in Sin City (three or four times a year).

The staff, and particularly Drago, took the time to treat us as individuals — not just the next check at a busy table in an uncaring town. I should note that at no time did I ever mention that I am a professional traveler, nor that I write a blog related to my experiences. For all anyone knew, my wife and I would simply thank them and never comment publicly about our experience. The important thing for the employees was simply that we enjoy ourselves and come back to see them again.

And that’s seriously cool.

We have been to Las Vegas — no exaggeration — a hundred times or more. We’ve eaten at every level of eatery, ranging from the iHop and Peppermill, to SUSHISAMBA, Tom Colicchio’s Craftsteak, Picasso — and the late, lamented Renior. We eat at local favorites (Nora’s and The Firefly), as well as the tourist spots on the Strip and in the big casinos.

In any tourist town it's easy to become jaded as a service person. You see the worst in people, and often bear the brunt of it. The same can go for customers. All too often we're seen as "the couple at table 3", or just another seating.

Which is why SUSHISAMBA is and will continue to be a regular stop for us. To be the sort of team who not only likes what they do, but can convey that in a way that allows the visitor to feel warmly welcomed and appreciated is a genuine talent. 

Especially in Las Vegas.

 (A photographs in accordance with SAMBASUSHI's stated camera policy.)

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