When you see lobster on a menu, usually you have visions of hot dog buns overstuffed with lobster meat and succulent claws, mixed together with some mayonnaise or warm butter, and perhaps a few diced bits of celery for crunch.
Sushi Sam's in San Mateo won't be confused with any of the lobster shacks along the Maine coast. However, the venerable sushi purveyor has an intriguing signature dish on both that isn't one of the usual sushi fish suspects.
It's the baby lobster nigiri (market price, currently $8), in many ways the distant sushi cousin to the lobster roll. Instead of hot dog or brioche buns, the nigiri's base is of course a moist, slightly warm mound of sticky rice, draped with lobster meat. Sushi Sam's boils baby lobster tails for the nigiri. You'd think boiled lobster meat as a nigiri preparation would be much tougher to chew than a raw blue fin tuna or amberjack. I was ready to cut this with a fork and knife instead of devouring in one big gulp.
I was dead wrong. If it's possible, the lobster achieved that same delicate texture of prized raw fish rather than the stringy, tough consistency lobster can sometimes have. The meat's flavor itself had pronounced lobster, salt water, and salty air, transporting you from the shores of Third Avenue to Cape Elizabeth.
In the lobster roll spirit, a dab of mayonnaise covers each piece. Except here, the mayonnaise is mixed with tobiko (fish eggs). The tiny orange dots provide an exciting visual contrast to the pale white baby lobster strip and also add an additional sea salt element that makes the lobster taste even more like it was just plucked from the ocean. (It wasn't, the baby lobster this time of year comes from Thailand, I was told).
The ending flourish comes from slivered roasted almonds arranged over the tobiko mayonnaise. In some ways, they even look like the little fins on a lobster's tail.
Sushi Sam's has all the usual fish of the sushi bar sea on the menu if you'd prefer to play it safe with salmon and spicy tuna rolls. The white board hanging only over the main sushi bar is where the real fun is. That's where you'll find the baby lobster nigiri hiding with Miyazaki beef and barracuda. The baby lobster is also almost always on the $45 chef's omakase, but the servers will warn you there's no guarantee the chef will choose it. And for nigiri this good, you'll want a guarantee.