The Sambi Roll is one of the most popular items at the new Sambi Cafe in downtown Steamboat Springs.

Photo by John F. Russell

The Sambi Roll is one of the most popular items at the new Sambi Cafe in downtown Steamboat Springs.

At Home: Sambi on a roll

Downtown Japanese/Thai restaurant spicing up The Victoria

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— Ceron Scott, the energetic, 24-year-old head chef at Sambi Cafe in downtown Steamboat Springs, says the idea for the Asian restaurant’s Sambi Roll came from a simple culinary desire.

“I wanted to combine spicy with crunchy,” Scott says. “So I thought, what if I put these things together?”

Scott experimented a bit and eventually created the sushi-style mixture of spicy tuna, tempura fried shrimp and cucumber, with eel and avocado on top, sprinkled with a couple of sauces and sesame seeds. After a Sambi server and a customer sampled the roll, he knew he had found a winner.

“The Sambi Roll is one of our biggest sellers,” Scott says proudly while demonstrating how to create the dish on a drizzly morning in late May.

The Jamaican-born Scott leads a culturally diverse kitchen at Sambi Cafe, which opened in January in The Victoria at Lincoln Avenue and 10th Street. Tomas Tacu, from the Mexican state of Yucatan, is second chef, helping Scott with Japanese sushi preparation, and Mario May handles the Thai-style cooking, including curry and other dishes.

Sambi’s owner is Taiwan native Jason Lee, who has operated the Canton Chinese Restaurant three blocks east on Lincoln for 13 years. Lee, through a business entity called Formosa LLC, bought Sambi’s street-level space in The Victoria from Hoj and Crane LLC in July 2010 for $388,500.

Vicki Schlegel, a nearly three-decade employee of Canton, runs both of Lee’s restaurants.

Lee and Scott say the investment in Sambi is paying off and started with a strong winter season.

“We were slammed all winter,” Scott says. “It was wild. We had tickets all lined up and were moving like crazy.”

Sambi Cafe is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch, Mondays through Fridays, and from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. for dinner, seven days a week.

Scott moved to Steamboat from Michigan about seven months ago, with his experience in sushi and Japanese food stretching back to his work at a Japanese restaurant in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

His skill in crafting the cuisine is evident in the speed and sureness of his hands, which sculpt a Sambi roll fast enough to cause a photographer to ask him to slow down a bit.

“I have very good employees,” Lee says. “If it’s only me, I can’t do anything.”

Lee also expresses his gratitude to The Victoria developers Steve and Denise Peterson for the opportunity to open the new restaurant and remodel the space.

“I’m very thankful,” he says humbly. “They’ve been very kind to me.”

Step-by-step Sambi Roll instructions from chef Ceron Scott

Ingredients: Spicy tuna mix, including tuna, green onions, soy sauce, sashimi oil and Sriracha hot sauce; tempura fried shrimp; rice; thin, dry seaweed sheet, known as nori; cucumber; freshwater eel, available locally at Steamboat Meat & Seafood Co.; avocado; sesame seeds; sweet eel sauce; spicy mayonnaise

You’ll need: A bamboo rolling mat to place ingredients on before forming roll

Initial preparations: Fry shrimp in pan, cook desired amount of rice, and combine spicy tuna mix ingredients.

1. Slice a cucumber and eel meat into long, thin strips. Chef Ceron Scott recommends taking the skin off the eel — some chefs don’t — to get “a softer, milder texture.” Eel skin can be too chewy, he says.

2. Place eel strips on tin foil and warm in an oven or toaster oven on low heat.

3. Cover bamboo rolling mat with plastic wrap, to prevent rice from sticking.

4. Wet hands to avoid sticking and shape rice into thin rectangle on top of plastic wrap.

5. Cover rice with dry seaweed sheet.

6. Add sliced cucumber, spicy tuna mixture and fried shrimp.

7. Lift edge of rolling mat and draw it over the top of ingredients to form the shape of the roll.

8. Remove plastic wrap and place warmed eel strips with sweet eel sauce across top of roll.

9. Cut avocado into strips and place between eel strips on top of the roll.

10. Place plastic wrap over roll to hold eel and avocado strips in place while cutting roll.

11. Remove plastic wrap from cut pieces

12. Drizzle sweet eel sauce and spicy mayonnaise on top of cut sections and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

13. Serve cut roll with pickled ginger and wasabi, if desired.

Source: Chef Ceron Scott, Sambi Cafe

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