Samurai Blue Japanese Grill and Sushi

2000 Riverside Parkway, Lawrenceville * 678-518-4216

Open since: March 15

Location: The restaurant sits near the intersection of Riverside Parkway and Ga. Highway 120 in Lawrenceville. It occupies the space that used to be home to Lil' River Grill.

Owners: Kwon Yi

Hours: The restaurant is open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. It is open for dinner from 4:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 4:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, the hours are noon to 10 p.m.

Atmosphere: Walking into Samurai Blue has a similar effect as entering a meditation spa. The dim lights, polished wood tables and sleek floors give the space a soothing feel.

In the sushi prep area, small windows display raw fish and allow bar patrons see the sushi masters at work. In the dining area, a long row of square windows overlooking a wooded back area make diners feel like they're in a secluded nature center instead of near a busy Gwinnett intersection.

"We're a very romantic kind of place," Yi said. "We have a lot of couples coming in here on dates. No candles on the tables yet, though."

Recently, Samurai Blue began Midnight Sushi, and stays open later to allow for the night crowd on weekends.

"The only place to eat late around here was Waffle House," Yi said. "A lot of people who work in restaurants and shops near here had nowhere to eat when they got off late from work, and now they can come here for real food."

The menu: Samurai Blue specializes in all things sushi, with a menu of more than 40 varieties. Standards such as the tuna rolls and spicy salmon rolls are offered, but the real treats are the restaurant's unique recipes.

"We're not like other sushi places," Yi said. "We have sushi that is very different."

Yi has a thing for spicy crab, and his favorite rolls include the Georgia Sunday, a California roll topped with spicy crab, and the Fire Dragon, an eel, cucumber and avocado roll topped with spicy crab.

The Kamikaze is also a crowd pleasure - and not just because it's fun to say. The roll features a blend of baked salmon, cream cheese, green onion, masago and a spicy sauce. For milder tastes, the My Girl is a sweeter roll of crab, cucumber, cream cheese and the special Samurai sauce.

Samurai Blue's menu stretches beyond sushi and offers a variety of Japanese dishes, as well. Appetizers include the crunchy house cucumber salad, dressed with a dash of crab meat and zesty dressing, and the vegetable tempura, an assortment of fresh vegetables lightly battered and fried.

Japanese entrees include teriyaki salmon, tilapia with chili garlic sauce, and the hibachi tofu. Samurai Blue also serves a variety of steak dinners, such as the ribeye with shrimp or lobster yakitori.

Beverages: Soft drinks and iced and green teas are served, as are beer, wine and cocktails.

Dessert: Several varieties of ice cream, such as green tea and tempura, are offered. Key lime pie and cheesecake are also favorites.

Things you might not know: Hailing from Korea some 25 years ago, Yi has been a chef for about 20 years, and has been a sushi chef for about 13 years. When he first started his culinary training, he spent an entire three months learning how to properly cook rice.

"I mastered the rice," he said. "I was glad when that part was over."

SideBar: On The Menu

Yummy Yummy sushi roll: yellowtail, masago and crab, topped with crunchy bits and green onions ($7.25).

Georgia sushi roll: tuna, salmon, avocado and cucumber ($6.50).

Playboy sushi roll: tuna, salmon, yellowtail, asparagus, cream cheese and masago with special sauce ($6.50).

Hibachi tofu entree: grilled tofu served with soup, salad, vegetables and steamed rice ($9.95).

Ribeye steak dinner with shrimp yakitori ($16.95).