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Samís Restaurant

By: Dinner Gong

Date Posted: 2000-07-21

Okinawaís most venerable restaurant chain is Samís which has eight dining places on the island. Now operating in their 27th year, it has pioneered trends, weathered economic storms, adapted to new conditions, seen rivals prosper and falter. Samís is a survivor and seems to have gone from strength to strength over the years.

The business is run by three Mark, Wyatt and Alan Payne, who were born in Hawaai. They first came to Okinawa when their father Ray was sent to the island by the Coca Cola company as a district manager.

He later went into the construction business and had a lot of work in Vietnam during the war. Then he decided to go into the restaurant business and hit on the idea of creating a nautical theme for the eateries.

The first to open in 1970 was Samís Anchor Inn in Ginowan which looks very much like the interior of a boat. It has all sorts of nautical accoutrements decorating wall, floor and ceiling space in the huge dining room: shipsí figure heads, oars, shipsí wheels, brass instruments, diversí helmets and lots of prints of old sailing ships. There are port holes for windows, the serving staff are dressed in sailorsí uniforms and the huge dark wooden beams and tables made from the same material, bring to mind the inside of a teakwood sailing vessel.

The way Alan Payne tells it, the restaurantís beginnings were very different from how themed interiors are put together now by specialist companies, who bring all the props and do the construction as quickly as possible. Making Samís Anchor Inn was a laborious family affair. The Paynes, their friends and workers all pitched in with the hammering and sawing. The amazing collection of objects inside the place was put together over time. They were acquired individually, often cheaply or without cost.

Samís Anchor Inn was the first teppanyaki (where the food is cooked on dinersí tables) restaurant run by foreigners. There is now a second Samís Anchor Inn in Kokusai Street in Naha. The group also has two other teppanyaki places, their Maui Steakhouses.

Appetizers are snails garnished with butter and wine, shrimp cocktail and smoked salmon. There is a set dinner costing •3,400, with an appetizer, a 250 gram tenderloin steak as the main course and a chefís daily special for dessert. DG tried the set menu and it was good value. The chef cooked the steak on the hotplate set into the table, with plenty of flamboyant flourishes. It was an entertaining prelude to dinner. The steak was tender and of high quality. The dessert, a scoop of ice cream and melon was also good. The ice cream was full of small pieces of fresh pineapple.

There are three choices of Steak Dinner: a 200 gram cut at •2,150, 250 grams at •2,500 and 300 grams at •2,850. Seafood and Tenderloin Steak Dinners combine large shrimp and steak for •3,200 or lobster and steak for •3,600. There is also a childrensí steak dinner for •1,200.

There are a variety of desserts and red, white or rose house wines. An exotic range of cocktails is on offer which Payne says is another pioneering effort. Nobody did this before Samís. Many of these are rum based and they have names like Headhunter (served in a cup shaped like a skull), Fogcutter, Bananaquiri, Navy Grog and Maui Punch. Most cost between •650 and •800 and some of the decorative cups you can take home.

Thousands of people have left their calling cards at Samís Anchor Inn. The walls of the stairwell are festooned with business cards pinned there by customers. There is a small bar room next to the restaurant and it has lots of ancient dollar bills stuck to the ceiling. Some are within a drawn circle and many are outside it. These are the results of efforts of long gone drinkers trying to get a free drink by landing their bill in the bullseye. They made the notes stick by attaching them to quarters with thumb tacks stuck on them. Famous visitors have included Neil Armstrong, Styng, Mark Spitz, Tex Ritter, a previous Prime Minister of Japan and the Japanese Royal Family, to name a few.

Another theme of the Inn is huge masks and fearsome looking carvings, results of one of Alan Payneís many Asian wanderings, that time to Papua New Guinea, shipped by a curio dealer he met there.

Another category of restaurant run by Samís is the casual, like Samís Cafť, outside the Camp Foster Gate, which serves steaks, pasta, seafood and various other dishes like Thai ones.

Two other branches are Samís By The Sea in Oroku, near Nahaís airport and at Awase Yacht Club. The Awase place is of the same vintage as Samís Anchor Inn, built at the end of a dirt road, miles out in the country, when none of the developments that now surround it on all sides existed. It has a similar nautical ambience to Samís Anchor Inn but a much more extensive menu.

The appetizers, costing between •700 and •950, include crab, cheese tempura, avocado shrimp vinaigrette and tuna sashimi, as well as those on offer at Samís Anchor Inn. There is a bigger choice of steak too, including T-bone, sirloin and filet mignon for between •1,600 and •2,950. There are many combinations of seafood and steak, several types of lobster dishes, crabs and prawns. Prices range from •2,450 to •3,900. There is an extensive fresh fish, shrimp, shellfish and seafood specialty menu. These prices are as posted and no more, as there is a no tipping policy in this restaurant.

DG tried a lobster and steak combination. Both types of flesh were full of flavor and well off-set by the sauces that accompanied them.

The cocktail list here is the same as Samís Anchor Inn and the wine list more extensive. The place has lots of atmosphere and the night DG went there it was full of people enjoying themselves.

Samís is the only off-base establishment that accepts the MCCS card.

Directions: Samís Anchor Inn, Ginowan: Go Down Highway 58 towards Naha, pass MCAS Futenma on your left , then Ginowan Police Station on your right. Shortly after the turnoff for the Okinawa Convention Center on your right is Samís, also on your right. Tel. 897-5555

Samís Cafť: Go down Hwy 330 in the direction of Goya, pass Futenma High School on your right. Make a left for the Camp Foster Legion Gate and Samís is on the right. Tel. 935-3699

Samís By The Sea, Awase: Coming from KAB Gate 2, go all the way down Gate 2 Street, past the Takahara Intersection, until the end of Gate 2 Street. Take a left for the Awase Yacht Club and Samís is on the left. Tel. 937-3421.

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