A few weeks ago, I had occasion to nosh my way through Sushi In The City (LEO, March 12), a sociable fundraising event at which a random selection of local sushi bars (and a few other eateries) provided samples of their wares.
The experience was so tasty that it left me craving even more of the stuff, so in recent weeks, I’ve made it my business to check out a couple more recent arrivals on the metro sushi scene.
Some people are still a bit wary of sushi — the concept of eating raw fish does take some getting used to. But as I said in the previous report, 125 million Japanese can’t all be wrong, and enough of us have acquired the taste to support more than 20 good sushi restaurants around town.
Two more have arrived recently: Oishii Sushi in the Highlands opened last month and Hanabi Sushi & Japanese Cuisine in Prospect around the end of the year. A third arrival, Hiko A Mon in Westport Village, opened just last week, and I’ll take my chopsticks and get out there, too, one day soon.
The typical sushi restaurant offers a choice of sushi and Japanese dishes, and there’s a wide variety of cooked items available for those who just can’t get their minds around the idea of eating uncooked seafood and fish. Even a fair number of sushi treats, from ebi (shrimp) to tamago (scrambled egg), are fully cooked.
But if you’re even slightly adventurous, we recommend you give the real thing a try, if you haven’t done so already. Bite-size, colorful and not at all “fishy,” fresh sushi prepared by a skilled chef is a feast for the eyes as well as the palate.
Oishii Sushi is a smallish spot, in quarters just across Bardstown Road from Kroger. Word of mouth has quickly built a good reputation, and it’s drawing crowds with its friendly, outgoing sushi chefs (graduates, I’m told, of popular Sapporo) and wide selection of sushi treats.
The dining room, which until recently housed a cell phone store, is simply decorated with sky blue walls with striking, colorful neon-light designs that give an industrial-chic mood. The sushi bar seats about 10, and maybe a half-dozen tables fill the rest of the room.
The menu offers a broad selection of both basic types of sushi, nigiri-zushi (bites of fish and other edibles draped over small balls of sticky rice) and maki-zushi (rice rolled around fish, wrapped in black nori seaweed and sliced into colorful rounds).
There’s a wide variety of creative sushi-roll inventions, some with local names (the Thunder Over Louisville roll was a recent seasonal choice), and many with wacky combinations of flavors; I took note of, but passed on, one confection that included strawberries and walnuts along with the fish. I don’t think so. Many of the specialty rolls feature hot-and-spicy flavors, so if you prefer to walk on the mild side, read the menu with care before marking down your order.
We sipped hot green tea from pretty black cups and started with a couple of sushi-bar standards: miso soup, simple but flavorful, “meaty” miso (fermented soybean paste) in dashi (flaked bonito) broth with bits of tofu and edible green seaweed; and a standard sushi-bar salad, crisp and cold iceberg lettuce garnished with finely shredded red lettuce and carrot, amply sauced with enough pale-orange ginger-miso dressing to leave a pool in the bottom of the bowl. (It tasted so good that I wanted to pick it up and drink it, but my wife kicked me under the table when she saw what I had in mind.)
The sushi are generously proportioned, attractive to bargain-seekers if not quite traditional: Large pieces of snapping-fresh fish are draped over relatively small balls of sushi rice to achieve an unusually high fish-to-rice ratio.
A batch of nigiri-zushi were artfully arranged on a square plate garnished with a pretty green leaf. Maguro (tuna, $4.25 for a pair) were bright red and beefy. Tai (red snapper, $3.95) were pale pink and delicately sweet. Saba (mackerel, $3.95) were trimmed to show a silver strip of skin; typical of the type, they boasted a rich and strong meaty taste.
A selection of maki-sushi rolls were presented on a pretty turquoise plate. The avocado roll ($3.25) was simple, bits of creamy ripe avocado at the center of a nori-wrapped roll of sushi rice. Tekkamaki (tuna roll, $4.95) were generously proportioned, with a large chunk of tuna wrapped in just enough rice to cover it. Salmon skin roll ($5.25) were oversize, crunchy bites of fried fish skin rolled with three or four rounds of gobo (burdock roll, resembling tiny carrots). One of the specials, “Crunch Munch” roll ($9.95), consisted of a three-alarm hot ration of spicy crab on the inside, with flattened shrimp on top, striped with spicy sauce and a ration of crispy tempura chips sprinkled over.
A filling selection of perfectly prepared sushi came to a very reasonable $45.10, plus a $9.90 tip for the servers and an extra $5 in the chef’s tip jar.
2245 Bardstown Road
Hanabi Sushi & Japanese Cuisine, just down the strip from the Prospect Bristol Bar & Grille, is a bright and airy room, attractive in earth tones, coffee-with-cream walls and an attractive red wood sushi bar, long and L-shaped, that seats about 15. If you reserve a private room, three small Japanese-style dining rooms at the back are equipped with cleverly concealed pits so Westerners can let their legs dangle comfortably rather than having to sit cross-legged, Japanese style.
We chose a comfortable regular table and, having come in hungry, ordered way too much food. I requested a number of the same items we had enjoyed at Oishii so I could compare and contrast, and found these, too, fresh and competently prepared. One nitpick: The traditional dab of wasabi horseradish that adds flavor and holds the fish on the rice was missing from the nigiri-zushi, perhaps based on the theory that those who want the sinus-clearing stuff will add their own.
We worked our way through tuna ($4.50), yellowtail ($4.75), red snapper ($4) and mackerel ($4) nigiri-zushi, and salmon skin ($4.95), tuna ($4.95) and cucumber ($3.95) rolls, and tried a “Captain Crunch” roll ($9.95) that appeared to be essentially the same as Oishii’s “Crunch Munch.”
House salads ($2.95) were the Japanese standard, iceberg lettuce and colorful carrot and red cabbage strands in pale-orange ginger-miso dressing.
A couple of appetizers were fine, too. Vegetable tempura ($5.95) consisted of a good selection of veggies fried grease-free in a light, crispy tempura breading, with the standard soy-based dipping sauce: broccoli florets, onion and a couple of mushrooms; diagonal slices of zucchini and carrot — or was it sweet potato? Agedashi tofu ($4.95) was a pile of 10 neat cubes of firm tofu, crisply fried and sizzling hot.
Curiously, after the salads, everything all came out at once — four plates of sushi and both appetizers. This was OK, I guess, although a little slower pacing might have made for a more relaxing dinner.
With a big Kirin Ichiban beer ($6), plenty for two to share, a filling dinner totaled $67.15, plus a $13.85 tip.
Hanabi Sushi & Japanese Cuisine
6027 Timber Ridge Drive
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