Restaurant Week Part 1: Sushi House

I love Restaurant Week. The concept was originally devised during the 1992 Democratic Convention in New York City, and has been expanded over the years to cities all across the country. Here in Kansas City, we’ve made it  an affordable way to try a restaurant diners might not otherwise be able to afford as well as an opportunity to do good. Ten percent of the proceeds from Restaurant Week will go to support three organizations in the metro: Harvesters-The Community Network, The Kansas City Regional Destination Development Foundation and The Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association Education Foundation. Harvesters of course helps fight hunger in our area and the other two non profit organizations advance culinary education and the restaurant and tourism industries in Kansas City. Last year $143,000 was raised; hopefully, in 2013 Kansas Citians will make sure that number is even higher.

Restaurant Week starts this Friday, January 18 and continues through the 27th of January. Restaurants that participate offer a specific lunch and/or dinner menu. At lunch two courses will be served for $15 and at dinner 3 for $30. Check out Restaurant Week’s website where most restaurants have posted the lunch and or dinner menu they will be serving. Restaurants typically offer a combination of dishes that are normally featured and some that have been created specifically for this event. Diners will have a choice of several appetizers, entrees and desserts, but be forewarned that it is a limited menu.

Sushi House

There is no limit to the number of restaurants you can try–you are constrained only by your wallet, your stomach and your ability to make a reservation before they’re all gone!

To make it easier to keep track of all the restaurants and their menus, consider downloading the mobile app. It will even direct you to Open Table so you can make a reservation and get a map. Again, refer to the Restaurant Week website for more information.

I was fortunate to be asked to preview a couple of the restaurants that will be participating in this year’s Restaurant Week and, as always, Kansas Citians are in for a treat!

Last night I visited Sushi House in Town Center Plaza. The chef there has created a special menu for Restaurant Week, and dinner consists solely of dishes that are not on the regular menu.  The manager explained that she wanted to make it very special for the restaurant’s patrons, and judging from her passion for the customer’s dining experience, I suspect that occurs on a daily basis.

Sashimi Style Sushi Roll--Sushi HouseWe shared appetizers of Seared Fatty Salmon Sashimi and Sashimi Style Sushi Roll.  I especially enjoyed the thin slices of  salmon topped with mango salsa. The sushi roll was unusual in that the mango, seaweed and kanikama were wrapped in thinly sliced cucumber instead of rice.  Both appetizers were gorgeous.P1000957

Shrimp in a chili-tomato sauce--Sushi House

Entree choices include shrimp tossed in a sweet-chili tomato sauce on a bed of fried Japanese ramen noodles, and fried rice topped with grilled chicken and a pineapple glaze. Again, the presentation was thoughtful and beautiful.Chicken Fried Rice--Sushi House

Dessert options include green tea creme brulee, which was not available last night, and Tempura fried vanilla bean ice cream with a chocolate drizzle.Tempura Fried Ice Cream--Sushi House

Those who enjoy the more traditional sushi selections may prefer to go at lunchtime when the Restaurant Week lunch menu consists of a choice of two sushi rolls.

We were also treated to a sampling of three sakes that are featured on the Restaurant Week menu, and got a brief history of how sake is made and why some are more expensive (and taste better) than others.

Service is an important part of the experience at Sushi House and it was apparent from watching all the servers that we were treated well not because I was there to sample the menu but simply as a matter of pride and good-training.

In addition to giving diners the ability to explore new restaurants, Restaurant Week gives restaurants an opportunity to fill their tables during what is typically a slow time of year. So, go to your phone or computer TODAY, and make some reservations. It’s important to celebrate and support our local restaurants whenever possible.

Sushi House on Urbanspoon

Kona Grill

Kona Grill is one of those chains I’m willing to patronize. I enjoy the food and I love sitting by the open windows on a delightful spring day.

A relatively new menu gave me an excuse to have lunch there the other day. Since my last visit, they’ve added a number of outdoor tables, though we grabbed one of the indoor tables by the window in case the skies opened up, as they were threatening to do.

We started with edamame and moved on to a very flavorful seaweed salad. Starters include  ahi wonton crisps, which were topped with slices of rare tuna and drizzled with a wasabi aioli. Though it’s a trendy appetizer at many restaurants these days, we jumped on it and really enjoyed Kona’s rendition.

We also ordered one of the Chef’s Plates, which affords the chef the opportunity to exhibit some creativity.  The Jalapeno Yellowtail Sashimi was a winner. The thin slices of fish were topped with sliced jalapeno and cilantro, and yuzu ponzu sauce (think citrus). The jalapeno provided a bit of a kick but was far from overpowering.

Feeling way too virtuous at this point, we had to have a sushi roll, so we opted for the one of Kona Grill’s specialty rolls. The Caterpillar roll appears on most sushi lists, but it’s one I’ve always enjoyed since my son turned me onto it years ago. It has fresh eel and cucumber inside, topped with slices of avocado and eel sauce.

Non fish or sushi lovers have plenty of other options to choose from, including, sandwiches, noodles, salads and complete entrées. Meatloaf, steak, Korean BBQ Chicken, and even lobster mac & cheese grace the rather extensive menu.

 

Kona Grill on Urbanspoon

SEI Restaurant–Washington DC

To say that SEI restaurant in Washington, DC is a sushi restaurant doesn’t do it justice. Yes, it has some pretty terrific and beautifully prepared sushi. But what makes this Penn Quarter gem glitter beyond its white and amber decor is the inventiveness of the small plates on the menu.

Building a meal around these eclectic dishes is not easy, only because there are so many intriguing choices. And since there were just two of us at the table, we didn’t come close to sampling all that we wanted to try. But we savored each dish that we did order.

The sashimi pizza has a thin crust and is topped with salmon, tuna, yellowtail, shrimp, salmon roe and wasabi aioli. It was hard to distinguish the flavors, but it was gorgeous and fun to eat.

The lamb chop with red curry was as tasty as it was pretty. It was accompanied by Indian Idli, which tastes like polenta and was the perfect foil for the smooth sauce.

Though they were out of the pork buns, we consoled ourselves with Korean tacos. Short rib meat was paired with kimchee in corn tortillas, and though they didn’t wipe out my longing for a Momofuku style pork treat, the tacos were tasty.

The duck edamame hash was presented in a mold and topped with a perfectly cooked fried egg.  We were loath to break it, but once we did, we devoured it.

We also enjoyed the Triple Tuna sushi roll, just to be sure that SEI does sushi well. They do.

Other offerings we wanted to try but didn’t have room for in our stomach? Seven pepper tots (tator tots served with sriracha honey ketchup), tuna poke with wonton chips, wasabi guacamole, and fried rice cakes with kimchee.

I had the opportunity to meet sommelier Andrew Stover at the DrinkLocal Wine conference in St. Louis last month, as he sipped his way through the weekend looking for Missouri wines to bring to DC. He has a passion and commitment to regional wines, which is evident from the inclusion of wines from Michigan, New York, Virginia and New Mexico on the restaurant’s wine list.

Service was unusual. There seemed to be a tag team system, which in theory is a good idea because diners are never ignored. But we found it to be a bit annoying. Each of the two servers on our team kept coming to our table, asking the same questions (would you like a drink, ready to order?), as though the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing.

The food ruled the evening though, and I am anxious to try SEI’s older sibling, OYA on my next visit to DC.

 

Sei on Urbanspoon

Drunken Fish

I’ve been less than impressed with the quality of restaurants in the Power & Light District, so when I tried Drunken Fish I kept my expectations in check. It’s not exactly a chain: there are three restaurants in St. Louis by the same name, and this is their first foray outside of the city. It occupies the space previously occupied by Bice–in fact, they haven’t even replaced all of the awnings yet. If recollection serves me correctly, even the furniture is the same, but don’t quote me on that.

The menu is quite large, not the typical sushi restaurant in that it has substantial entrees in addition to the raw fish component. And I’m not talking just teriyaki–pork chop, tuna, Chilean sea bass and even lobster tail are options for the non-raw eater.

There are of course the ubiquitous makimono rolls, some typical, some intriguing. But what sets this restaurant apart from all the others are the appetizers listed on the menu under “new  style sashimi”.  Sizzling Snapper comes to the table on a lovely long oval plate, already dressed with sesame seeds, ginger, garlic and yuzu-soy. The server then pours hot olive oil all over the thin slices of fish. The oil cooks the fish a tad, and combines with the other ingredients to form a dressing of sorts. The Yellowtail Mexicano features sashimi with a jalapeno pico de gallo and ponzu sauce, a bit of heat to marry with the umami taste.

In another twist, instead of standard tuna poke or tartare, tuna sashimi was mounded atop a cucumber slice, and topped with wasabi mayo, scallions, tobiko and eel sauce. Not a dainty bite to be sure, but worth figuring out how to get it in your mouth.

We also tried a noodle dish, udon with vegetables, customized to satisfy our need for spice. The noodles were cooked perfectly and the sauce was just right. Not too sweet, not too salty.

The sushi rolls were standard, though they all had creative names. The portions were skimpy relative to the price tag.

Once this restaurant is on everyone’s radar, it will probably draw the typical P&L clientele. They’ll undoubtedly appreciate the vast and inventive cocktail list. I’ll stick to Japanese beer, but I think this is a welcome addition food-wise to the uninspired selection of restaurants in the entertainment district.

Drunken Fish on Urbanspoon

Matsuhisa Aspen

Nobu Matsuhisa has made a name for himself with a slew of sushi restaurants dotted around the world. One of his newest endeavors is in an historic Victorian house in Aspen. Its quaint exterior belies the size of the restaurant, made possible by a clever digging way down into the earth to create the reservations-only main dining room.

Though it happens to be the hippest venue in town, Matsuhisa has culinary credentials to match. The menu has cooked specialities as well as sushi, and you’ll be well rewarded if you put yourself in the hands of the accomplished servers (or go with a friend who is a frequent patron, as we were lucky to do).

We started with shishito peppers, which can be spicy but are usually low on the Scoville heat scale. I’ve found these on the RA Sushi menu in Kansas City, but they are not readily available at most sushi restaurants. They don’t have a ton of flavor, but it’s a more interesting starter than the basic edamame.

Crispy Rock Shrimp with spicy sauce came out next, and we all attacked the bowl with our chopsticks before moving onto yellowtail jalapeno, beautifully fanned slices of fish and thin slices of jalapeno with a ponzu sauce, and cucumber salads with crab. The latter two dishes were light and refreshing, a stark contrast to the rich Italian dinner we still digesting from the night before.

Then came the sushi, a beautiful platter of spicy tuna rolls with crispy rice, lobster rolls, shrimp tempura rolls and a caterpillar rolls, made all the more tasty by the addition of real wasabi root.

We topped off the meal with banana “egg rolls”and mochi balls, homemade ice cream enveloped in mochi rice wrappers. It’s an acquired taste, but these were better than others I’ve had.

If you didn’t plan in advance and can’t  get a reservation, the upstairs (which is street level) has a limited menu but is open to walk-in traffic. And the outside patio draws the crowds during warmer weather. However you make it happen, this belongs on any food lover’s must-try list.

Matsuhisa on Urbanspoon

Edokko Japanese Restaurant

I had heard wonderful things about Edokko in Lenexa and decided it was time to give it a try.

Walking in, I was immediately struck by the serene nature of the restaurant. An attractive sushi bar is the focal point, with booths and tables circling it on two levels. It’s dark, you can hear water trickling in soothing fashion and the service is soft and unobtrusive.

There are no hibachi tables or showmen juggling their knives and aiming shrimp at your mouth, though you can get hibachi style shrimp and steak dinners if you choose. However, I was there for the sushi and noodles, both of which are well-executed. The soba noodles were stir fried with vegetables and noodles and had a pleasant, light flavor.

Sushi is clearly the star of the show here, and there is a notebook with pictures of each maki roll that the chef makes. Considering that the list of rolls is so long, it helps to have a corresponding picture to help diners make a decision. I had the special tuna roll, with tuna and avocado inside and spicy tuna and tempura flakes on top. The tuna was excellent, though the flakes  masked the other ingredients. I also order a handrolled spider roll with softshell crab and rice rolled up in nori. Visually attractive and so easy to eat–no chopsticks necessary– like picking up and dipping an egg roll in sauce.

The list of appetizers is also impressive, from baked mussels and crab cakes to vegetable tempura and steamed dumplings. Teriyaki is also on the menu for those who can’t stomach sushi or sashimi.

For those of us who live in midtown, it’s quite a trek. But if you’re in the neighborhood of I-35 and 87th Street, it’s a lovely oasis in a busy part of town.

Edokko Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Kaiyo Sushi Restaurant

Tired of steak and potatoes? In a winter rut?  Kaiyo, at 119th and Roe, may be located in a non-descript Johnson County strip center, but its food is anything but dull. With fresh and inventive fare and a light, contemporary dining room, owner and chef David Loo, formerly of Sushi House, and wife Karen have created a lovely refuge from the congestion at that intersection. They are warm and hospitable hosts, who will treat you as though you are guests in their home.

Loo’s signature item is the Hot Temptation Roll, but there are plenty of intriguing options on the long and descriptive list of Makimono (rolls). During my latest visit, I tried the Fire Roll and the Cherry Blossom, two newer additions to David’s vast repetoire. Though they may not have dethroned my favorite Caterpillar and Spider Rolls, each was as gorgeous to look at as they were to devour.

David is a busy man. He commutes between his restaurant and Cosentino’s downtown market, where he has a very visible sushi bar, smack in the middle of the store. Patrons can grab a carry-out box to go or eat in. Though the selection is smaller than at the Leawood restaurant, the quality is every bit as exemplary.

Classic Japanese favorites are also offered to satisfy the more squeamish palates, so whether you are a seasoned sushi eater or a novice, put down that T-bone and venture out to Kaiyo for a livelier (and healthier!) meal.

Kaiyo on Urbanspoon

Cafe Beautiful-Lawrence

As we walked into Cafe Beautiful, my son and I were immediately captivated by the serene tableau that lay before us. Two tables were carefully set, scented candles filled the air, the lighting was low, and Frank Sinatra crooned in the background. The living room of the chef/owner’s apartment, on the second floor of a non-descript building on Massachusetts Ave in Lawrence, was the unlikely setting for a memorable and relaxing evening.

Chef Ken Suken is a delight. He is committed to ensuring his guests are happy–he’s the host of a very intimate party and we were the only guests.  One table at a time allows him to focus all of his attention on cooking, serving…and washing dishes.  And, while the other table in the room was booked with a later reservation, Chef Suken assured us that we should feel free to linger as our table was reserved for us the entire evening.

We settled in with the wine we had brought, leaned back in our comfortable chairs, and prepared to be dazzled. Which we were, right from the get-go. From the first course to the eighth and last, the production was unlike anything either of us had ever experienced. This is one talented man.

Each course was well-timed and came with a complete and poetic description of what was on the plate. I expected the food to be good, but I was unprepared for the depth and texture of flavors, and picture-perfect presentation. Though I took a picture of all the courses,  they simply did not adequately depict the care and pride that Chef Suken showered us with throughout the evening.

The pictures below have captions that describe each dish. (For some reason, I am missing the 5th course, which was king salmon with an asian pear reduction sauce, paired with king crab salad and mustard sauce.) We finished with a sweet pomegranate tea.

miso soup with seafood, vegetables-Cafe Beautiful-Lawrence

Miso Soup with seafood, tofu and vegetables


fruit salad with ginger dressing-Cafe Beautiful-Lawrence

Fruit salad with ginger dressing


custard with shrimp

egg custard with shrimp baked in a baby pumpkin


Seafood salad with butterflied shrimp and seared white tuna topped with wasabi vinaigrette

Seafood salad with butterflied shrimp and seared white tuna, topped with wasabi vinaigrette


Red snapper with a citrus soy sauce in an ice "bowl"

red snapper sashimi with a citrus soy sauce served in an "ice bowl"


Eel in eel sauce, with vegetable sushi

Eel with eel sauce, and vegetable sushi

This is an ideal place to go with a close friend or family member with whom you enjoy spending time. There are no distractions–it’s just you and your companion(s) for more than two hours, so pick wisely! You will leave happy, relaxed and satisfied.

Be sure to call ahead. Since Cafe Beautiful only seats eight, it’s reservations only, no walk-ins.

Cafe Beautiful on Urbanspoon

Wa Sushi in Lawrence

Surprising as it may be, you can get good sushi in the middle of Kansas. Though landlocked, Lawrence does have a couple of fine sushi spots. I recently went to Wa Sushi for the second time. The laid back atmosphere was in keeping with its location in a college town, and our server was very competent and knowledgeable about the very extensive menu. We started with an excellent squid and seaweed salad, a novelty since one usually sees a squid salad or a seaweed salad, but not a combination of the two. The textures and flavors complemented each other perfectly.IMG_0342

My husband had a spicy ramen noodle soup that he reluctantly shared, and we tried several specialitiesIMG_0344 of the house, including a tuna “sandwich”– rice, spicy tuna and squares of nori, layered and then cut into triangles. It should appeal to those who are chopstick challenged, as it is best eaten with your fingers. We also enjoyed a caterpillar roll with eel and avocado and a crabby dragon roll with softshell crab.

Though this  may not have been the best sushi I’ve ever had, it was reasonably priced and very satisfying. The offerings included many  specialty sushi rolls that I’ve not seen on other menus. That originality, along with the extremely friendly service may be one reason why it’s been a mainstay on Massachusetts St. for many years.IMG_0347

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RA Sushi

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Sushi restaurants seem to fall into one of two camps. There is the pulsing, high energy type in Kona Grill’s mold, and those that are serene and peaceful, like Kaiyo, at 119th and Roe. RA Sushi is clearly one of the former, trying to appeal to those interested in a serious nightlife scene.

RA Sushi (pronounced RAH) is adjacent to the soon to open ALoft Hotel, owned by W hotels,  in Leawood’s new Park Place development. And it’s across the way from Sushi House, another chain,  and locally-owned Kaiyo. RA’s Leawood location is its 25th, and first in the bi-state area.

I recently went to RA for lunch. It’s moderately loud during the day, but I understand they crank up the music in the evening to the point that conversation can be difficult. It’s an attractive, sensual restaurant, with interesting red and black accessories, in a very contemporary setting.

I thought the sushi was quite good, especially the caterpillar roll, though it didn’t strike me as being superior to any other sushi restaurant about town. But it did have an unique sushi rice bowl that tasted as heavenly as it looked. The Bara Charashi Bowl (combo #11) was different than anything I have ever seen offered at a sushi restaurant. Chunks of yellowtail, spicy tuna, salmon, shrimp, avocado, cucumber and Asian green vegetables were atop a bed of rice sitting in a deep bowl. The texture was smooth and silky, and I loved the combination of flavors in every bite. I like to try new dishes every time I go to a new restaurant or an old favorite, but it will be hard not to order that again…and again.IMG_0291IMG_0294

A big selling point of RA Sushi will undoubtedly be its Happy Hour, with half-priced sushi and appetizers, and drink specials from 3:00-7:00 P.M. EVERY day except Sunday. How often do you see a restaurant offer deals on a Saturday, or through much of the dinner hour?? And this is not just an opening ploy–all of their restaurants around the country feature the same early-bird menu.

I suspect RA Sushi will be a hit with the late-night singles crowd and early-to-bedders who love a good deal. Either way, it’s going to provide some serious competition for its neighbors. I sincerely hope it doesn’t put too much of a dent in Kaiyo’s business, but these big-box chains certainly make it hard for the independent little guy.

RA Sushi on Urbanspoon