Dining Out

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Asakusa
*** 1/2
Out of a possible five
$$
The Sauteed Seafood with salmon, red snapper, scallops and shrimp in sake butter at the new Asakusa.

New digs, but same fine sushi

It is much different than its predecessor, the new Asakusa Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar in Village at Time Corners.

It is more modern, has a hipper, cleaner atmosphere and barely resembles the rather stereotypical looks of the original. And given the recent news from the health department about the original, that fresher, cleaner, newer look is definitely a good thing.

But what hasn’t changed is the variety of sushi favorites that made Asakusa a favorite in the Summit City since it opened in 2000. You can still get the always good Dragon Roll or the fish-lover’s favorite Rainbow Maki Roll, and the specials board, just like the original, always has something new and unique to choose from.

But what really impressed me during my recent visits to this new version of the old favorite wasn’t sushi at all.

The Sautéed Seafood likely won’t be ordered by folks who love sushi because it is healthy. It featured fresh seafood like the sushi, but this seafood – salmon, scallops, red snapper and shrimp – was fully cooked and bathed in butter and sake sauce. The salmon was crazy good, the snapper was sweet and delicious, and the scallops and shrimp were simply supporting players, which is saying something given they are usually centerpiece-worthy. Then again, the sauce was so good it would have made canned shrimp and scallops something special.

The best sushi roll I tried was the Seriously Salmon roll. It was simple with spicy tuna, avocado and tempura crunchies inside and raw salmon on top with the restaurant’s sweet-spicy Texas sauce. But it was all fresh and flavorful.

Other tasty rolls:

•Yummy – It had eel, tempura shrimp and avocado with a teriyaki sauce. The chef chose this for my table when I gave him free reign to choose one for us, and he did a good job. It was a little sweet and a little crunchy, the avocado added some creaminess, but it still had plenty of umami richness from the eel.

•White lightning – Fried tuna mixed with imitation crab in Texas sauce and fried shrimp inside, lightly seared super white tuna on top and teriyaki sauce. This was a big, dense, warm, meaty roll with sweetness coming from the sauce.

•Honzo maki – Fried asparagus, smoked salmon dressed with Texas sauce and wrapped in sesame-seed covered seaweed. The smaller maki rolls are my favorite because they are the perfect bite, and this roll had the right mix.

The only roll I did not care for was the Happy Roll, which had tempura shrimp and cucumber inside, and – brace yourself – red snapper, salmon, tuna, white tuna, masago (fish roe), imitation crab, crunchy tempura bits, avocado and two sauces on top. Someone was clearing the cupboard here, and it was just a cluster of contrasting textures, temperatures and flavors that I could not grasp. And, as you could probably guess, it was a mess.

Ordering another sushi roll is probably a better idea than having an appetizer at Asakusa because the appetizers were pretty mundane.

The only one I would have again was the Chop Chop Bowl – cooked shrimp, imitation crab and masago mixed with Japanese mayonnaise over a bed of sushi rice. This crab salad really accentuated the sweet flavor of the seafood and the mayonnaise just added creaminess. It was excellent.

The Shrimp Shumai was OK, but there were just five small pieces, which was almost like a tease. These steamed dumplings had one sweet shrimp inside each, and they were sweet and tender. The broth-like dipping sauce was OK, but the dumplings were not substantial enough to make me want them again.

The Beef Lettuce Wraps were clumsy and mediocre. The meat was not very tender, the sauce was super sweet and sticky, and the choice of lettuce was too thin and fragile to work as a wrap, so they tore easily and made a mess.

The Sushi Hand Rolls also disappointed a bit. These cone-shaped rolls contained sushi rice, lettuce and, in my case, tempura shrimp. Unagi, spicy tuna and spicy salmon are other options. They were wrapped in nori, but there was not enough filling and the nori proved to be too much. Had they been fuller and packed tighter, they would have worked.

The carte blanche starters – clear or miso soup and house salad with ginger dressing – were much better than they are at most Japanese places. The salad had a fresh mix of greens instead of just iceberg, the miso had a lot of tofu and seaweed, and the clear soup had a lot of onion, both crispy fried and chopped green.

The service at Asakusa was decent. There was a manager checking on all the tables, my servers were well-educated on the menu and offered detailed explanations, but there were a few too many lulls in service.

And there was one new twist at the new Asakusa I did not like; it came with what may seem like a very inconsequential beverage – the hot tea. If you like tea with your Japanese fare, I must warn you that the tea will arrive in bag form with a standard-sized coffee cup of hot water. There were not tiny cups and not small shiny pots for you to serve yourself.

It may seem like a small slight, but I love being able to keep my tiny tea cups warm without having to wait for more hot water or another tea bag, both of which I inevitably had to do.

But that is not enough to keep me from coming back. I will just have water and keep enjoying the fruits of what is still the city’s best place for sushi.

Restaurant: Asakusa

Address: 6401 W. Jefferson Blvd.

Phone: 432-9888

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Cuisine: Japanese

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Beer and wine

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes; no menu

Menu: Chop Chop Bowl ($5.75), hand roll ($6.50), shumai ($4.95), beef wrap ($6.75), Sautéed Seafood ($20.25), Seriously Salmon ($13), Yummy Roll ($12)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.

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