When you scroll down the list of sushi options at most Japanese restaurants, you expect a number of oddly named, often confusing options. There’s the obligatory local rolls—in our case, the “Arkansas roll,” the “Razorback roll,” or the “Little Rock roll.” Then there’s always the string of peculiar, corny rolls with names that are sometimes remotely descriptive but often not—the “Playboy,” the “Over the Rainbow,” the “Ultra Godzilla.” You’ll find many such offerings at West Little Rock’s Kiyen’s Seafood, Steak, and Sushi off Chenal Pkwy.
But when one stumbles upon the “Kathy Lee” roll, one wonders, “What has inspired this establishment to memorialize a popular talk show host with a sushi roll?” Does Ms. Gifford inspire hunger in all those who come across her name? I imagine after all those years next to Regis she’s begun to smell of Polydent and Old Spice…so perhaps not. Yet the “Kathy Lee” roll remains the most popular item on Kiyen’s menu. And so, a recent dinner here found at least three of these rolls at our table.
In truth, the “Kathy Lee” has nothing to do with “Kathie” Lee Gifford. The roll was named after the owner’s wife, which is kinda sweet actually. And if a roll is named after one’s wife, it had better be exceptional. Luckily, Kiyen’s “Kathy Lee” is just that.
I’ve always somewhat feared warm, cooked sushi rolls. It just feels wrong in some way. The tender and supple flesh of raw fish, the cold touch of the sea on your tongue—these are things that have always been a pivotal part of the sushi experience in my mind. The Kathy Lee, however, had me venturing outside my safe zone just a bit. (I still, however, firmly believe cream cheese should never see the inside of a sushi roll.)
When it arrives at the table, the Kathy Lee roll looks like an utter disaster. It’s rice filled with crispy fried shrimp and topped with bits of fried tempura batter, marinated scallops, mounds of crab, a sweet and salty tempura sauce, and a spicy mayonnaise cream sauce. Even having the description right in front of me, I still asked myself, “What the @#$% is this?” when it arrived.
But looks, in this case, were deceiving—the Kathy Lee was delightful. The shrimp crispy and plump, the crab (while definitely imitation) was plentiful and nice, but the spicy and rich cream sauce was tasty enough to make one want to lick the plate. The dish needed no additional soy sauce or wasabi, it was excellent as it was presented.
While the rest of our meal at Kiyen’s was a bit of a mixed bag—some good rolls, some disappointing—the meal was overall pleasurable, and I’d say it warrants a return visit. I rarely expect fresh raw fish in land-locked Little Rock, so perhaps these warm and cooked rolls should be something explored more often.
Kiyen’s is located at 17200 Chenal Parkway, Little Rock. (501) 821-7272