- WORTH THE WAIT: The Heights' newest neighborhood eatery.
The Heights' newest culinary resident, Sushi Cafe, may teeter, a little dangerously, on the claustrophobic side, but after a couple of visits we'll readily recommend to anyone that what it lacks in space, it makes up for in location and seriously fresh food. The dimensions of the restaurant are teeny — really teeny — and consist of four four-tops, two six-tops and roughly 13 seats at the sushi bar. For the customer willing to forgo preferred seating or total privacy, Sushi Cafe is sure to please with its sprawling menu and a doting and professional staff.
One thing is for sure: Sushi Cafe is picking up a lot of steam with its rapidly growing base of faithful clients. We called in several times over a period of two weeks to inquire about wait times for a table and invariably received the same answer: “one hour.” They don't accept reservations — understandable for its proportions, but still a little frustrating. Once seated, however, the restaurant impresses with gorgeous, brassy light fixtures and vivid colors throughout. The posh overall design features polished granite counter/table tops and a royal blue back-splash behind the compact bar. Two flat-screen TVs were mercifully muted, but nonetheless tuned in to the latest Razorback game.
To start, choose from a diverse but reputable list of wines, sake or vodka. The seemingly endless food menu deserves to be mulled over with a drink. Being lovers of all things Japanese, we chose a standard route of edamame ($3), followed by sashimi and the spicy tuna ($5), green dragon ($9), rainbow ($9), Spice Girls ($9), Hawaiian ($11) and volcano roll ($10) over the course of two visits. Both orders of sashimi — one tuna ($10) and one yellowtail ($12) — were abundantly fresh. Each succeeding roll trumped its predecessor and all shared clean and crisp flavors. The punchy Spice Girls roll and the decadent Hawaiian roll were the real standouts of the evening. For the former, Sushi Cafe's chefs combine spicy tuna, salmon, crabstick, avocado and fiery hot sauce to create a more cohesive performance than the British pop tarts could ever hope to deliver. Those with a fear of heat shouldn't shy away. It's spicy, but it won't sear your palate. Holding strong on the sweeter end of the sushi spectrum is the Hawaiian roll, with coconut shrimp, cream cheese, mango and a “tropical” sauce. Our server accurately declared, “It's more like dessert,” and our stomachs happily agreed.
The non-sushi portion of the menu abounds with “Greatest Ever Salads” (seared Ahi tuna salad, Alaskan salmon salad, mozzarella and tomato salad, all $8) to “Big Plate Entrees.” Feeling carnivorous? Choose from the firecracker jumbo shrimp ($15), Chilean sea bass ($22), Tokyo cowboy burger ($9) or just about any cut of steak (ribeye, $32; or New York strip, $24). Proprietor Robert Tju assured us that one of these cuts, an impressive 8 oz. Kobe beef ($40), is “not the imitation stuff.” It was an unexpected selling point for a place that dubs itself “Sushi Cafe,” but intriguing all the same. To be fair, there is a profusion of menu items not mentioned here; we counted a total of 54 items on the non-sushi menu.
Sushi Cafe's nearly flawless service captured our loyalty, especially after our second visit. Don't be surprised if each passing server checks in with you occasionally. We immediately sensed a genuine concern for the comfort of Sushi Cafe's customers, with one glaring exception. Should you suffer the misfortune of having to wait to be seated, consider yourself warned. It can be hugely uncomfortable. There really isn't a proper waiting area other than the bar and it seats only three to four people. But this seems to deter very few people, even in the extreme cold, even in a sea of North Face and Patagonia fleece jackets. When sophisticated fare of this sort meets a cozy neighborhood setting, you can bet folks will endure a wait.
5823 Kavanaugh Blvd.
For such a small venue, the menu is really impressive. It would take some time to work your way through the extensive sushi options, cafe specialties (tuna tataki, fried soft shell crab, seafood Napoleon, to name a few), salads, main courses and drinks. The wine list is dependable. Lunch specials include bento boxes and sushi combos.
Lunch: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Dinner: 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Credit cards accepted. $$-$$$