Jan 292012
 

I avoided Friends Sushi for years because of its reputation as “the cheap sushi place” featuring sub-$10 lunch boxes and $1 sushi on Mondays. Having been an early and enthusiastic recipient of Anthony Bourdain’s culinary wisdom nearly a dozen years ago via Kitchen Confidential, I know that Monday fish specials are bad news. I still haven’t visited Friends on sushi Monday, but have to grudgingly admit that this place is pretty good.

And it is cheap. Do you know why? Smaller nigiri for starters. What would be a two-bite affair at Edokko or other area sushi restaurants is a small mouthful at Friends. For years I have correlated the size of sushi pieces with the quality of the restaurant, but I’m starting to re-evaluate. Sometimes bigger is better, sometimes it’s not and sometimes it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. Let’s just say that the motion of the ocean is quite vigorous at Friends.

I’m starting to prefer the smaller pieces. I just find it more manageable to eat small nigiri in a single bite rather than awkwardly stuffing a giant hunk of fish into my mouth. Worse yet, attempts at eating nigiri in two bites are almost always disastrous. Once a piece of sushi falls from your chopsticks and is disassembled into it its component parts, it loses any magic it might have had.

The sushi bento box lunch special gets a lot of attention, and rightly so. For $8.95 you can get two nigiri, one maki roll, soup, a mini-egg roll, salad and crab rangoon (which they hilariously and accurately call a “cheese cracker”). Eating sushi at most places in the United States isn’t going to be a genuine experience of Japanese culinary culture and I suspect that Friends’ bento box lunches are a prime example of that. There are many options for the bento apart from sushi, but I’m not getting anything else if I go to a sushi restuarant.

So I’m not saying that this is the best food in the world; I’ll leave that to every other food blog in town. But I am saying that this is a well-sized, affordable lunch special that arrives quickly and tastes good.

If money isn’t an issue, by all means order sushi a la carte. I’ve done it and it’s really quite good and still won’t set you back a fortune.

Sushi

And the sushi isn’t sketchy. I’ve never had anything that seemed less than fresh or anything that was cut or prepared oddly. I even tolerated the likely presence of mayonnaise in the spicy crunchy salmon roll and enjoyed it immensely.

Friends is the most laid back sushi restaurant I have been to in Kansas City. Due to sushi’s elevated price point, most places tend to be slightly fancier affairs. The style of food lends itself well to casual but hip fine dining and semi-douchey night club-esque implementations. Friends is more like the Japanese Succotash with colorful walls (each painted a different bright color), utilitarian furniture and crude design accents like bamboo branches attached to the walls of the dining room.

What differentiates it from Succotash is the very good service. There are always plenty of servers available to tend to the dining room as well as a host/ess seating prospective diners. This place is really quite small but fortunately the primary dining room is separated from the entryway, sushi bar and waiting area. It does mean that servers often spend downtime wrapping silverware or doing other sidework at the sushi bar, particularly during lunch. It doesn’t bother me much but it’s a little awkward to have servers performing work other than serving when in full view of customers.

That’s all I have to say, not having been eaten there more than a few times. But I thought it was worth saying that Friends isn’t scary, sketchy or gross. Rather it’s quite good sushi for a good price. Maybe someday I’ll foray farther into the menu.

Friends Sushi & Bento Place on Urbanspoon

Dec 192010
 

Exterior

I can’t say the name of this restaurant without whispering it faux-sexily, in the manner of commercials for douchey local strip clubs.

Intentions…

Intentions opened up last year in the downtown Overland Park space previously occupied by a club called Revolver, which I had never visited. It had the outward appearance of a dance club straight out of the 90s but closed down several years ago and stood vacant for some time. The concept behind Intentions is an odd hybrid of semi-upscale Asian food and live music.

While sushi is the heart of the menu, they offer everything from wraps to chicken fingers to steak. The food is pretty tasty and prepared with care but I never know what to order for lunch. Do I really want a burger from a sushi place? Is this even a sushi place? Many menu items have been sufficiently “enhanced” as to be inspired by sushi and not necessarily the real thing.

The specialty maki (rolls) run between 10 and 13 bucks each and are probably large enough to fill most diners, but not everyone. Smartly, Intentions typically offers a few specials which the chef will be more than happy to tell you about in great detail. Great detail.

There is typically a daily special of one of the simpler rolls (California, avocado, cucumber) and a side salad for 4.95. That sounds cheap but it isn’t much food, at least not for this fatass. One day I tried the “lollipops,” on special which are basically a tempura-fried roll, topped with raw salmon and surrounded by rice. They are presented on toothpicks thusly:

Lollipops

They tasted good, but were exceedingly difficult to eat, falling off the toothpicks and eluding chopsticks. They were not particularly filling or worth the $11 I paid for them. At any rate I prefer a simpler, more traditional sushi experience and I’m happy to say that Intentions can provide it.

Sushi

The nigiri are larger than most and fresh in taste and appearance. The side salads are very good, with a homemade asian-inspired dressing. Alas they add way too much, which overwhelms it.

Salad

A large space in the rear of the restaurant provides a stage, bar and lots of seating for the nighttime crowd. For lunch I prefer to sit up front where some windows provide some natural light. There is a decent lunchtime group but seemingly not enough to warrant the presence of 5 or 6 employees who are always milling around.

Unfortunately there is also a flat screen TV blasting 80s metal videos in the front room. It was sufficiently loud one one visit that I had a very difficult time hearing the chef describe the specials from 10 feet away behind the bar. Apparently, the focus here is on being a club that serves food rather than a true restaurant that can stand on its own. Similarly the servers get the job done but seem like they would be more comfortable dishing drinks to drunk chicks and working the door. On a side note, one server referred to me variously as “partner,” “chief” and “boss” during a single visit.

Nonetheless Intentions is a fine choice for lunch in the area, and more or less fits the middle of the road, white person nightlife vibe provided by other nearby businesses like Taste, Maloney’s and the Other Place. I hesitated to post about this place because I assumed it would be out of business in short order. So kudos to Intentions for getting over the initial hump. While not really my style of vibe, food or decor, they must be doing something right.

Intentions on Urbanspoon

Edokko: 8615 Hauser Ct. Lenexa

 Posted by at 9:58 pm
Apr 252010
 

The restaurant critics gave a nice shout-out to Edokko on KCUR’s Walt Bodine show a few weeks ago. I was glad this place was on their radar because I had eaten there back in March and found it to serve among the best sushi in town.

Edokko Sushi

Edokko is situated in a small strip mall on Hauser Ct. just off 87th street in Lenexa. It sits next door to KC Grill & Kabob which itself offers a very fine Middle Eastern lunch buffet. Inside the entrance is a little lobby with some large bamboo and a delightful fish pond. The little speaker on top issues a barely audible greeting when you walk in or out.

Edokko

Edokko

Sushi is a great option for lunchers venturing out on their own. You can always count on the presence of a sushi bar where you can join other solo diners. The bar also offers the opportunity to watch the sushi chef practice his craft; some chefs (the gentleman at Jun’s comes to mind) are veritably chatty fellows who are more than happy to discuss the finer points of sushi-making.

Edokko is very tastefully decorated, anchored by an 18-seat granite sushi bar with stone accents.
Sushi bar

A series of elevated wooden booths run along two walls above the central dining area. The booths are sleek and modern with appealing earth-toned cushions.

Booths

Like most better sushi places, prices run a little higher than the average lunch excursion. The sushi special runs $10.95 and includes 6 pieces, a California roll and miso soup.

Sushi lunch

Miso soup

This is definitely a crowd-pleasing special as there are no “weird” choices, and a California roll is about as safe as you can get. But this was great sushi, absolutely creamy, fresh tasting and delightful. The nigiri were on the large side as well.

I went back recently and wanted to check out something else from their lunch menu (PDF). I opted for Yaki Udon, a dish of thick noodles mixed with chicken, snap peas, egg, lettuce, carrots, mushrooms and topped with sesame seeds and slivers of dried seaweed. Delicious. I strongly suspect that they make they own udon noodles but I haven’t eaten them a lot. I just have a hard time believing that a dried noodle could taste this tender and fresh. I asked the server but she had no idea how they were prepared, and indeed seemed clueless as to what the cooks did back there. That’s some serious division of labor.

Yaki Udon

Nonetheless, I appreciated the otherwise great service both at a booth and at the sushi bar during each visit. When I visited shortly after they opened, the owner chatted with me briefly, asking how I heard about Edokko, whether I liked the food and encouraging me to come back. She seemed like a nice lady and I felt good about patronizing the place. You will too, assuming you want to eat in Lenexa.

Oh, and I’m pretty sure they have karaoke.

Edokko Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Matsu: 427 Westport Rd. – CLOSED

 Posted by at 6:30 pm
Dec 102008
 

A few days ago, The Library notified me that there was a book on hold for me. I had come across a review for Asian Dining Rules by Steven Shaw a while back but had frankly forgotten about putting a hold on it. In a nutshell, Shaw explains how to order and eat various Asian cuisines at restaurants. Although not perfect, I love the way the author rebukes American culture for the stereotypes and misinformation about Asian foods.

For instance, he says it is not just silly but insulting that doctors recommend pregnant women avoid sushi. He also says there is no proof whatsoever that MSG has significant adverse effects. He chastises the media for periodic horror stories about the unhealthiness of Chinese food. Aahh, I love me some controversy!

But this ain’t a book review blog. So what’s my point? Well, after reading the Japanese chapter this weekend, I was hungry for some sushi!

I’ve eaten at Matsu several times before, as well as other places like Domo, Friends, Nara, Juns and whatever that place is in Town Center. I think they are all pretty good, I just happened to choose Matsu because it was the closest place at the time.

After reading Asian Dining Rules, I was excited to partake, but still didn’t follow Shaw’s recommendations to the letter. But I will select, condense, misremember and pass them along to you here:

1. Always eat at the sushi bar. You’ll get better stuff if the chef is right in front of you. Pieces of fish have better and worse parts so guess who’s gonna get the ass end of the tuna? Right, the dudes way across the dining room drinking beer. Plus, Shaw contends that sushi is best from chef’s hand to your mouth with as little time as possible in between.

2. Order the combo platters/chef specials. Allowing the chef to decide is always the best way. This will save you some serious dough and you’ll also get the best, freshest fish.

3. Talk to the sushi chef. This is a recurring theme in the book. If you are non-Asian it really helps to get to know the owners and employees. No one knows the good stuff better than the guy touching it all day.

4. Go during off hours. This will give you time to ask questions of staff and the food will be better because they are not rushed.

These are not exclusive to Japanese/Sushi establishments, though he does offer another whole procedure for getting the very best meal at the sushi bar, promising that it would be exorbitantly expensive.

When I walked in and was seated, I passed the sushi bar only to notice a piece of sushi and a half sliced maki roll on the cutting board: no sushi chef in sight. Did he go take a leak? Did he pause for a cigarette? Having recently read that sushi should be eaten as quickly as possible, I started to get a bad feeling. Fortunately the chef returned as we sat down at our table. For a minute there I was worried that our server doubled as sushi chef.

On my meager salary, I went for the Chef’s lunch special, a good deal but still a chunk of change at $14.50. For those insane people among you who do not like sushi (and vegetarians I suppose) there are a few interesting options in the $9-10 range. The donburi in particular looked very good, and Matsu had a few different kinds.

The miso soup is great. It’s much darker and richer than that at other Japanese restaurants. They have the usual assortment of intriguing starters such as daikon pickles, edamame, seaweed salad and even tempura alligator. The salad had a nice tangy dressing, but was virtually drenched in the stuff. The flavor was strong enough that they should have used half as much.

Unfortunately the sushi looked a little limp and sad when it arrived. It tasted good and was well cut but I suspected it was not the freshest available. The pieces were also on the small side. My piece of tuna had what looked like a little soy sauce fingerprint on it. That what I get for not sitting at the sushi bar, see?

The decor here is kinda funny, sort of like what a Japanese restaurant looked like 20 years ago. Various parts of the interior are meant to resemble pagodas. . There is a wooden crisscross frame across the entire ceiling, just below a bunch of exposed duct work and some painted tin. Some tables had funny tray stands carved out of tree trunks decorated with monkeys or zebras.

Our server was very friendly and did a nice job. He was way too apologetic about interrupting us to pour tea or clear dishes. Dude, just don’t say anything and pour the damn tea. A large white man started wandering around about halfway through our meal. He was puttering in the kitchen, the dishwashing area, and periodically perched himself at the sushi bar. I got the feeling he was the owner, since was wasn’t really doing anything productive.

After this visit, I find that I prefer most other sushi restaurants in the metro, although the Westport location is convenient. I know sushi has come up in previous posts, so where do you all like to go for really good sushi? Or quick, affordable sushi?

For more info on Matsu check out this a very good Yelp review.

Read more:

Matsu Japanese on Urbanspoon

Yelp