By Heather Hoch
By Lauren Saria
By JK Grence
By Eric Schaefer
By Robrt L. Pela
By Eric Schaefer
By Laura Hahnefeld
By Laura Hahnefeld
As far as the sushi is concerned, the tuna, salmon and shrimp are pleasant without being outstanding. Less pleasing is the yellowtail sushi, which possesses a muddy, fishy flavor. As with the others, it is skillful without being artful.
A bowl of tempura udon soup features thick wheat noodles in saporous beef broth topped with fish cake and light-battered eggplant, zucchini and shrimp. One side effect of introducing tempura into soup is to make it incredibly gloppy--unless you gobble the fried stuff fast. Unfortunately, we don't.
Dessert is limited at Ninja, as it is at most Japanese restaurants. We sample two types of ice cream: green tea and tempura-fried. The former is pale green and boasts a mild flavor. The latter sports a soft-textured, sweet fried coating over vanilla ice cream. If you have room, try either one.
2330 N. Alma School Road
Chandler, AZ 85224
As it stands now, Ninja is a confusing place. From its cluttered decor to the presence of salt and pepper shakers (!) on each table, diners here receive a melange of messages. At these prices, I feel entitled to greater authenticity and aesthetics. Perhaps a trip to North Scottsdale would prove educational for the manager of Ninja. The folks who run Yamakasa know what I'm talking about.
Needless to say, my visit to Ninja rekindles my old lust for sushi. It doesn't take much. Three days later I'm on the phone to the same dining accomplice. I've got a major jones for green horseradish, ginger and American Express. He agrees to accompany me to Banzai I, pronto. It turns out he feels the same way.
Banzai I, because it aspires to be less than Ninja, gets off a little easier. The quality of the food is about par, but it costs less; because I don't expect as much, it seems like more. Get it?
The atmosphere here is cleaner, less cluttered than its Chandler counterpart. Despite table service and a small sushi bar, Banzai still has a quick in-quick out feel to it left over from the days when it was part of the Japanese fast-food biz. Though Banzai is trying hard to rise above its beginnings, at best it's still a casual eatery. There are definitely fancier places to go for Japanese cuisine.
But none that is homier. Here at Banzai, there are regulars. They belly up to the sushi bar where they know the young sushi chef by name. They exchange macho tales of raw seafood consumed in L.A. or Cabo San Lucas. They make and receive calls on their mobile phones.
Which brings up an important question: Why are there always guys with expensive hightop sneakers and mobile phones at sushi bars? Did I watch too many episodes of Miami Vice, or do these guys really do what they look like they do? One can't help but wonder.
Behind the sushi bar is a refrigerated wall of beer and wine. We opt for green tea and soda, but the selection of beverages at Banzai is impressive.
Sadly, gyoza here are a sorry misinterpretation of the delicious Japanese dumplings I've come to know and love. The crux of the problem? Banzai's kitchen seems to have gyoza confused with Chinese egg rolls. It serves them deep-fried, with hot mustard. Most unusual. (Note: For great all-around gyoza, check out Teriyaki of Japan in Tempe.)
Banzai's sushi is adequate, but looks more roughhewn than at Ninja. The taste and textures are fine--especially the octopus--but speed seems to take precedence over precision here. The rice on the outside of our California roll is falling off. The tuna roll is cut into uneven pieces.
Of the two noodle dishes we try, I prefer the hot ramen soup to the cold ramen salad. Sure, the noodles are the same sold in those Styrofoam cups in the supermarket, but this soup has savory pieces of chicken teriyaki and vegetables like bok choy and zucchini in it. The cold ramen has nothing going for it. Worst of all, it's drenched with soy sauce.
Because it's cheap and fairly convenient, I could see myself popping into Banzai for a quick sushi fix every now and then. Oh, yeah, didn't I make that clear? Sushi and I are back together--if only for an occasional rendezvous when I've got nothing else going on.
So if you're in a sushi bar late one night and you see a woman with a glazed look in her eyes eating an inordinate amount of ginger and wasabi, clutching a worn American Express card, be kind. Remember, I'm in love.
Ninja, 2330 North Alma School, Chandler, 899-3423. Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday; Dinner, 5 to 10:30 p.m., Monday through Friday; 2:30 to 10:30 p.m., Saturday; 4:30 to 9:30 p.m., Sunday.
Banzai I, 7811 North 12th Street, Phoenix, 944-2291. Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday; Dinner, 5 to 10 p.m., Monday through Friday; noon to 10 p.m., Saturday; closed Sunday.
This place looks like a Japanese Mama Leone's, what with the Christmas lights and tinsel wreaths atop its regular decor. anywhere
Why are there always guys with expensive hightop sneakers and mobile phones at sushi bars?
Sushi and I are back together--if only for an occasional rendezvous when I've got nothing else going on.