Cherryblossom Noodle Cafe in Phoenix Serves Japanese and Italian Cuisines
Cherry Blossom's Nagasaki Sara Udon is a standout among many of the restaurant's Japanese offerings.
Like many of the Valley's best restaurants, Cherryblossom Noodle Cafe is located in an unremarkable strip mall. But unlike most other places — including its sister restaurant, fast-casual Tokyo Express, next door — Cherryblossom offers a diverse menu consisting of Japanese and pan-Asian dishes, and a surprising selection of classic Italian fare.
The unlikely pairing of Japanese and Italian cuisines may sound a bit suspect. While you might expect one to suffer at the expense of the other, the reality is the opposite. There's something for everyone on Cherry Blossom's menu, and whether it's ramen or eggplant parmesan you fancy, you won't leave disappointed.
We like to start our meal at Cherryblossom with a cup of hot genmaicha green tea or cold glass of Kirin Ichiban beer, depending on the season. There's a long menu of beverages available, including hot and cold sakes, wine, cocktails, beer — both domestic and imported — as well as the strange-sounding but surprisingly good milky beer.
As soon as beverages arrive, a basket of fresh bread buns is placed in the middle of the table. The bread is delightfully fresh and issues hot steam as you pull it open to discover its fluffy, light interior. It's hard not to get carried away on the bread, which will be refilled upon request, but you'll need all the stomach space available to you in order to get through what comes next.
The Caterpillar Role, made with eel, cucumber, and avocado is a satisfying appetizer.
Cherryblossom has a predictable roster of sushi rolls, many of which are heavily discounted during happy hour. An assortment of fresh nigiri ($14.50), spicy tuna ($6.40), and spicy salmon are on the menu, as well as a Caterpillar Roll made with eel, cucumber, and avocado ($10.70, $6 during happy hour). There's nothing particular remarkable about Cherryblossom's sushi; It's satisfying American sushi made reliably and consistently.
A standout on the long entree menu is the Nagasaki Sara Udon, a traditional dish from — where else — Nagasaki prefecture, made with glazed seafood and assorted vegetables on fine crispy noodles. The mixture of textures from the creamy seafood (including calamari, shrimp, scallops, and baby octopus) and veggies (including corn, napa cabbage, bean sprouts, shredded carrot) atop the crispy noodles makes for a great juxtaposition of textures and flavors. Served piping hot (almost too hot to eat), this dish is a flavorful one that evolves as the seafood glaze seeps into the noodles and softens them.
Other options from the Japanese and Asian half of the menu include Zaru Soba (buckwheat noodles served cold with shrimp or tempura veggies, and a cooling soy sauce dip), ramen, as well as dishes for the picky eater — Pad Thai and Korean Spicy Beef.
The Cajun shrimp with smoked mozzarella pasta is a classic dish executed well.
The Italian portion of the menu is slightly less varied than the Japanese offerings. We ordered the Cajun shrimp pasta with smoked mozzarella. Packed with flavor and a bit of heat from the spices, we found the dish to be just as good as the Nagasaki Sara Udon, albeit in a different way. The added depth of flavor from the smoked mozzarella made the meal worth ordering again.
Bolognese, vongole (little neck clam served with white wine or marinara sauces), chicken parmesan, and other classics round out the rest of the Italian menu. The dishes are well executed, which may come as a surprise to those who might think the Italian offerings are merely appeasing options for less adventurous eaters.
Cherryblossom has an unexpected but comfortable ambiance. Dark wood tables with tiny lamps and exposed brick walls bring European bistros to mind. There are shelves hung at regular intervals along the walls, stocked with tchotchkes reminiscent of your Great Aunt's curio cabinets. But despite the idiosyncratic interior, Cherryblossom is cozy, and equally suitable for dates or family meals.
The service is ever-friendly, punctual, and helpful when looking for a recommendation. And servers will likely remember your face after only a few visits. All said and done, Cherryblossom is a family restaurant at its finest, and if you make an effort to swing by, you'll feel like a regular in no time at all.
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