Cafe Reviews

Asia Vu

Page 2 of 3

You usually won't find me perusing the "Vegetable" section of a Chinese menu. But not too many "Vegetable" sections offer "Buddhist Style rolls." They're terrific: bean curd wrap, stuffed with mixed veggies, then deep-fried to a puff. They're even better dunked in the soy dipping sauce. Spicy string beans also deliver vegetarian delight, crisply sauteed and embellished with mushrooms.

Filleted sole enlivened with ginger and onion is another rewarding option. So are the moist scallops, paired with green beans and hot chiles. And if someone in your group must have beef, the "Beef With Our House Sate Sauce" provides basic beefy pleasure.

Even if you're sitting in the "Chinese" section of Silver Dragon, ordering off the Chinese menu and eating with chopsticks, the staff distinguishes between natives and gweilos at meal's end. Asians get cut-up oranges. We got fortune cookies.

It's a distinction I can live with. Silver Dragon is a gem.

Kaishu, 7333 East Indian Plaza, Scottsdale, 941-4224. Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday to Friday; Dinner, Sunday to Thursday, 5:30 to 10 p.m.; Friday to Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.

At the rate they're opening, it shouldn't be too long before the Valley has more Japanese restaurants than Yokohama. But as long as they're as good as Kaishu, you won't hear me complaining.

Unlike many of its competitors, this seven-month-old place isn't trying to make a trendoid impression. There are no beautiful people here taking calls on their cell phones at the sushi bar; the guys aren't wearing ponytails; and ladies aren't making a fashion statement or air-kissing their friends.

Kaishu is actually trying to make a culinary statement. And the message is coming in loud and clear.

Tables are set with folded black cloth napkins topped with a single rose petal. It's a nice touch. So was the freebie sake the proprietor brought over--"Welcome to Kaishu"--when he learned it was our first visit.

Kaishu is not the place to come for an elaborate Japanese dinner. There's no teppanyaki cooking, where the chef dices, slices and grills before your eyes. Nor will you find shabu-shabu, sukiyaki or nabemono hot pots on the menu. Main-dish options are limited: pork and chicken katsu, tempura and teriyaki steak, chicken and salmon.

Kaishu puts its heart into nibbles--appetizers and sushi. I could nibble all night.

Start off with green mussels, a half-dozen bivalves baked with a touch of cheese, mayo and wasabi. Broiled sea bass is another offbeat success, foil-wrapped fish steamed up with garlic butter and teamed with shiitake mushrooms.

Less unusual, but no less effective, are the gyoza, six crunchy, pork-filled dumplings. Cha shu, the Japanese version of Chinese roast pork, features thin slices of roasted pork loin. Shumai also get your appetite juices flowing. They're bite-size crab dumplings, served with a pungent hot mustard sauce.

For some reason, the art of tempura has never flourished in Arizona. Too many Valley Japanese restaurants, it seems, rely on the same recipe that sports bars use to make onion rings and fried shrimp.

Fortunately, Kaishu's kitchen knows what it's doing. The large tempura appetizer plate holds shrimp, broccoli, zucchini, sweet potato, green pepper and onion, all freshly fried up in a delicate, grease-free batter. You can do a lot worse for $5.95 in this town.

If you're an octopus fan--and who isn't?--Kaishu prepares the best seasoned octopus salad in the Sonoran desert. The octopus is wonderfully tender, and it's tastily accompanied by sprouts, smelt roe and slivers of cucumber and chile.

Kaishu's sushi master puts together several first-rate creations featuring cooked fish. The Kaishu Volcano artistically arranges white fish, shrimp, clam and smelt roe, served with a lip-smacking dipping sauce. The spider roll, meanwhile, is filled to bursting with deep-fried soft-shell crab.

I asked about the December 29th roll. "Is that a holiday or special day?" I inquired. "No," the waitress said, laughing, "it's the day the chef invented it." Well, the mix of yellowtail, smelt roe, scallion and surimi, quick-fried to a crunch, is worth celebrating.

The Las Vegas roll won't impress anyone with its home-country authenticity. The combination of cream cheese, salmon, scallion and smelt roe sounds like it belongs on a bagel. But it delivers genuine, deep-fried sushi satisfaction.

Don't overlook the more traditional sushi items. If professional duty hadn't obliged me to make my way through the menu, I would have been happy just to fill up on binnaga, luscious strips of albacore tuna. But unagi, spicy yellowtail hand roll, sweet shrimp, flying fish roe and a vegetarian roll filled with marinated gourd roots helped ease my disappointment.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Howard Seftel