Improvement Noted

Kampai owner David So's changes have his restaurant heading into Tucson-best territory.

I've been reviewing restaurants here and there for some time now, and it's always interesting to see what happens when a restaurant gets a less-than-stellar review.

More often than not, a not-so-good review results in an angry phone call from the restaurant's manager or owner. They will often call the reviewer names, call the reviewer's mother's character into question, point out the reviewer's alleged gross incompetence and biases, etc. Rarely do they consider the possibility that maybe their restaurant was, in fact, less than stellar, at least on that day.

That's why I was not surprised to hear from David So, the owner of Kampai, after we published a review of his restaurant ("Stereotypical Asian Food," Jan. 8). I was surprised, however, at his tone: He was polite. He said that after the review came out, he made changes to the menu. And he invited me to try the restaurant again.

So's call was wonderful for a variety of reasons. For one, his professionalism was encouraging. Second, it shows that he's working to make his restaurant as good as it can be.

And I am thrilled to say that the changes show. My second experience at Kampai was fantastic, and Kampai may be on its way to becoming one of the better Asian restaurants in town.

I reconvened the group that originally visited Kampai: Hugh Dougherty, his friend Rachid and me. Our first visit was far from unpleasant; in fact, we liked many of the dishes we ate. Our biggest problem was with the prices. Well, So sliced $1-$3 off most of the prices on both his lunch and dinner menus, and he streamlined the offerings. It also seemed that he improved the looks of his meals with new dishes and better presentation.

We ordered different dishes than we did the first time. We decided to split the gyoza ($4.95) for an appetizer. I ordered the tonkatsu ($10.95; it used to be $12.95), while Rachid ordered the spicy garlic shrimp ($11.95; formerly $14.95) and Hugh went for the teppan scallops ($12.95; formerly $14.95). Finally, we decided to try the sushi/sashimi offerings by splitting a Playboy roll, featuring tempura shrimp inside and tuna and eel sauce on the top.

The gyoza (pan-fried dumplings that many folks would call pot stickers) were a nice start to go along with the miso soup (which was much improved from the watery version we had on our first visit) and the salad with ginger-intensive Kampai dressing. That dressing should be bottled and sold; it's that good.

Our entrées all hit the spot. My tonkatsu--a deep-fried breaded pork cutlet with a plum dipping sauce--was good, although it was the weakest of the three entrées. It was fairly typical, but the sauce stood out; plum sauces can be too sweet, but this one was right on. Hugh's scallops, grilled habachi-style, were fresh, tasty and abundant. (He was a bit saddened that his favorite menu item from our first visit, the spicy scallops, were excised from the menu.)

But the star of the show was Rachid's spicy shrimp. Butterflied shrimp in a garlic sauce the consistency of a paste--it had the look and taste of a horseradish sauce--they were wonderful. Hugh and I were both wishing we'd ordered them instead, even though we liked our dishes.

Finally, our Playboy roll was top-notch. The eel sauce, which was weak on another roll during our first visit, was greatly improved, and the roll was delicious. The tuna on top was nice and firm, and it looked great.

Hats off to David So and Kampai. This is a restaurant that's made great strides to provide better food and a greater value to its customers. Its responsiveness deserves kudos--and a lot of business.

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