Our friend Beth, a sushi novice, is getting ready to head for Hawaii on a contract gig, and she wanted to give it a shot. We'd just had a nice lunch at the new Kazoku Sushi and Japanese Cuisine a couple of days before, and we thought it would be a fine place to take her and her husband, John, to dinner.
Other than a few minor issues (such as a server accidentally dousing Beth with a glass of water), it was, indeed, a good experience.
Kazoku opened last year at 4210 E. Speedway Blvd., a place which in recent years has housed Three Sisters, Green Bamboo, Saigon Café, Sabra and, most recently, Monty's Bistro and Pizzeria. Yes, that building is a Restaurant Spot of Death, a place where dining concepts seem to go to die. However, Kazoku uses the space well; the décor is beautiful, with the wall in the main dining area painted to make it seem like diners are overlooking a bay somewhere in Asia. The sushi bar sits directly ahead when you walk in the door of the impeccably clean restaurant; the tables are all covered with dark brown faux leather.
Problem is, most of those tables sit unoccupied. During our lunch visit, we had the place to ourselves until a party of one came in toward the end of our meal. During our 7:30 p.m. Friday dinner with Beth and John, the restaurant was perhaps half full. Kazoku deserves more customers than this.
On our dinner visit, Garrett was craving sushi, big-time, and ordered two pieces each of tuna ($3.50), salmon ($3.50), yellowtail ($3.50), crab ($3), snow crab ($4), shrimp, ($3.50), octopus ($3.50), fresh-water eel ($4.50), sea urchin ($7.95) and sweet shrimp ($7.95). I ordered two pieces of red snapper ($4) along with a shrimp tempura roll ($5.95), a caterpillar roll ($8.95) and a passion roll (spicy crab with avocado and tempura flakes, topped with a spicy tuna mixture, $8.95). Beth, meanwhile, dipped her toes into the sushi waters with two pieces each of salmon and shrimp, a California roll ($4) and a spicy yellowtail roll ($4.95).
John wanted nothing to do with fish and seafood. Thankfully, Kazoku also offers an ample selection of Asian appetizers—including vegetable egg rolls ($3.95), gyoza ($4.50) and tempuras ($4.95 to $7.95)—salads, noodle dishes, Korean specialties, fried-rice dishes, teriyakis, katsus and some fish entrées. John decided to stick with the basics with the chicken teriyaki dinner ($10.95).
We chatted about Beth's upcoming job and life in general as we enjoyed the complimentary miso soup and edamame. John liked the basic salad (romaine lettuce and a tasty ginger/rice vinegar dressing, with little else) that was included with his order—and we were surprised when John's chicken teriyaki showed up well before any of our fish did. John's teriyaki, by the way, was fantastic; the large portion was tender and tasty, accompanied by a small pile of vegetables dominated by more lettuce.
The service, while not terrible, was far from perfect. Aside from the delayed sushi and Beth getting doused, Garrett had to ask three times for his sweet shrimp tails before they arrived. (The cooked shrimp heads showed up on time.) Also, there was an issue with the menu: The list of sushi rolls (with descriptions) did not match the rolls on the order form. For example: That delicious shrimp tempura roll was not described anywhere that I could find—and shrimp tempura rolls vary slightly from place to place.
Thankfully, the sushi was—with a few minor exceptions—excellent. The sushi chef has a definite flair for details; the pieces sometimes come on big, beautiful plates and offer touches including well-placed dabs of sriracha sauce and green onion. It was all fresh and delicious; highlights included the splendid red snapper and the passion roll, with its perfect blend of spicy (crab and tuna), creamy (avocado) and crunchy (tempura flakes).
Our only complaints: The octopus was a bit rubbery, and the sea urchin was served too cold. Given the amount of fish we ordered, that's a nice success ratio.
After we finished off our meal with complimentary small dishes of plum ice cream—which was so good that it made us wonder why plum ice cream isn't more popular—we left, full and happy.
The success of the dinner visit was portended by our fine lunch visit, when I had the tuna, the fresh water eel, the utterly delicious crunch roll (fried snapper, avocado, spicy mayo and cucumber, $6.95) and the Mount Fuji roll (tuna, avocado, oba leaf, white onion and bonito flakes, $5.95). Garrett had the beef bulgogi ($11.95), delightful marinated strips of beef topped with lots of green onions. Kazoku also offers 13 lunch specials ranging from $5.95 for chicken teriyaki to $9.95 for several sushi combinations.
As good as Kazoku is, I am concerned about its future. There are a ton of sushi places nearby—many of which offer the budget-friendly all-you-can-eat option, which Kazoku does not—and people don't seem to know about the place. If the owners can get the word out, fix the minor service issues and work on affordability, Kazoku and its splendid fish have the potential to break 4210 E. Speedway Blvd.'s Restaurant Spot of Death curse.
However, if is the key word.