It’s tucked back in Northwest Centre at 13th and Tyler — a strip center with lots of vacancies. (Talliano’s Pizzeria just closed its restaurant there in March after 10 years in business.)
But Ninza Sushi Bar, a new restaurant owned by Ada Yang and her boyfriend, California-trained sushi chef Seong Han, is worth finding.
The owners’ youthful attitude shows in their playful and delicious sushi rolls, made with unique ingredients and presented in dramatic fashion — some piled high on plates, others leaping with flames.
ON THE MENU: The Ninza menu is populated largely with sushi rolls, including a long list of more complex “special” rolls and several less-expensive, less-complicated classic rolls, such as spicy tuna, Philadelphia and California. It also has a sashimi platter, plus several creative salads, soups and appetizers. There’s also a couple of lunch combination plates, sushi combination plates and Japanese-style grilled chicken and beef, for non-sushi eaters in the party.
DON’T MISS DISHES: We ordered way, way too much sushi at Ninza, intending to sample a little of everything and take the rest home.
We took nothing home.
The best thing we ordered was the 15-piece sashimi special, which cost $19.95 and consisted of three pieces each of five types of sliced, fresh fish — several tuna varieties, plus red snapper and salmon. The colorful plate featured the thinly sliced bites of fish artfully stacked atop a pile of curly shaved daikon and garnished with curly parsley and lemon slices. The fish was fresh and melted like butter in our mouths.
We also were excited to try the rolls, especially Honey Stone roll ($11.95), which is pictured prominently on the restaurant’s Facebook page and which Yang says is the most popular item so far.
It was good — though maybe a little too sweet. Made with deep-fried crab, avocado, shrimp tempura and cream cheese, the roll was sliced, then piled into a pyramid and garnished with curly shaved beet.
On the way in, we also were impressed by the roll we saw on a neighboring table that was leaping with flames. We were told it was the Fired Dragon roll, and we were sure to order it, too. It was $12.95 and was on fire in a foil-lined boat. It was made with spicy tuna, cream cheese, avocado and baked red snapper and was creamy and rich, though its warmness took a little getting used to.
Most of my table mates said their favorite roll was the Hot Night roll ($11.95), made with crab, avocado, shrimp tempura and spicy shrimp. I liked it, too, but my favorite was a somewhat silly roll that I could not stop eating — the Snow Coconut ($12.95), a shrimp tempura roll stuffed with crab avocado and peanut butter then topped with a pile of sweet and crunchy coconut flakes. It was like dessert for dinner, and the flavors and textures worked together beautifully.
We started with the mixed tempura ($6.95), which came with three pieces of fried shrimp and four bites of veggies. The presentation was less than impressive (surprising, considering the gorgeous plates that followed). And the breading was overall blah, with little flavor or crunch. We also were not excited about the edamame ($2.95), which had been steamed so long, they’d turned pale green and desperately needed salt.
The meal finished on a high note, though, when the chef sent over a beautiful but simple platter of orange and strawberry slices that had been tossed in a sweet glaze and were garnished with a strawberry artistically carved into the shape of a rose.
AMBIANCE: The dining room is a little dark, with black tables and chairs, a black floor and a black painted ceiling fitted with fluorescent lights. The walls are a bright red, and cheerful paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling and a collection of “beckoning cat” figurines cheer the place up.
PRICE RANGE: The fancy sushi rolls range from $9.95 to $13.95. The more basic ones are $3.50 to $6.95. Lunch sushi combination plates range from $8.95 to $11.95.
SERVICE: Good. Our food came out in a reasonable amount of time, and we were offered good suggestions about what to order.