Wasabi Japanese Restaurant
Rating: Two and a half forks out of four
Where: 912 E. Douglas, 316-927-3524
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; noon to 11 p.m. Saturdays; noon to 9 p.m. Sundays.
Type of food: Sushi and other Japanese/Asian entrees
Alcohol: Full bar
Wasabi Japanese Restaurant at 912 E. Douglas may be one of the longest-awaited eateries in recent downtown Wichita history.
Owners Steve and Eun Young originally planned to open it in January of this year, but delay after delay made sushi fans wonder if the place would ever actually open.
It did, finally, in July of this year, and the attractive restaurant has been attracting sushi fans downtown ever since.
ON THE MENU: The giant, leather-bound menu features page after page of sushi rolls, sashimi, Japanese soups and salads, teriyaki dishes and noodle bowls such as yaki soba and bi bim bap.
Wasabi is proud of its half-price sushi — a concept that sounds like a good deal but is pretty confusing.
DON’T-MISS DISHES: Wasabi’s proximity to The Wichita Eagle (read: RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET) had those of us who work here pretty excited about its arrival.
Previously, downtown workers who craved a California roll lunch had only Hana Cafe as an option (and a very good option, for sure).
During its first months in business, we visited Wasabi several times during lunch and had mixed experiences. Some days, our sushi-to-go was outstanding. Other days it was pretty “meh.”
We returned right after Christmas to try dinner at the restaurant — one of the few in downtown Wichita that’s always open in the evenings and on weekends.
We were surprised to discover the restaurant packed with a wait on a Monday night, and the wait staff admitted to being surprised as well. But the crowd gave Wasabi a great energy that made it feel like a hopping, big-city restaurant.
We’d been given advice from a Wasabi devotee (and there are several) about what to order, and her advice was solid.
We started with the delicious shrimp tempura ($6.95) and the crab cakes appetizer ($6.95), five small deep-fried medallions served attractively on a rectangular white plate and drizzled with a spicy sauce. Made with japalenos and a smoky mozzarella, the crab cakes had a definite kick and tasted of sesame oil, giving them an unexpected Asian flair.
We decided to splurge on the restaurant’s “special rolls,” which are more expensive and complex than the simple California roll variety.
Our favorite was the Ichiban ($12.95), which featured shrimp tempura, spicy tuna and crab on the inside and albacore tuna and a giant pile of French-fried onions on top. It was dramatically presented, and the onions gave the roll an unusual sweet and salty flavor.
The main problem with the roll was the main problem we had with all the rolls: They tasted distinctively of imitation crab, which has an overpoweringly sweet flavor. The restaurant uses a mix of imitation and real crab in its dishes, the chef said.
The imitation crab also hampered our enjoyment of other rolls we ordered (though we finished them all).
The shrimp tempura crazy roll ($11.95) had shrimp tempura, crab and avocado on the inside and avocado and shredded imitation crab on the outside. It was a gorgeous roll, and the tempura gave it a nice crunch.
For good measure, we sampled two pieces of salmon, which qualified for the half-price sushi special and cost us $2.75. As best we can understand it, after three full-price sushi orders, a table can get one half-price item from a special menu of less complex pieces.
AMBIENCE: The restaurant is quite large and attractive, with cement floors, lots of palmy plants and a mix of booths and tables that can accommodate small or large parties.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers are $3.95 to $7.90. Simple sushi rolls average about $5. More complex ones are around $8 to $14. Non-sushi entrees range from about $9 to $15.
SERVICE: Our service has always been decent. On the crazy Monday night, we waited a long time for our food, but we didn’t mind because we weren’t in a hurry and the atmosphere was festive.