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Wasabi heats up downtown 

New, mostly sushi spot serves all palates well.

click to enlarge RAW DEAL: Sushi shines.
  • RAW DEAL: Sushi shines.

Given that two members of the editorial staff of the Arkansas Times are currently with child — and a significant portion of the rest are rotund enough to look like they ought to be — we like it when new restaurants move into our immediate neighborhood. Our theory is: maximum calories, minimum opportunity to burn them off. The good news is: with the Times offices situated near the River Market, progress in recent years has meant that every few months brings another spot for good grub within sneeze-guard distance of our door.

Though we’re still lamenting the demise of our neighborhood Sims’ Barbecue restaurant a few years back, the newest tenant in the space at the corner of Main and Markham Streets has us excited again: Wasabi. Not excited enough to actually trot on our way down there or anything, but excited.

The decor at Wasabi is definitely an improvement over other restaurants in that location. Window-on-the-world open enough to keep things bright and cheerful at lunch, dim enough at night for an interlude, the furnishings are spare and modern, with seating either at tables or along the traditional sushi bar.

What with the phonebook-sized menus at some Asian restaurants we could name, one of the best things about Wasabi might be their restraint when it comes to possibilities on their lunch and dinner menus. For example — not counting their encyclopedic list of roll and nigiri choices — their lunch menu contains a total of 12 dishes, including extras like miso soup and fried rice. In addition, six items are prepared only on given days of the week, with General Tao’s chicken ($7), broiled salmon steak ($8) and Shanghai shrimp ($6.90) served Monday through Wednesday, and pan-fried noodles with choice of meat ($7.50), fried fish and charcoal filet mignon ($13, the charcoal meaning it’s cooked on the grill) offered Thursday through Saturday.

Being lovers of the raw flesh, our trips to Wasabi so far have centered around their long, long list of sushi and roll items. While we were impressed with the presentation, freshness and overall quality of the tried-and-true choices like tuna ($3), yellowtail ($4) and smoked salmon ($3) they also managed to blow us away with their more complicated rolls, including the high-end sockeye salmon roll ($10, though it hadn’t yet been added to the menu when we were there) featuring salmon and asparagus, deep fried and topped with three different sauces for a spicy kick.

Large and tasty, the rolls are fine, but the nigiri is as fresh and tasty as any we’ve had in town: big chunks of high-quality fish, with little smell and a bright splash of flavor on the palate. Though our heat-loving friend piled on the wasabi for extra bite, the samples we tried were fine without it.

Though we would have been content to write a review based just on that, we decided it was best to make a trip to sample their other fare. The good news for those who aren’t into sushi is that Wasabi offers a nice selection of fully-cooked goodies as well. One companion on our subsequent trip, for instance, wussed out and went for the Wasabi burger ($5). Companion numero dos — though he plowed into the sushi items as well — went for the protein load by ordering the charcoal filet mignon.

In short, both turned out to be fine, with even the humble burger presented with the same artistic flair as the highest-priced sushi or roll, and it was accompanied by steak fries. The steak was not Sonny Williams level (and we didn’t expect it to be), but it was tender enough, along the lines of the steak you’d get from a hibachi grill (Wasabi doesn’t offer hibachi tables, or the ubiquitous Mongolian grill). A creamy, pink dipping sauce accompanied the steak, along with rice and sautéed vegetables. Meanwhile, our burger-loving companion enjoyed his ground round as well, pronouncing it as tasty as a grill-cooked version, and with a nice bit of spicy wasabi sauce to lend it a little extra something-something.

In short, with a friendly staff, nice decor, great food, and placement that should catch a good bit of night traffic from the Peabody and Capitol hotels, Wasabi should be around to please us for a long time. Though it’s bound to do nothing for our bank account or spare tire, it’s sure to be one of our favorite haunts for lunch and early dinner.

Wasabi
101 Main St.
(Corner of Markham and Main)
374-0777

Quick Bite

For a quick, cheap, hearty, lunch, try Wasabi’s sushi sampler. For just under $10, you get five big pieces of nigiri sushi, and a daily roll. Paired with a soft drink, it’s fine at noontime.

Hours

Lunch 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily, dinner 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Other info

Inexpensive to moderate prices. All credit cards accepted. Full bar.

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