About the time the Orleans Cafe (formerly the New Orleans Cafe) in Trolley Corners closed some time ago, I had a sense that its eventual closure was caused by more than financial problems and three address changes. The popularity of Cajun cuisine was not really losing its appeal; it was just becoming mainstream. After all, when renowned Cajun cook Justin Wilson plugs Cajun-style potato chips on national television and chains like Denny's serve blackened fish, there is little need in the overcrowded market place for a specialty ethnic restaurant.
I can't imagine, however, a similar mainstream problem with sushi and sashimi, the Japanese rice and raw fish specialties now in vogue. It should be quite some time before national chains start to offer slices of raw fish with fiery hot wasabi mustard to their customers. Along with other Japanese favorites, these items will remain the regular fare of specialized restaurants.Keiko's Sushi Bar and Japanese Restaurant, located in the space previously occupied by the Orleans Cafe in Trolley Corners, is undoubtedly counting on the dining public's consistent attraction to sushi and sashimi to stay in business. But Keiko's adds a few interesting wrinkles to its menu as well as the expected sushi, tempura, and teriyaki offerings to capture interest.
Several of the innovative items from the sushi bar, a converted counter from another prior tenant, Swenson's Ice Cream Parlor, include the California roll, spiced tuna roll, caterpillar roll and the Utah roll. There is also a Charlie Chan roll in addition to the lengthy list of 30 sushi selections priced from $2.75 to $15.50 for the large sushi and sashimi combination.
We sampled both the California and Utah roll, $3.95 and $4.50 respectively. The former is sections of slightly sticky and vinegary rice, rolled around steamed crab, avocado and green onion and covered with sesame seeds. The Utah roll (a friend facetiously asked if it contained any crickets or brine shrimp) was a similar rice roll with a center of scallions, eel, seaweed sprinkled with flying fish eggs, barely briny tiny red specks contrasting colorfully with the white rice. Each of these was very good, as were the other fish and seafood choices on the generous combination plate.
We were less impressed with some of the main course entrees. Not only were they disappointing in flavor, but they were overpriced. Prices, which include soup, salad, and rice, range from $10.95 for fried oysters and ginger pork, to $19.95 for steak and lobster teriyaki. Three combination dinners cost around $16 each.
The serving of the scallions teriyaki ($13.50) was ample; the scallops just lacked any distinctive flavor. The beef negemaki ($12.50) touted as a house special, was unique in presentation. Slices of beef are rolled around pieces of scallions, which look like little green flags waving over the smaller pieces of meat. These are grilled and served with a teriyakilike marinade. The idea is interesting; the taste was, as one of our discerning dinner companions noted, like liver and onions.
Other conventional dishes were also lacking in basic taste and texture. The tempura breading on both the seafood tempura plate ($14.50) as well as one of the combination dinners, was soggy. The gyozas, or Japanese pot stickers, had an especially thick dough skin, and the house dressing on the dinner salads was pallid when compared to the hearty miso broth that preceded the main courses.
Little has been done to the interior since it was Swenson's or the Orleans Cafe. The large aquariums that border several of the seating areas are most attractive, lending a bit of atmosphere to an otherwise ordinary decor.
Keiko's ingenuity and craftsmanship seem to be focused on its sushi bar. Customers who choose its many offerings will be pleased. Unfortunately, some of the other essential dishes from the rest of the bill of fare require more attention from the kitchen before they can be recommended as wholeheartedly as the sushi and sashimi.
Keiko's Sushi Bar and Japanese Restaurant, Trolley Corners, 720 E. Fifth South, 364-0836. Open for lunch, 11:30 a.m. till 2 p.m.; dinner served from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Open until 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Accepts major credit cards and checks with guarantee card.