Restaurant Review: Nippon Sushi

Octopus balls in Barrhaven? Say it isn’t so!

In Japan, they have been serving these grilled snacks called takoyaki — tako, meaning octopus, yaki meaning fried or grilled — at specialized food stands for almost 80 years. An analogy, and no doubt a straining one, might be a savoury Timbit, but with morsels of sea creature in the middle, drizzled with mayo and a Worcestershire-style sauce.

I did my takoyaki homework — even consulted a friend in Japan who swears that she makes them at home and they can be quite tasty — after having an appetizer serving at Nippon Sushi, a three-month-old restaurant of about 20 or so seats in a Greenbank Road mall.

Alas, I’m not a takoyaki convert because of the Barrhaven rendition, with its too-chewy octopus. But the restaurant is doing some things right, while flunking on other accounts, and it gets a check mark simply for serving some less common Japanese items in addition to more standard fare and ostentatious, deluxe, North American-style maki rolls.

We get our hopes up simply because the restaurant makes a good first impression in terms of look and service. It’s starkly minimalist and tidy, with a blond wall, matching tables and decorated booths on one side, facing an oversized mural of a Japanese parasol and an ersatz cherry tree blossoming by the cash. The sound system pipes koto music throughout our two dinners.

Service is friendly and attentive, and the kitchen each time sends some complimentary rolls as a hospitable gesture.

Of its appetizers, we try the aforementioned takoyaki ($7 for four). Better is the okonomiyaki (okonomi meaning “what you want”), a larger savoury pancake with more flavour and more seafood (i.e., squid) content, similarly topped with squiggles of mayo and savoury sauce, surrounded by bonito flakes. For $12, it’s expensive, but not objectionable. The $4 bowl of steamed edamame (soy beans) was just fine, as were bowls of miso soup ($2).

More problematic was the menu’s “bento” offering ($15) which came in a small, stylized pail rather than the usual compartmentalized box. Its assortment of items — tempura shrimp, salad, rice, gyoza — were haphazardly presented, the shrimp, which was rolled in panko and fried rather than cooked in a proper tempura batter, was short of flavour, and the dumpling was distressingly under-cooked. On a second visit, the gyoza were properly cooked, but their fillings tasted too much of vegetable and too little of pork.

Better, with its satisfying broth, was the tempura udon ($12), one of two noodle soup dishes. However, the tempura component was ho-hum, all-vegetarian and shrimp-less.

The restaurant serves nine deluxe rolls, heavy on sauce, crunch and bonus ingredients. Of the three we sampled, best was the Fantasy Roll ($12) with barbecued eel rolled tight with seaweed and cucumber, topped with avocado and fish roe. The mysteriously named B.S.C., (California roll with spicy baked scallop — maybe that should be S.B.C.?), $12, was overly gooey but interesting, and the Spider Roll ($13) disappointed because it skimped on the soft-shell crab.

Simpler sushi, salmon and tuna nigiri were fine — even preferable to the strongly sauced creations, which cumulatively could strike as too much of a creamy thing.

Red bean ice cream satisfied to end the meal, deep-fried green tea ice cream not so much. If the restaurant seeks and gets a liquor licence, some sake would take the edge off.

Nippon Sushi

1581 Greenbank Rd. in the Village Square Mall, 613-823-3030, nipponsushiottawa.com

Open: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday, closed Sunday

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