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Published: Thursday, 3/4/2010

Restaurant review: Uraku Japanese Restaurant ****

BOWLING GREEN — Hidden in a strip mall behind a gas station, close to the interstate and far from Bowling Green's charming pedestrian-friendly streets is Uraku. No one seems to know anything about this place, and that may explain its apparent emptiness. Which is a shame, because it offers excellent sushi at astonishing low prices.

Red lanterns, light wood, and a back-wall sushi bar lend the intimate cool vibe of a small urban sushi joint without any of the pretense. The “hooked on classics” music was a little out of sync. I preferred listening to the amiable sushi chef chat up the regulars.

Upon opening the menu, I was shocked at the low prices, and honestly a little worried. We started safe with vegetable and pork gyoza. My worry compounded when the crisp little dumplings were bland and the sauce was presented in a plastic ramekin.

Like many of metro Toledo's Japanese restaurants, Uraku has a heavy Korean influence, with bim bim bop and bulgogi next to teriyaki and ton katsu. I ordered the Korean chirashi roll ($13.99) along with a spicy yellowtail roll deluxe ($7.99), a red snapper roll ($3.49), a sweet potato roll ($2.99), and a vegetarian maki roll ($7.99.)

The chirashi roll was the highlight of my dinner. Fresh meaty tuna, red snapper, salmon, and squid worked beautifully against the rich avocado and nutty sesame oil. Spicy red-pepper-laced chirashi sauce added a fiery kick to one of the best rolls in northwest Ohio.

The sweet potato roll featured crunchy, lush chunks of tempura sweet potato that offered a nice textural contrast to the cool sushi rice and nori. The red snapper roll was fresh and bright with a nice no-nonsense approach. I wasn't so enamored of the spicy yellowtail roll; the roll itself was very good, but the heap of shredded crab stick and spicy mayonnaise sauce on top was akin to thousand island dressing and overwhelmed the delicate yellowtail instead of enhancing it.

For vegetarians, Uraku offers some creative and appealing options. The vegetarian maki roll was loaded with fresh, crunchy kanpyo, asparagus, mushroom, and tofu. My dining companion was elated to find tofu tempura on the menu as well. The light tempura batter is amazing on tofu and was perfect when paired with fresh carrot, onion, and broccoli, although some of the tempura batter remained raw inside the giant broccoli florets.

Upon arriving for lunch, I was a little worried again when I noticed the place was totally empty. Just me, the sushi chef, and a very friendly server.

Uraku has to have one of the best lunch deals around: Two rolls of your choice for $6.99. We ordered the spicy red snapper, spicy tuna, salmon maki, and California roll. The spicy red snapper was crisp and fresh, and the spicy tuna was meaty and rich, both with a nice punctuation of spicy wasabi. The salmon maki roll was uncomplicated, allowing the fresh fish to speak for itself, and the California roll was a classic take on the popular roll.

Each roll offered six pieces of extremely fresh, perfectly prepared sushi. For $6.99, that's in fast-food territory.

So why were we the only people there? I can only assume that Bowling Green's hidden little sushi joint goes unnoticed in favor of the city's many chain establishments.

Contact Bill of Fare at: fare@theblade.com



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