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Published: Thursday, 10/29/2009

Restaurant review: Kyota Ka *****

In a little over a decade, sushi has gone from a rare find to being as commonplace as cornfields in northwest Ohio. If you don't know what's up with wasabi, there are at least 20 places in the Toledo region alone to find out. With this embarrassment of riches, a gem like Kyoto Ka can get lost, hidden behind a fast food parking lot in a small strip mall. Cranky from negotiating the traffic and confusing entrance, I was soothed and impressed by the stylish airy interior, attentive but unobtrusive service, and the truly excellent cuisine.

We started dinner with an avocado salad ($6.95) vegetable tempura ($5.95), and miso soup ($2), the ubiquitous Japanese restaurant starter with scallions, wakame (seaweed), and tofu in dashi broth. The lightly battered tempura vegetables were crisp without being oily. The salad was exquisite with fresh bright avocado and a sweet sesame dressing.

For our main course, we ordered an assortment of raw and cooked sushi rolls, as well as orange chicken ($13.95) and bulgoki ($14.95) for the fish-phobe at the table. Kyoto Ka's orange chicken avoided being cloyingly sweet with tender meat and a savory sauce. The beef bulgoki was great, with fresh vegetables and a nice smoky char to the thinly sliced beef.

But both paled in comparison to the truly spectacular hand rolls. The sushi chefs looked as if they were having a good time, and their offerings showed it. The CAA roll ($5.95) was a great little vegetarian roll playing crisp asparagus and cucumber against velvety avocado. The rainbow roll ($11.95) featured crab, avocado, and cucumber topped with fresh raw fish. It was honestly beautiful, the exceptional sashimi creating colorful stripes.

The JOE roll ($11.95) accented white tuna and salmon with spicy tuna, cucumber, and avocado. Expert handling kept the raw salmon exceedingly fresh and buttery smooth, beautifully juxtaposed with the spicy kick from the crab. The twin shrimp roll ($12.99) paired shrimp tempura with crab, cucumber, and avocado enveloped in perfectly cooked shrimp. Crunchy red roe topped the spicy tiger roll ($12.50,) with spicy tuna, spicy crab, and tempura shrimp.

This may sound effusive, but this was some of the best maki I've savored outside of the Japanese neighborhoods of the west coast.

We left dinner, anxiously anticipating a return for lunch. It has been my experience that some of the best sushi restaurants have a hard time with the challenges of lunch. But, we were amazed at the fast service and continued high quality of our noon visit.

A bowl of miso soup and a house salad with ginger dressing arrived within moments of placing our order. The chicken teriyaki bento ($9.95) was superb with gyoza and shumai dumplings and a California roll. The sushi combination ($12.95) featured some of the best raw salmon and mackeral that I have ever had.

Kyoto Ka features some excellent sushi in a market where very good sushi is not a rarity. But, what is really refreshing is that it does so without highbrow stuffiness or pretense, just an eye toward extraordinary quality and creativity.

Contact Bill of Fare at: fare@theblade.com



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