The rainbow roll, top, and the California Sashimi at Asian Grill.
FINDLAY -- When I think of Findlay, first-rate Asian cuisine ordinarily doesn't leap to mind.
But it shouldn't come as a surprise. Findlay's quaint downtown boasts Revolver, the nationally recognized restaurant with a menu that breaks boundaries and plays up the region's locally grown crops. And a relatively obscure strip mall on the outskirts of town boasts some of the best Korean and Japanese cuisine in the region.
The interior of the rather small Asian Grill is comfortable and sophisticated; nothing fancy. It has an open sushi bar, light wood, cool lights, and a friendly vibe. My companions and I were greeted like old friends on our first visit. This was a prelude to what we all felt was the best table service we had ever received. The server went well beyond ensuring that our glasses were full and our orders were accurate and quick. She humored the children, bringing them unexpected treats from the kitchen. She offered insights, and she expertly balanced friendly banter with unobtrusive reserve. The entire staff was affable and proficient.
We started our meal with asparagus beef maki ($6.95). The perfectly seared and thinly sliced beef remained tender and juicy wrapped around crisp bright green asparagus.
Our meals came with the Japanese restaurant standard, miso soup and house ginger salad. Rarely are these worth mentioning. But we fell in love with the salad's fresh homemade dressing. It was bright gold and had a swift kick of fresh gingery flavor.
The love affair continued with bulgogi ($14.50). The Korean specialty is one of my most beloved foods. Delicately marinated, tenderized top beef seared with onions on a ridiculously hot metal plate; does it really get better? Apparently it does. Asian Grill served up the best bulgogi I've ever eaten. And this includes astounding bulgogi from Korean chefs and the expertly home-cooked bulgogi of a close friend who had been reared in Seoul.
It arrives billowing sweet smoke and spitting murky juice. It isn't pretty. It doesn't have to be. As tender as fresh butter, the beef sports a perfect glaze of a sauce that I can only describe as sweet, salty, and deep. Asian Grill's sauce isn't as dark or heavy as others I've encountered. The result was the perfect marriage of flavors and a true complement to the top quality beef.
Another stand-out was the jab-chae ($12.50). Another Korean treat, the dish features sweet potato noodles, fresh sliced onion, and delicious beef. The surprise of jab-chae is that the sweet potato noodles don't taste like sweet potatoes. They have the consistency of rice noodles, but they absorb the smoky sauce better and have a light and slightly glutinous texture. Good jab-chae tastes homey and comforting, but really good jab-chae also will taste fresh and distinctive. None of the high quality ingredients gets lost, and each acts in harmony.
The sushi chef prepared an equally spectacular spicy vegetable roll ($5.25), bursting with fresh avocado, asparagus, and carrot with the spectacular crunch of beautifully prepared Japanese pickled vegetables. The California nigiri ($2.50) was an intriguing twist on the classic roll. Crab stick, avocado, and cucumber were served on a small bed of rice and wrapped in a ribbon of nori. The rainbow roll ($11.95) was superb, featuring fresh fish and perfect preparation that was loose enough to let the flavors breathe but tight enough to keep the composition.
We also ordered chicken cutlet ($13.95) for the children at our table to share. Kids' meals usually get very little attention from the chef, but this seems not to be the case at Asian Grill. We like taking our relatively young children to dinner, but we occasionally find that we get looks reserved for terrorists and telemarketers from diners and staff when we arrive them in tow. Asian Grill made our youngsters feel welcome, and their meals reflected the same attention to detail and unexpected nuance. The chicken was tender and thin with a light crunchy panko and sesame seed coating. We loved it as much as the kids did, especially with the dark katsu sauce.
Asian Grill offers a fairly wide selection of lunch specials. We opted for the chicken teriyaki ($7.95) as well as the spicy tofu and vegetables over rice ($7.95). The teriyaki was very good with big fresh sliced carrots and tender chunks of chicken in a sweet teriyaki sauce. We really liked the sticky rice that came with both lunches, but the total knock-out was the spicy tofu.
I like tofu, sort of. I've never really had a tofu dish that I fell in love with. Until now. This dish proves that tofu can be hearty, delicious, and accessible. The thinly sliced planks of marinated tofu are served simmering with onions, cabbage, and green onions with a characteristically Korean bright red sauce. Spicy chili oil counters the surprisingly sweet red bean sauce for a dish that is balanced and addictive topped with black sesame seeds. We also ordered a small serving of homemade kimchee ($1). The fermented cabbage and red chili is practically synonymous with Korean cuisine. Asian Grill's version is not as incendiary as most, but it still packs a punch, while allowing the traditional American palate to appreciate the really delicious combination of flavors and textures.
So, what am I now thinking of when I think of Findlay? I'm thinking of when I can next make the trip down to gorge on some great Asian food in a place that has the warmth of a best friend's kitchen.
* * * * *
Address: 1813 Tiffin Ave., Findlay
Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Dinner: 3:30 to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 3:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Reservations are accepted.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Average price: $$.
Credit cards: AE, Dis, MC, V.
Web site: No.
Ratings: * * * * * Outstanding; * * * * Very Good; * * * Good; * * Fair; * Poor.
Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants. The Blade pays for critics' meals.
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