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Teppanyaki, Hold the Circus

by B.A. Nilsson on March 16, 2011 · 1 comment

Kumo Sushi & Grill

With the surge in popularity of Japanese steakhouses, which offer a grilled dinner prepared teppanyaki style, complete with flashing cutlery, acrobatic carving and a number of comic effects, I was startled to see how small the storefront of Kumo Sushi and Grill appears. Where could they put the teppanyaki tables.

There aren’t any. In fact, all you find inside is a half-dozen tables, a couple of seats at the sushi bar—and that’s it. Outdoor seating is promised when the weather warms. So even if every seat in the place is occupied, it won’t feel like much of a crowd.

Kumo opened in December in a Delaware Avenue spot previously occupied by a short-lived hot dog joint, about three blocks south of the Spectrum Theatre. It’s run by David Ip, already known in the area for his Ichiban restaurant. But here the balance shifts toward the takeout, which makes sense for the area. There’s enough of a population density to give the place good foot traffic, there’s a burgeoning restaurant scene there anyway, and Kumo is offering delivery within a three-mile radius.

The dining room is just barely on the fancy side of plain. Its paneled walls give it a ’60s rec-room look, broken by Asian artwork. But what caught my eye as my family settled at one of the six tables was an array of rectangular boxes hung decoratively near the sushi bar. Not long thereafter, a couple entered and was seated but not before plucking down one of those boxes and extracting fancy-looking chopsticks.

This is a friend-of-the-house special. Establish yourself as a regular—or promise to become one—and you get your very own food-pincers, along with a sanitizing wet-nap each visit. Your name will be emblazoned along the side of the box, and that, to me, speaks status more impressively than any amount of first-name acknowledgments by the hoity-toitier maître d’s.

Kumo’s menu is refreshingly brief, with much of it given to the various sushi and sashimi items and maki rolls. Among the soups are miso ($2), a vegetable tofu blend ($4.25) and seafood ($6.50), but note that miso soup is served with many dinners. Salads include seaweed or grilled salmon skin ($5), avocado ($4.75) and pepper tuna ($9); the plain old green salad ($3.25) that’s served with a ginger-based dressing also comes with the hibachi dinners.

So let’s look at those offerings. When they’re cooked and served as a theatrical event, we watch a stack of onion rings turn volcanic; we try to catch spatula-flung shrimp bits on our tongues. What emerges from Ku-mo’s kitchen has the flavor without the show, and it’s less expensive than what’s typically charged elsewhere.

A simple veggie array is $12, which includes the aforementioned salad and miso soup, as well as the usual companion of rice. Which, my keep-it-unrefined daughter was pleased to learn, can as easily be brown rice. This persuaded her to go to the other end of the price scale and order the seafood combo ($17), which features strips of salmon topped with scallops, shrimp and a vegetable array of broccoli, carrots, squash and onions. Although I’m used to seeing everything in the teppanyaki preparation rendered bite-sized, this kept the salmon slices large and the shrimp and scallops intact, and I have no problem with that. Hibachi chicken is $13; beef, shrimp and salmon are each $15, and scallops are $16.

We sampled the chicken tempura ($12) on an earlier visit, and you get your money’s worth. Served with soup and rice, it’s a bountiful serving with such veggies as onions, sweet potatoes, broccoli, mushrooms and squash accompanying the bird strips, all dipped in a very light batter and deep-fried until that batter turns lacy. Vegetable tempura is $10; shrimp is $14. Tempura also figures into one of the noodle soup offerings ($11), which also are available with vegetables ($9) or seafood ($11), served in a big bowl of rich broth with plenty of fat wheat-flour noodles.

Teriyaki dishes, also served with soup and rice, range from vegetable or tofu ($9) to a $16 seafood combo. My wife enjoyed the chicken version ($11), which, although the components show no sign of actually being marinated in the sauce, nevertheless achieve a robust flavor from the sweetened soy sauce-and-vinegar mix.

A variety of chef’s specials includes pork-based katsu ($11), oyako don (chicken and egg, $10), sesame chicken or shrimp ($11) and the one I selected, crispy red snapper ($15). This proved to be a very crisp deep-fried preparation of the fish, which held its crispiness valiantly against the sweet-and-sour sauce that overtook it just before it was served. Accompaniments of mango, pepper and onion were well chosen, but the sauce itself went way over to the sweet end of things and was thus too reminiscent of the classic (but unpleasant) sweet-and-sour Chinese restaurant preparations I first encountered 40 years ago.

With some two dozen sushi and sashimi ingredients available, you can eat your way slice by slice (at $2 apiece) through a considerable array without repetition. Crab, fluke, salmon roe, seaweed, sea urchin and surf clam are but a few, and there’s also a list of 22 different rolls, from cucumber ($3.75) to lobster ($6), with oddities like sweet potato ($4.75) in between. And there are deals on five-piece sushi and sashimi appetizers, which are $7 and $8 respectively. The sushi array I sampled comprised salmon, shrimp, tuna, whitefish and surimi, the last-named the ubiquitous pollock-based faux crab blend.

We had the place pretty much to ourselves both times we stopped in, and service was very attentive. I’m suspecting—or hopeful, at least—that this will remain the case as the place gets discovered, as it surely will.

Kumo Sushi & Grill

370 Delaware Ave., Albany, 426-8888, kumosushigrill.com. Serving 11:30-10 Mon-Thu, 11:30-11 Fri-Sat, noon-9:30 Sun. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: Japanese fusion

Entrée price range: $10 (chicken or shrimp with broccoli) to $21 (sushi-sashimi combo)

Ambiance: intimate

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