A large backlit image of a Japanese garden greeted us as my friend and I walked into the West Jefferson Boulevard location of Asakusa. It was a welcome retreat from a hot and sticky August day.
I was pleasantly surprised at the décor. Most Japanese restaurants have a light bamboo look; Asakusa went with dark wood on the tables and walls. The dining room felt spacious, and Japanese art on the walls added to the relaxing atmosphere.
This is the second location for Asakusa; the first opened in 2000 on Lima Road.
A sushi prep area is visible at the back of the room at this location. There is seating at a black granite-topped bar.
The extensive menu had exotic dishes like grilled eel in teriyaki sauce over rice. I wasn't feeling exotic, but I did decide to get a little crazy and ordered the Crazy Maki - a sushi roll with raw tuna, salmon and red snapper wrapped with masago (smelt egg). Included in my meal was a piece of tuna and a crab sushi roll.
My friend ordered the lunch bento box. You can choose two entrees; she went with the chicken teriyaki and shrimp/vegetable tempura.
Both of our meals came with a choice of clear or miso soup and a salad with ginger dressing.
The clear soup was hot and flavorful, finished off with sliced fresh mushrooms, green onion tops and tempura crumbs.
Japanese salad is one of my favorites, and Asakusa didn't disappoint. Its green salad - garnished with a slice of cucumber - was crisp and cold and had a generous amount of ginger dressing.
To start off our lunch we ordered an appetizer, Yaki Ebi (grilled shrimp on skewers with teriyaki sauce).
At the risk of wearing my food, I chose to use chopsticks. That decision only seemed a little less crazy than the Crazy Maki, when our Yaki Ebi arrived.
The appetizer was messy and difficult to get off the skewers. I was worried I would send a piece of shrimp flying across the room, just like Julia Roberts with the escargot in “Pretty Woman” – slippery little suckers. The flavor of the shrimp was good, but the texture was rubbery. We definitely needed extra napkins after eating this.
The presentation of my Crazy Maki sushi was attractive, and it arrived with ample amounts of wasabi and ginger. It didn't smell or taste fishy, and the temperature was ideal. I appreciated the option of low-sodium soy sauce at our table.
In my friend's lunch bento box the grilled chicken was perfectly cooked and not drowning in teriyaki sauce. The butterflied shrimp were large and tempura batter was light and crunchy. Broccoli, onion, sweet potato and eggplant rounded out the tempura selection. The accompanying tempura sauce was tasty, not at all salty.
The only complaint she had was that the fresh broccoli was hard and the carrots were overcooked.
Our server was courteous, attentive and friendly, as well as knowledgeable about the menu. The only issue was at the very end, when I didn't receive the correct change. Our server apologized profusely and made things right quickly. And since I'm mathematically challenged myself, I didn't let it detract from an enjoyable meal.
Asakusa is a great place to escape your workday for an hour, and don't be afraid to try the chopsticks. Next time I'll go for the eel.