Photographs by HANDOUT PHOTO
Red Dragon Roll at Sky Modern Japanese Restaurant.
Thursday, May 17, 2012
LITTLE ROCK “Come taste our famous sushi,” urges Sky Modern Japanese Restaurant’s website.
Famous? Well, no. At least, not yet — the city’s newest Japanese joint has only been open a month (also, it also looks nothing like the pagodas on the Web page; it’s located in a west Little Rock shopping center).
But we predict that its fresh product and attractive presentation will earn it a respectable reputation in time.
Sky is the latest restaurant to open in the Pleasant Ridge Town Center. In the plus column: There’s outdoor dining; Japanese cuisine rarely comes with that option. In the minus column: A couple of worthy restaurants (Imagine and Capi’s) couldn’t succeed in the same spot. And there are already plenty of Japanese restaurants in the vicinity, plus a second location of Sushi Cafe is planned nearby.
Still, based on several pleasing visits, we don’t anticipate this Sky will be falling anytime soon. The new-school fusion restaurant offers familiar fare (gyoza, udon, sashimi) with a few funky finds (on the lunch menu: short-rib burger and cold duck sandwich, each $10).
Diners will notice the large tree dominating the interior (a holdover from Capi’s) before they spot the sky pattern on the ceiling in the contemporary dining room, which has warm walls and several seating options. There are regular tables as well as chairs at the regular bar, sushi bar and hibachi area. Where you sit needn’t dictate what you eat. The pleasant waiters will happily serve, say, hibachi at regular tables and sushi on the patio.
Sushi on the patio is the way we went our first visit, sampling salads and sharing rolls.
The refreshing seaweed salad ($5.50) was just the way we like it, slick with sesame oil and studded with seeds. It was adorned with unexpected orange slices.
The red wine/citrus vinaigrette-dressed calamari and spinach salad ($10), which included pink grapefruit, cucumber and roasted grape tomatoes in addition to the greens and crisp squid rings, offered unusual tastes and textures.
At Sky, there are no little paper sushi menus and miniature golf-style pencils; diners are given markers for the plastic menus that act as write-on boards. Confused about what to check from the varied menu, we sought suggestions.
Our server recommended the Cherry Blossom Roll ($11) — a clean creation of fresh salmon, crab and avocado topped with fresh tuna — for its minimalist nature. We ordered it, and then appealed to our own “maximalist” nature, choosing the messy Volcano Roll ($9) of coconut shrimp, avocado, spicy mayonnaise, eel sauce and excess. (For those who just shuddered, there’s a No Carb Roll for $13.50.) For zip, we selected the Mexicalli Roll ($11) — fresh tuna, avocado and green onions topped with fresh yellowtail, cilantro and a double-spice blast of sliced jalapeno and sriracha hot sauce.
On our second visit, we chose hibachi, ringside,, so we could watch the chefs prepare our feast with fiery blasts and fanfare. Or not. Sky’s hibachi is a more sophisticated affair where the chefs’ full attention is on cooking, not kooky tricks.
We were warned that the Red Dragon Roll ($13) — shrimp tempura, asparagus, avocado, fresh tuna and hot sauce — that we ordered as a starter wouldn’t likely come before our dinner. So we had forgotten all about the clever creation by the time it roared up to the table, midway through our filling meals.
Hibachi entrees ($13 for chicken up to $50 for a dinner for two) come with choice — not both, like at most places — of soup (including the decent miso) or a house salad (a satisfactory mix with a sassy ginger dressing). Also included: a shrimp appetizer and vegetables (carrots, mushroom, onions and zucchini).
We enjoyed our entrees — the filet mignon and scallops ($24) and the lamb chops, shrimp and scallops ($27) — even if they came without the flaming volcano of onion rings or a shrimp-tail toss (they did come with requisite ginger and mustard sauces). The tender steak and chops and chubby shellfish had a nice butter-andsalt balance. While steamed rice is included, the fried rice ($3) is a worthy upgrade. Word to the vegetarians and “fishetarians”: The menu did not mention it, but our rice contained meat.
The online menu we studied before ordering didn’t mention that entrees ordered on our third visit — the Sriracha-Garlic Shrimp ($20) and the Beef Kushiyaki ($12) — came with sides of mashed potatoes, so we ordered steamed rice and received starch overload.
There was no protein overload. The beef — two smallish skewers of steak — wasn’t very substantial (the price probably should have been our clue). Still, cooked with enoki mushrooms in a plush port wine reduction, it was big on flavor.
The shellfish was a bit over-charred; still, the size of the jumbo tiger shrimp, served with a roasted red pepper togarashi sauce (that also contained corn — yes, more starch) and a cucumber cup of mango salsa, impressed.
Mashed potatoes, steamed rice and corn in the same meal?
Perhaps next time we better get that No Carb Roll.
Address: Pleasant Ridge Town Center, 11525 Cantrell Road, Little Rock
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5 p.m.-“close” Monday-Friday; noon-3 p.m. and 5 p.m.-“close” Saturday-Sunday
Credit cards: AE, MC, V, D
Alcoholic beverages: Full bar
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Weekend, Pages 33 on 05/17/2012