LFM: Kanpai and Wasabi

I seem to have an appetite for Japanese food lately as I have dined at two restaurants serving this particular fare in the past week. The “Hungry” Hubby is not fond of Japanese cuisine, but he has been known to indulge me in my sudden cravings for dashi-infused dishes. I could very well make my own miso soup, but I have not had any luck making my own unagi don at home (I just found another source of broiled eel that I will try soon.) We were all set to go to Umi, who serves outstanding unagi, when HH suggested that we try Kanpai, a Japanese steakhouse restaurant located past the Short Pump Mall. Pulling into their parking lot, I was vaguely reminded of Kabuto – another similarly themed restaurant – and wondered if there even was such a thing as Japanese steakhouses in Japan or is this just an American creation, after all, what we know as hibachi here is really tepanyaki in Japan. Would Kanpai even have donburi?
The host immediately thought we were having hibachi, but I shook my head and pointed to the tables in front of the sushi bar. As expected, the menu had a limited variety of anything else except sushi and sashimi, but they did have my unagi don. I will not even go through the details of our dinner because it was nothing extraordinary. I would just say though that I wish they’d tone down the sweetness of their sauces on their dishes.
I did start bitching about the lack of donburi fare served in Japanese restaurants in Richmond, Va. to some level. Why is it always sushi, sashimi or hibachi whenever a restaurant opens? I count 4 alone in the Short Pump area, not even a mile or two away from each other. My rant continued when I visited Tokyo Market – a specialty Japanese grocery and gift shop in Carytown (more about this gem of a place in another post). The proprietress suggested I try Wasabi, a restaurant located at Hull st. and route 288. She said the owners are Japanese and there is a cluster of Japanese expats that live there that frequent the place.
Wasabi was kind of tough to get to from the West End and I knew I was pushing my luck trying to convince HH to eat Japanese food a second time in less than a week. But he knew when I am ensconced in one of these food moods I can be a brat when spurned, although I’d like to believe that it was love that had him agree to do another Japanese run. And what a trek it was. Twenty-four miles travelled on route 288 and then we took the wrong exit! We had to turn around and head back towards Richmond on route 360(other direction was Amelia County). We finally found Wasabi nestled in a strip mall close to a huge a K-mart.
The place was empty save for a table occupied by a couple with a toddler sporting an adorable Mohawk haircut. Our server was very pleasant and immediately took our drink order.
I spied the Japanese chef in the kitchen and a vision of The Bride, Uma Thurman in the Kill Bill film, visiting Okinawa to obtain a sword from Hattori Hanzo flashed through my mind. Funny thing was HH had the same flash. :)
At first, I was disappointed in the menu because I saw typical sushi and sashimi offerings. But I noticed an expanded appetizer list that went beyond gyoza, calamari and edamame. The fun started when I got to the back of the menu. They had a noodle section with soba and udon selections, but these blurred as my gaze zeroed in on their donburi listings of gyu-don, katsu don, unagi don, ten don, sashimi don (I think), grilled beef & barbeque don(yakitori?) They did not have sukiyaki don on the menu . :(
Anyway, I enjoyed an appetizer of ika-geso – generously sized fried squid legs which do not come from your typical calamari. HH did not like the squid tentacles because it had a strong fish taste. Now I would not classify it as “fishy” in a bad way, but I suspect it was rolled in a batter that had some ground dried bonito flakes. So be forewarned if you choose to order this.
HH did not like his gyu-don either. The beef slices had almost 50% fat on them but he said it was the taste that turned him off. Maybe the dashi was strong on bonito flakes? The sauce on my katsudon had a perfect balance of sweet and salt, the pork itself could use a little more seasoning, but I had the leftovers for breakfast this morning and it tasted scrumptious!
Overall, I can’t wait to try more of Wasabi’s menu. I think I’ll give their chicken teriyaki a try next time because I saw a picture of it on the menu and it was not drenched in sauce, a trait so typical of how most Japanese restaurants around here serve theirs. An outstanding chicken teriyaki for me would be a whole leg pounded flat with skin-on with visible appetizing grill marks. Sauce should be limited to a glazing with the juice of the chicken and sauce mixing in a slight puddle to flavor the rice beneath it. Maybe something like this picture.
I know, dream on right?

Kan Pai Japanese Steak house
Short Pump
11964 W. Broad St.
Richmond, VA, 23832
(804) 716-0132

Wasabi Restaurant
Victorian Square Shopping Center
10195 Hull Street
Midlothian, Va
(804) 745-8816