Asuka - Morrisville, NC
- klmonline Mar 5, 2007 06:50 AM
We went to Asuka for dinner on Friday night. I like sushi and my SO likes bento boxes with the typical teriyaki and tempura mix. Asuka provided both.
The bento box was very large with more food than she could eat. The teriyaki beef was cooked rare on the inside, seared gray on the outside and cut in traditional strips. She said it was reasonably good, but not as tasty as what she had at Waraji. The vegetable tempura was a very large portion, with big pieces of veggies. There was a calamari salad some shrimp, and orange wedges artfully cut for dessert. It was a very attractive display, which won her approval. They do not automatically include a salad or miso soup with a bento as some places do. The price was about $18 for the bento. Caution: If you order a garden salad to start, you get a very large plate easily enough to work as a starter for two. Miso soup was cloudy with lots of miso and big sheets of seaweed. I thought it was both a little too salty and a bit too cool. She's usually a big miso soup fan and wasn't thrilled with this version.
I had several pieces of nigiri sushi and a house special "Asuka roll". The fish was cut in fairly thick slabs and was tender, flavorful, and seemed very fresh. No nasty smells or gummy/mealy textures. I thought the rice was a touch firm and chewy. Orders tend to be around $5 or $6 for two pieces. The unagi was a disappointment, as it was thin and didn't have the melt-in-your-mouth property of the amazing pieces I had at Waraji.
The waiter was pushing fresh wasabi as an accompaniment. You automatically get the standard green marzipan consistency paste on your tray, but you can order finely chopped real wasabi root, which I had never seen. This has a much more forward bite and is a lot like eating freshly grated horseradish root (no surprise). It costs $4 (which the waiter doesn't mention!). It's an interesting and unusual option.
The asuka roll didn't sit well with me. It is a combination of three or four different fishes along with crab, rolled in rice, masago, seaweed, and a thin cucumber skin outer layer. I thought the different fish tastes didn't mesh and created the oral equivalent of mixing too many paint colors together. It just comes out gray. It cost $11 or $12.
The menu includes quite a few sushi and sashimi combination plates that get expensive quickly.
The restaurant has a pretty good sake list and we shared a very nice Ozeki Karatamba that straddled the line between dry and fruity in a compromise that we could both enjoy.
The interior ambience is trendy upscale with muted lighting, earth tones, and well spaced tables. There is a bar area with a TV, separated from the main dining area by a half wall. If things were to get rowdy over there, you would hear it while eating. There is also a small sushi bar in front of the chefs. On our Friday night at 6:30, the restaurant was mostly empty, with perhaps four other parties dining.
The waiter was solicitous almost to the point of intrusiveness, but exceedingly polite and interested in our "welfare". He made suggestions and responded quickly to a raised eyebrow for a second order, etc. There is no American silverware on the table, but they are happy to bring it on a moment's notice. The plateware is varied earthenware and attractive.
I found the overall quality to be just a touch below Waraji and the prices to be a touch above. The restaurant features a fancy interactive website at http://asukajapan.com - The online version gives you a good sampling of items and prices, but the in-house menu has additional items not shown on the web.
It is located on Chapel Hill Road between Aviation Parkway and Weston Parkway.
Oh, and here's an addendum (is commenting your own post bad etiquette?). Their version of "white tuna" in the sushi offerings is labeled so you know you are getting escolar rather than albacore. I happen to love escolar, but some people are really bothered by gastrointestinal problems from the high oil content, so it's good that they tell you. Strangely, they put the fish name in the column with Japanese name equivalents.
I stopped by this place a couple weeks ago on a totally random whim. I just plugged "Asian" into my GPS unit and Asuka happened to be nearby. It's, like, whatever. A typically mediocre "Japanese" restaurant that likely will not survive in the long run. I had the bento box; it was fine. Japanese food around here depresses me.
Asuka is certainly not mediocre IMHO. It's more authentically Japanese (if you pick the non Americanized dishes) than the majority of so-called Japanese restos in Durham and Chapel Hill. I've only ever eaten the Japanese dishes, not the stuff on the roll menu. Asuka's been around since 2004 I think which is when I first dined there.
I don't know if previous posters who've dined there noticed, but the Japanese/Asian community must like the resto because there's a display case of regulars's chopsticks as well as bottles of spirits labelled with regulars's names. This surely must be a good sign that the Asian community is fond of the food, even if non-Asians don't?
re: Chow Penguin
Interestingly, our waiter said that the place used to be much more authentically Japanese than it is now. He said that the owners updated the look and the menu to make it much more Americanized. I don't know how that's working out for them. But if you haven't visited in more than a year, you are likely to notice a change (supposedly).
I was talking to the owner of a Japanese resto in the area and he told me that there were only three restos in the area that were owned by Japanese. Asuka wasn't one of them but the food back in mid-2006 was still very good to me (more Japanese than Americanized). I will have to check the website to see how the menu's changed. Admittedly, I've not eaten any Japanese food since Nov last year when I was in Japan. I just want to avoid being disappointed.
re: Chow Penguin
I have also had some very good meals at Asuka, although not since early-to-mid-2006. I enjoyed their sushi so much that I went back and requested omakase, which was fantastic. I have also enjoyed some non-sushi items off the menu too. Overall, I thought it was on-par or very close to, Waraji. Perhaps things have changed though.
Asuka is most certainly not owned by Japanese ex-pats. If you look at the sushi menu it's all crazy rolls and the like. I mean it's not bad, but I still stand by the fact that it's solidly medicore, Japanese-inflected food. Although I've only been once, judging by what I saw in the fish case I can't imagine how great the omakase would be. The couple pieces of sushi I received with my bento were completely forgettable. When the server asked me if I wanted sushi or sashimi with my bento I asked what fish was served with each. He remarked, "Well, the sushi has rice with it." Awesome.
I have critiqued the fish on the sushi whilst eating it at Asuka. My OH did not like me pointing out which pieces of fish had been previously frozen. In any case, I prefer sashimi. Asuka is owned by a Korean man. However, just because there's "crazy rolls" on the menu hasn't put me off returning there. I just don't order those items.