Sushi makes small-town splash
It’s a sign of the times when a sushi bar moves into Main Street America’s burger and malt shop.
But Americans in towns large and small — including Rogue River — love sushi. And judging from the comings and goings of customers at the new Kawa River Sushi and Asian Bistro, Japanese cuisine has just as much, if not more, appeal as takeout. Sushi travels well, so long as its kept reasonably cool.
Cooling their Depot Street storefront has proven challenging for Kawa’s staff. Electric fans moved air from all directions inside the space on the late August evening I dropped in, causing me to postulate the restaurant lacked a central cooling system. But the atmosphere remained notably warm.
I held off reviewing Kawa until the mercury started dipping in fall’s direction. Anyone sensitive to warmer than typical room temperature should consider coming for an early lunch, taking Kawa to go or planning a cool-season visit. Rewarding dine-in customers are televisions tuning in sportscasts and screening circa-1970s kung fu movies.
Kawa opened its doors in July at the former location of Rogue River’s long-running Depot Street Grill. The restaurant offers a fairly standard selection of maki — raw, baked and deep-fried. Beginning with the California roll for $7 and topping out at $18 for the “king spider,” prices overall seem slightly lower than elsewhere in the valley.
There’s also nigiri sushi from $5 to $8, five-piece sashimi from $13 to $15, poke for $13, and sushi combos and chirashi for larger appetites or more than one diner for $28 to $30. Shrimp and vegetable tempura, salt-and-pepper shrimp and calamari, steamed and fried dumplings, even jalapeno poppers and an avocado “bomb” constitute the appetizer selections, from $8 to $11.
Classic miso soup and seaweed salad can be had for $3 and $6, respectively. Spicy seafood soup combines scallops, shrimp, green mussels and red snapper in a single bowl for $14. Noodle soup comes with the option to add chicken ($11) or beef ($12).
A staunch soup lover, I didn’t spare a thought for miso soup amid the dining room’s heat, but my partner requested a cup. Desire for cooling cuisine, however, couldn’t quell my enthusiasm for the shrimp and vegetable tempura ($10).
My partner also wanted edamame, which I typically view as a compromise to cut calories from the appetizer course. I pricked up my ears, though, when I heard “spicy garlic edamame,” which adds a dollar to the $5 base price for plain steamed soybeans.
I was trying to tease out the most enticing ingredients from the sushi menu. Spying “Dungeness crab,” listed next to the “kawa roll” ($15), I felt compelled to verify with the server. Yes, she said, the sushi chef rolls real crab alongside avocado and cucumber before topping the maki with sliced salmon and mango and finishing it with spicy mayonnaise and “unagi sauce.”
Sushi restaurants that conscientiously list ingredients have my endorsement. On countless occasions locally and elsewhere, I’ve encountered a menu’s characterization of “crab” only to confirm it’s actually imitation shellfish.
Another shellfish — lobster — jumped out at my partner. The baked lobster roll ($16) featured more crab, along with scallops and flying fish roe, two of my favorite ingredients. But pointing out the roll’s duplication of avocado and cucumber with the kawa, I steered him toward the “crunchy tiger” $15 for its topping of thinly sliced lemon, as well as roe.
A lemon fix also could have been procured with the “Jessica albacore” ($15), another example of conscientious seafood sourcing that’s sorely needed in the sushi industry. Luxury ingredient that it is, sea urchin is a sustainable choice that Kawa recently listed on its Facebook page.
Shrimp are a standard component of Kawa’s tempura, instead of being an upgrade as they are at some Japanese eateries. The crustaceans were sweet, tender and more delicate than the hefty vegetable pieces on the plate. Broccoli, carrot, sweet potato and onion all were fried to appropriate doneness, although the batter was a bit heavier than better versions of tempura I’ve tried.
My partner’s miso soup likewise was a standard recipe, a fitting way to prime the palate. But my palate perked up at the first taste of spicy garlic edamame. How have I missed these at other sushi restaurants? Or is Kawa doing something different locally?
The dish seemed to be simply steamed soybean pods in chile-garlic paste. Regardless, this is an addictive and indeed lower-calorie starter compared with tempura, wontons and dumplings.
More tempura — soft-shell crab — awaited in the “crunchy tiger” roll. While the maki’s filling was harmonious, the toppings’ flavors weren’t as distinct as I had hoped. The seared salmon seemed to mask the note of lemon, and the sauce’s application was somewhat heavy-handed.
Cleaner, brighter and more successful was the “kawa roll,” which benefited from mango slices that mimicked the raw salmon in size and texture. The finely shredded crab packed inside wasn’t the most flavorful Dungeness I’ve enjoyed but a welcome departure from artificially colored and flavored whitefish that’s so ubiquitous in sushi rolls. And the maki’s price was very fair for the crab’s inclusion.
Located at 121 Depot St., Rogue River, Kawa River Sushi is open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, starting at 4 p.m. Monday. Call 541-299-0027 or see facebook.com/KawaRiverSushi
Reach features editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4494 or firstname.lastname@example.org