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Category Archives: Sushi Bar

Kira’s Number 6: Asuka

PSA: Asuka has a summer special: all-you-can-eat sushi for $19.95. It’s everyday before 9:30 PM. Go eat sushi! (They have had similar specials throughout the years, usually during the summer, but not always. -Erik, May 2014)

You will now be returned to your regularly scheduled review.

The Time:
Tuesday, May 9th around 7 PM, and Wednesday, May 10th around 9 PM

The Place: Asuka Japanese Sushi & Steak House

MMMM…sushi!! We’ve been to Asuka several times and it is my favorte sushi in town. Since we had only been there for sushi before, this time we decided to try the teppanyaki, or as they call it, hibachi. Basically, teppanyaki/hibachi is where up to about 10 people sit around a big flat grill where the grill master (who usually doesn’t speak very good English) does some fancy stuff with knives and fire to prepare your food in front of you. I had seen this done before, and it can be quite spectacular, but had never actually eaten the food.

Tatami tables at Asuka

Tatami tables at Asuka

As soon as we got there we noticed the sign on the window that said something like announced their all-you-can-eat sushi special. I got so excited, and even tried to convince Erik that we should have sushi that night. He did not cave, but instead we decided to come back the next night for sushi with our friend, Neeraj.

The Atmosphere: 
In the front room there are both regular tables and are tatamis, which Erik just informed me are the mats that the Japanese use to sit on the floor, and they are often used to sit at short tables to eat. We have yet to sit at a tatami, but there are 3 or 4 of them (be warned that you have to take off your shoes to sit there). (The place has since been completely remodeled. I don’t think they have the tatami tables anymore. -Erik, May 2014)

Turtle in an aquarium at Asuka

Not for dinner.

Then the back room is full of hibachi tables. In both rooms there is a bunch of kitschy Japanese decoration on the walls, and of course there is the obligatory fish tank with a few koi and a turtle. Unfortunately the turtle didn’t really have a place to lie that was above the water, and so had to swim up to the top and tread water in order to get a good breath. I should’ve mentioned that to somebody who worked there…maybe next time.

The Food:
For the hibachi, you basically choose your meat and they grill it for you. We decided to go all out and get the Sea & Land Combo for two, which included steak, chicken, shrimp, scallops, and salmon. It came with soup, house salad, vegetables, and steamed rice (or fried for $2 more, but we opted against that).

The salad at Asuka.The soup was very bland. It was basically some chicken broth with a little Japanese flavor in it. Nothing special. I added some soy sauce to make it better. Soy sauce makes everything better.

The salad, on the other hand, was pretty good. It was just some iceberg lettuce, onion, and cucumber, but it had a great orange oriental sauce that was quite yummy.

Then came the grill. You really need to see the pictures to get it. There were 5 other people at the table, and so all of our food was prepared together in front of us. I’ll describe the actual grilling in the next section.

 

Teppanyaki chicken at Asuka, with more meat and veggies on the grill in the background.

Teppanyaki chicken

First let me tell you, there was a LOT of food. We thought that we would get maybe half a serving of each meat, but we actually received pretty much a full serving of each dish. There was a mix of veggies, too, so we definitely had to take home leftovers. I’m a weirdo and eat almost all of my leftovers cold. I have to say that these were some of the best cold leftovers ever!

While there was a lot of food, unfortunately it all tasted the same. Individually they tasted good, but by the time I got to the 3rd meat covered in teriyaki sauce, I was sick of it. It was way too much of a mediocre thing. I probably could have eaten more if there was less sauce on everything.

Oh, I almost forgot the other sauces. There were 3 sauces that we were supposed to use to dip our food in: one I can’t remember (dang it, Erik doesn’t remember either), a spicy mustard sauce, and the third was a sauce that they just called “yummy yummy sauce” which was basically thousand island dressing. It was yummy, but in general I preferred my meal with out any of the sauces.

Teppanyaki shrimp at Asuka.

Teppanyaki shrimp.

Then the next night we went for the sushi. We arrived around 9, and they said that the sushi bar closed at 9:30, even though on the sign outside said it closed at 10. So we hurried up and ordered. We were worried that Sushi buffet would mean that the sushi would be pre-made, but we were happily surprised to find out that we got to order anything off of a special menu, which was basically everything on the main menu minus some of the specialty rolls. I got some salmon and tuna nigiri (fish on wad of rice), and a California roll to start with. Erik got tuna, salmon, mackerel, red snapper, and a Nagasaki roll. Our friend Neeraj got an eel roll, a tempura roll, and a cucumber roll. I don’t think that he realized that you get 6 pieces in every roll.

Shrimp and veggie tempura at Asuka

Shrimp and veggie tempura.

Everything was great as usual. I love California rolls, and I think Asuka does it the best out of the 3 places I’ve been to in town (Mikado and Sushi Bar being the other 2)

Then for the second round we ordered a few new rolls to share: the Fantacy Dream and some other roll that I don’t remember. The 2 new rolls weren’t bad, but weren’t to our taste. One had roe on it, which feels really weird in the mouth and can get stuck in your teeth. mmm…fish eggs in your teeth. By that point we were all so full that we had to fight over who wouldn’t eat the last few pieces. We had to finish, though, because if you don’t you have to pay one dollar per item left on your plate. It was rough, but we didn’t have to pay for anything extra.

Over all I am glad that we went back for the sushi. Unfortunately we forgot to take any pictures during that trip. They tend to do a really good job on the presentation of the sushi, so I’m trying to convince Erik that we need to go back soon to get more sushi. I mean, come on – $20 all you can eat! I will definitely update if we do go back soon.

The onion volcano at Asuka

Onion volcano

The Service:
For hibachi, the lady who took our orders was very nice, although a bit hard to understand. We asked her what kind of soup we had received, and after her repeating herself three times, we gave up.

The grill master spoke even less English. He asked us how we wanted our steaks done, and it was almost like he was reading it phonetically off of a card. Maybe he was. He wasn’t fantastically fantastic on the grill, but he was still fun to watch. He started by setting the entire grill on fire (beware if you have long hair covered in Aquanet), and then proceeded to bounce an egg off of a spatula for the fried rice. Then came a huge platter of our food that he carefully arranged on the grill. He made a flaming volcano out of rings of onions and fancily sliced and diced the food. All of the food was cooked together, but then portioned out, mostly evenly.

The servers were all quite friendly, even on the next night for the sushi.

The Price:
For hibachi it was quite expensive, but reasonable for the amount of food that we received. The Land & Sea combo for 2 people was $46.95, but like I said before, it was a lot of food.

The sushi is normal about $4 for a pair of nigiri, so we definitely got our money’s worth with the $20 all-you-can-eat.

The Rest:
I don’t know if I’d go back for the teppanyaki/hibachi. I guess if we had each just gotten, say, the chicken hibachi, it wouldn’t have been as expensive, it wouldn’t have been such a big deal it was drenched in sauce. But since we had 5 different meats, the sauce just made them all taste the same.

Sushi is great. I’d come back here everyday if it wasn’t so expensive. I guess I’ll have to settle for one a month, maybe more during their summer special.

How often would I go back?
For hibachi-every 6 months. For sushi-once a month (more if it was cheaper) (what’s this?)

 

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Erik Eats Asuka Twice


Erik at Asuka teppanyakiWhenever Kira and I can think of an excuse to spend a lot of money on food, we eat sushi, and whenever we eat sushi, we eat it at Asuka Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi. I wouldn’t say that Asuka has the best sushi in town, but it seems like the best place to get sushi in town. I think highly of the quality of the food as well as the atmosphere, and they don’t charge exorbitant amounts of money. They do serve sushi, however, so don’t expect bargain food. A couple pieces of nigiri (a wad of sushi rice with a piece of something (usually raw fish) on top of it) costs about four dollars, and you’ll pay that at most sushi restaurants except for the really high class ones. If you pay less than that, you’ll get what you paid for. Or perhaps you may just have gotten very, very lucky, and in that case, I want you to tell me exactly where you found that deal.

While we have eaten sushi at Asuka before, we’ve never taken advantage of the Japanese steakhouse (otherwise known as “teppanyaki” or, in this case, “hibachi”) part of the restaurant, so for this visit, we planned to try that out and maybe order a few pieces of sushi because we find it hard not to. When we got to the restaurant, a big sign out front advertised a summer special of all-you-can-eat sushi for twenty bucks. Kira immediately became torn between getting teppanyaki as planned and taking advantage of the special deal. I immediately knew that we had no decision to make. No, we had a moral obligation to get the teppanyaki that night and come back for sushi on the following night.

I don’t know the etymologies of the words “teppanyaki” and “hibachi,” but I’d always understood that “hibachi” meant the actual grill at which the teppanyaki took place. Do not quote me on this because I can’t even decide if I think “teppanyaki” refers to the experience itself, the food served, or something else entirely. I don’t even know if they do this sort of thing in Japan, or if some Japanese-American restaurant invented it. In any case, Asuka calls it “hibachi,” and while I’ve seen better performances and tasted better food at other Japanese steakhouses (though not in Bloomington), I’ve also seen and eaten much worse. If you’ve never heard of teppanyaki before, the experience generally goes like this:

Step 1: You sit down with a few strangers (unless you come in with a large group, which I highly recommend) and order your main dish (usually some kind of meat or seafood), any appetizers, and usually some beer or sake.

We ordered a special mixed deal for two people, including beef, chicken, salmon, shrimp, and scallops. It cost us nearly fifty dollars, but we got an awful lot of food. The chef didn’t seem to scale down the portions just because we’d ordered five different dishes. We definitely got fifty dollars worth of food.

Step 2: After you get your drinks and appetizers, just enough time passes for you to wonder if they’ve forgotten you, and a guy in a chef’s hat and apron wheels out a tray with a bunch of stuff on it, most of which he will never actually touch.

We didn’t order any special appetizers, so we just got a small salad with ginger dressing and an unhelpfully named “soup.” I can see why they didn’t give a name to the soup considering the fact that they only brought us some sort of chicken broth. A couple tiny flakes of some vegetable floated on the surface, but otherwise it tasted exactly like a bowl of lightly flavored water. If you go there, see if you can get them to replace the regular soup with something else.

Asuka's three sauces: mustard sauce (left), some unremembered soy-based sauce (right), 'yummy' sauce (top)I counted at least seven different kinds of sauce on the chef’s rack. He filled three trays with some of these sauces and placed them in front of us: a mustard sauce, some soy-based sauce whose flavor has strangely disappeared from my memory, and a “yummy sauce” that looked and tasted suspiciously like thousand island dressing. The chef used a fourth sauce (teriyaki) for cooking all five of our main dishes. I liked the way it tasted on the chicken, but some variety would have made me happier. After teriyaki beef, teriyaki chicken, and teriyaki shrimp, I find it difficult to get excited about teriyaki scallops and teriyaki salmon. I never figured out the purpose of the remaining bottles.

Step 3: The chef, who speaks with a strong accent and, if fate smiles upon you, doesn’t actually speak any English beyond his scripted routine, dribbles something flammable all over the grill and, Our chef at Asuka tosses an egg around with the tip of his spatula.if he feels daring, all over your plates. He does some juggling and twirling with his knife and his big metal spatula before pulling a bit of flame out of the fire underneath the grill and lighting the whole damn thing on fire.

No matter how many times I see this, the flames always seem bigger and hotter than I’ve prepared for. Sometimes the chef lights a bit of vegetable on fire and tosses it across the table onto someone’s plate, setting off a very impressive chain-reaction. I’ve also witnessed the bit of flaming vegetable landing in my friend’s lap instead of his plate. The stuff burns very quickly, so it didn’t really pose any danger, but the chef apologized profusely, and my friend got extra food, so everybody came out happy. (Note: This wasn’t at Asuka. Hell, it wasn’t even in Indiana. -Erik, May 2014)  This time, our chef didn’t look more than thirty, and I thought his performance a bit conservative, with less knife twirling, and flames well contained to the grill area. This didn’t really bother me. Every chef has gotta start somewhere, and before he gets really good, I’d rather he spun around his spatula than something on fire with a sharp edge.

Step 4: The chef cooks. This always includes a big heap of vegetables, which the chef has already partially prepared, leaving only the most entertaining parts of the chopping process for the grill itself. This bit can vary depending on where you go and who does the cooking. Simpler displays usually impress me more, and the best I’ve seen involve not much more than straightforward but rapid slicing, dicing, grilling, and seasoning with a lot of panache.

Our chef at Asuka builds an onion volcano (upper left), fills it with alcohol (upper right), lights it on fire (lower left), and cooks a steak on the flames (lower right)Our chef at Asuka didn’t do much spectacular here other than tossing an egg around on the end of his spatula and building an onion volcano. The volcano gag seemed pretty simple to me the first time I saw it, but I’ve since seen it botched more often than I’ve seen it done properly, so I’ve gotta give our chef points for pulling it off flawlessly. He didn’t impress me much otherwise, and he put way too much teriyaki sauce on everything (except for the beef, which came out quite good), but he always had a lot of energy and a big smile, which goes a long way.

I’ve had better quality teppanyaki, but I can’t think of a place that beats Asuka for sheer quantity of meat cooked at the grill. I still haven’t really found a good place in Bloomington to have someone throw my food around in front of me before cooking it.

On the other hand, Asuka still ranks as my favorite place in town for sushi, even more so now that they’ve got an all-you-can-eat deal. Coming back the second day made both Kira and I quite happy, and we brought along our good friend, Neeraj, who you may remember from our reviews of American Chopstick and Applebee’s. In my opinion, you can’t find a better way to enjoy sushi than an all-you-can-eat deal at a good sushi bar, unless you have enough money that you don’t even have to think about how much everything costs. It allows you to try new items, listen to the chef’s recommendations, and eat all your favorites.

Tuna and salmon nigiri have always reigned as my favorites, which might strike you as odd because outside of the context of raw fish, I rarely order fish at a restaurant. Most places I go to, I enjoy the tuna more than any other item on the menu (especially white tuna, if they have it), but at Asuka, I prefer the salmon. I don’t enjoy maki (those logs of rice rolled up with stuff shoved inside and occasionally stuck on top) nearly as much, but I like variety, so I usually get at least one. At Asuka, I recommend the rainbow roll, though it unfortunately does not appear on the all-you-can-eat menu. The sushi chef prepared everything quite well that night, and any distaste I may have had for any of the items came entirely my dislike of one of the ingredients in general. I’ve got nothing bad to say about the sushi at Asuka. I will now attempt to list everything we ate that night:

A tray of sushi at Asuka, including salmon, tuna, mackerel, and yellowtail nigiri, plus a California roll and a "Fantacy Dream" roll.

Top row (left to right): California roll and Fantacy Dream roll. Middle left: tuna nigiri. Bottom row (left to right): salmon nigiri, mackerel nigiri, and yellowtail nigiri

Nigiri:

  • salmon
  • tuna
  • mackerel
  • red snapper
  • (No yellowtail? What’s wrong with you, 2006 Erik? -2014 Erik)

Looking at the pictures, I can see that 2006 Erik did in fact have yellowtail. – Slightly later 2014 Erik)

Maki:

  • California roll (the old standard)
  • cucumber roll
  • Nagasaki roll (The menu said it had “fruit” in it; I can neither confirm nor deny this.)
  • something with eel in it
  • tempura roll
  • Fantacy Dream (I could say much about the name of this item, but I can’t actually recall what it tasted like.) (It had whitefish, salmon, avocado, and cucumber. -Erik, May 2014)

We had a good time, and like every good experience I’ve had with all-you-can-eat sushi, it ended with everyone forcing down the last few bites to keep from having to pay the one-buck-per-uneaten-piece fee. We will definitely return to Asuka again before the end of summer.

Erik’s Rating: Yum – 4.5, Ooh – 4, Ah – 3, Wow – 3.5 (Huh?)

 

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Asuka Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi

Exterior AsukaA Japanese steakhouse and sushi bar

318 South College Mall Rd (map)
Bloomington, IN 47401
812-333-8325

Hours:
Monday – Thursday: 11:00am – 10:00pm
Friday – Saturday: 11:am – 11:00pm
Sunday: 11:30am – 10:00pm

Website: http://asukajapanesecuisine.com/

(Info updated May 2014. -Erik)

Erik’s Ratings:
Yum – 4.5, Ooh – 4, Ah – 3, Wow – 3.5 (Huh?)

How often would Kira eat there?
For hibachi-every 6 months. For sushi-once a month (more if it was cheaper) (what’s this?)

Reviews
Kira
Erik

Update

May 2nd, 2014

Asuka is still one of our favorite sushi restaurants in town, but it’s got plenty of good competition. Since we last wrote the review, they’ve completely renovated the interior of the restaurant, merging with the next-door noodle shop called Noodle Town.

 

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