Restaurant review: Kabuki
Restaurant review: Kabuki

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Our food critic's name may be false, but the credentials are not. This gastronome has studied the history, cultivation, preparation, science and technology of food for more than 30 years—and knows her way around yellowtail neck.

Baton Rouge has a long list of Japanese restaurants, and while there are standouts, many seem to be doing the same things the same ways. To warrant interest you have to offer something different. At Kabuki, some of what we ordered was lackluster; other items truly piqued our interests and delighted our taste buds.

To begin, we ordered Hamachi Kama, which consisted of two large portions of broiled yellowtail neck served on skin with ponzu sauce. For the adventurous souls willing to work a little harder to get at one of the most delicate and flavorful parts of the fish, order up. This is one luscious neck. A note to those who are uncomfortable with skin-on, bone-in fish with visible fins: you're missing out if you pass this up.

Wanting to taste how Kabuki handles raw fish, we ordered the Paradise Roll and albacore and red snapper sashimi. A Japanese restaurant should first be judged on the quality of its raw fish. If it isn't the highest quality, it makes me wonder where else the management may be cutting corners. The soy paper-wrapped Paradise Roll contained fresh tuna, salmon, escolar, crabstick, avocado and masago surrounded by dots of wasabi and spicy mayos as well as chili and eel sauces. Without rice, this roll was light with a fresh, winning flavor combination. The sauces didn't overwhelm the roll, but as one with mayonnaise misgivings, I took note of the mayonnaise sauce choice.

The sashimi was not nearly as satisfying. Inexplicably served seared, the albacore was dressed with an uninspired mayonnaise-flavored sauce. I am no sushi expert, but it is my understanding that sashimi should be raw and without mayo. The albacore was unappealing. Faring no better, the snapper had an off-putting medicinal aftertaste.

Hoping the entrees would redeem the meal, we went for two unique options: Bulgalbi and Sukiyaki. Described as Korean-style beef ribs, the Bulgalbi was subtly seasoned and delectable melt-in-your-mouth-tender beef served with a side of sautéed vegetables. Noting the quality, my companion said, “They didn't skimp on the cut of meat.” Equally satisfying was the Sukiyaki, a massive bowl of noodles, beef, mushrooms, tofu and broth. It was delicate in flavor and toothsome. Redemption was ours.

For dessert, the waitress suggested the house-made Pineapple Cream Cheese Delight. Seven wonton skins stuffed with cream cheese and pineapple were deep fried and served with a mysterious sauce. The dish was surprisingly good, neither greasy nor too sweet, but the sauce was befuddling. My companion swore it was mayonnaise-based. The waitress asked the chef about the ingredients, and sure as shootin', more mayonnaise! While Elvis would have delighted in taking care of this mayo business in a flash, I was bewildered. I stuck with the wontons, sans sauce.

As the restaurant was slow, we could overhear most of the goings-on at the sushi bar. One chef entertained patrons with magic tricks. As they left, one couple announced, “We'll be back next week. Work on new material.”

When I asked about the experience, my companion said, “I definitely didn't enjoy it as much as the bar patrons. But the ribs were great.” Perhaps the sushi chefs should work on their magic, too.

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