On a Roll 

A second Osaka appeals to sushi novices and sophisticates.

We thought we might be in for an evening of food as entertainment, with cooks juggling knives and cutting food in midair, the style of many Japanese steak houses. We were relieved to find a "regular" dining space in this sleek, relatively new restaurant between Talbots and Beecroft & Bull, just north of Huguenot Bridge. The attractive rectangular space is contemporary and understated but also warm and welcoming. A waterfall sculpture above the sushi station at the back adds a perfect focal point.

Taking our seats in a booth, we looked over the menu. Sushi Sophisticate instructed, "Sushi is with rice; with sashimi you get only dipping sauce. No stove required." He smiled.

"Except for the rice," I added.

"Don't get technical. You get my point."

Although many Asian foods are safely within my gustatory comfort zone, sushi and sashimi are still in my adventure zone. I must admit a pleasurable rush when I taste the spicy sweetness of pickled ginger or a heady bite of wasabi and soy, the traditional condiments for sushi, but it's usually a texture thing with the sashimi. I'm getting there.

The choices for these at Osaka are wide for both ($3.75-$14.95), and most are not exotic, unless fresh eel falls into that category. For those less adventurous, the traditional teriyakis, tempuras, and rice and noodle dishes offer great variety. In spite of "Steak" in the restaurant name, only two — a 20-ounce rib-eye and a 22-ounce New York strip (both $29.95) — are offered. All the dinners include rice, miso soup and a small salad of iceberg with a good ginger dressing.

My friend's sushi dinner ($18.95) was a good choice for a first visit. Beautifully presented on a lacquerware plate, seven kinds of sushi offered visual variety. The Sophisticate nodded his approval with each piece, remarking on the freshness of the taste and texture. I ordered a bento box, the traditional Japanese lunch box, in this case a large lacquerware tray with pockets deeper than a cash register. This, too, turned out to be a kind of sampler. Three options are possible — chicken, beef or salmon teriyaki ($18.95-19.95). With each come crisp shrimp and vegetable tempuras, comforting dumplings, several pieces of sushi and a cleverly carved orange-half for dessert. All components were delicious, including my choice of sushi — spicy tuna roll. The salmon could have left the fire a bit sooner, but plenty of teriyaki sauce kept it moist.

At a subsequent lunch, I invited a friend who likes his fish cooked, but he found plenty to keep him content. From a special lunch menu (in addition to the regular menu), my friend chose a Business Lunch Box, which is luncheon-size portions of the bento-box dinners ($8.95-$10.95). His choice of marinated beef as the main component was excellent — tender stir-fried morsels of beef and vegetables in an excellent sauce. He also enjoyed the four pieces of California roll (rice, avocado, cucumber and crab), one of the most popular "sushi."

Pushing my adventure zone, I ordered the sushi called a Power Roll (incidentally, somebody has fun naming the sushi specials). Crisp shrimp tempura is the base around which thin red slices of warm filet mignon are rolled. Dipped in a special sauce, the roll was very appealing in its levels of texture and taste. It's a winner.

I finished my lunch with good mango ice cream encased in mochi, a glutinous coating of beaten rice. My friend enjoyed a gigantic dessert ($8.95) — Godiva chocolate ice cream encased in a rice mixture, which is quickly fried, given a generous surround of whipped cream, squiggles of chocolate and a cherry. The chef giggled as he passed. "The American dessert," he said.

I'm eager to return to Osaka. It's comfortable, the service is friendly and gracious, and the menu is extensive. There are many choices within everyone's comfort zone and plenty for those of us who like pushing our adventure zone in new directions. S

Osaka Sushi & Steak ($$$) NS
5023 Huguenot Road
Lunch: Monday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.

Dinner: Monday-Thursday 5-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 5-10:30 p.m.; Sunday 4:30-9:30 p.m.

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