In that bastion of Japanese Sushi Creativity – Scottsdale, Ariz. (I kid) – three friends got together to create a restaurant where they could order ‘creative and evolving’ sushi; feel at home at a FUN Happy Hour bar; and create a ‘vibe’ where friends could gather. That was 1997. That initial ‘vibe’ was an immediate success, and now – 25 restaurants in nine states later – RA Sushi is bringing their unique ‘sushi-vibe’ to Pointe Orlando on International Drive.
The ‘vibe’ has a lot to do with that original idea of the ‘FUN Happy Hour’ which offers – from 4 to 7 p.m. – many of the restaurant’s signature offerings in full servings at about half the price of the regular evening menu. Do I need to repeat this one folks?
And that will mean even more when I tell you that RA Sushi is my new favorite sushi house. How could this happen? The answer is in the fact that RA Sushi does it all right – décor, food, service and welcoming atmosphere. The décor is hot, fun, and straight off the set of a James Bond movie with lights in red globes that look like floating bubbles. The colors of red and black are everywhere – hot and relaxing at the same time. Most important is the taste, quality and originality of everything from signature bar drinks to appetizers that had me doing my “happy food dance,” to generous-portion sushi rolls that bring the idea of fusion to a whole new level.
Which brings us back to original ‘founding-friend’ Tai Obata, who is the one remaining founding friend from Scottsdale. Mr. Obata is Chef Tai, the Partner who was – and continues to be – the chef who is so creative with all things that once swam in the sea. Chef Tai creates the seasonal specials, and then – depending upon how those specials are received – determines whether they will be added to the main menu. Logical and smart.
One of the many glorious surprises I encountered in my first visit to RA Sushi is the selection of appetizers, moderately priced from $7 to $12 dollars that could easily make up a full meal. Think of those romantic evenings of wine and tapas, but now think of the potential for such an evening in a Japanese context. Treat your wallet right, arrive before 7 p.m., order up some happy hour specials (drinks too) and you have another romantic evening that doesn’t even need a special occasion to celebrate.
I started with the Edamame Dip, because I wanted to see how a Chef could make such a healthy bean taste good in a dip. I loved it, and was reminded that is why chefs have spices. Being a lover of seared Ahi Tuna, I knew I’d love the Tunacado, which is seared tuna served with slices of avocado and a not-necessary-but-nice-to-have ponzu sauce for dipping. The surprise taste sensation was the Garlic Citrus Yellowtail, which mixed those ingredients in a magical way to make them all work together. The winner in the appetizer category, however, is the Salmon Carpaccio. Delicately sliced (perfect to show off those chopstick skills), the salmon is beautifully plated with a lattice topping of wasabi-infused aioli dressing that is so perfectly suited to the salmon that I wrote in my notes it is “touched by heaven.” A fun complement to the appetizers is the Sake Flight of three pours of sake – one dry, one slightly sweet and one sparkling. While I think I still prefer the dry sake (the one we’re used to), the Flight will bring me back for more tastings.
We asked Michael, our wonderful waiter, to suggest four Sushi rolls for tasting; he returned with five sushi tastings – the extra one offered “on the house” as part of RA Sushi’s friendly mantra. Add mango to sushi and the sweetness of the fruit will infuse as it did with the Crazy Monkey Roll and the Mango Lobster Roll. We enjoyed both, but the flavor balance works best with the Mango Lobster Roll where the sweet worked well with the salt of the lobster. The Lobster Salmon Roll includes pieces of lobster and salmon topped with a lobster sauce that is best for those who wish to take their time and enjoy the subtle tastes of lobster and salmon enhancing each other. The Ultimate Shrimp Tempura Roll is a favorite of mine, not only because each piece was topped with a slice of seared tuna, but because it was rolled with a spicy crab mix and a piece of shrimp tempura adding a wonderful crunch. Finally, the Viva Las Vegas Roll lives up to its name as the “house roll” (and my favorite) with crab mix, spicy tuna, tempura seaweed and more. For the curious, the ‘Vegas headdress’ on each piece is a sliced tempura lotus root.
Yes, it was a lot of food. You do not come out of RA Sushi feeling hungry later, but we still had room for the dessert sushi called Banana Split Maki. It looks like sushi and eats like dessert … one you can feel good about. It’s all fruit (and a small dab of sinful whipped cream) – and we loved it. Matter of fact, we loved it all, and my new favorite sushi restaurant comes – of course – highly recommended.
RA Sushi’s now-famous ‘vibe’ is about making friends, and in the interest of making you their new friend, the restaurant will take $8 dollars off the price of a regularly priced sushi roll or appetizer (one per party) when you tell them, “Josh sent me.”
RA Sushi is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. with lunch served till 3 p.m. Happy Hour is Monday to Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. RA Sushi is located at Pointe Orlando at 9101 International Drive in Orlando. Call 407-454-5600.