Last night, my hubby Chris surprised me with a date to Springfield’s newest Japanese restaurant, Kai. According to GO Magazine, Kai is owned by the same folks who own the popular sushi bar and grill Haruno in southeast Springfield, so I had high expectations for their cuisine. (If you’re not a sushi fan, don’t fret—Kai also has steak and seafood.)
Referencing Kenneth G. Henshall’s 1988 book A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters, kai can mean “sea” or “shellfish,” appropriate definitions considering the restaurant’s fare. Of the twenty or so definitions of the word, another caught my eye; kai can also mean “to meet.” As the restaurant is set in downtown Springfield and has an inviting bar, this definition is also appropriate.
But enough about semantics, let’s talk about our experience. Chris and I were unable to make reservations because of our late-made plans, but the hostess was able to seat us immediately in the bar (the main dining room is upstairs). We were impressed by Kai’s modern Asian fusion atmosphere, which included chrome accents found in everything from our chopsticks and two-top bar table to the array of disco balls and wall hardware. Chris was enamored with the LED wall that seemed to dance with the rhythm of the trance music booming in the background (in general, Chris loves most interior and concert design that involves LED—especially the LED curtains flanking the stage on U2’s Vertigo tour).
Chris started with an iced tea; the GO Magazine reviewer said it was the best in town (quite an accolade considering that McAlister’s has held the long-standing honor for as long as I have lived here). After taking a sip of it myself, I agreed, as it reminded me of some tea I had at a Japanese restaurant in China a few years back. We didn’t sample the alcohol menu because we’re not big drinkers, but from my glance at the drink menu, there are as many drink options at Kai as there are sushi options. And if their bartenders are as good as their chefs, you won’t be disappointed in the alcohol department.
We started our meal with the Kai Gyoza appetizer. As we’re both fans of the Japanese dumpling, we were not disappointed in the subtle texture and flavor of Kai’s. They were served with a just-spicy-enough sauce that kicked their flavor up a notch without scaring off my hubby’s taste buds.
Our nigiri arrived next and was my favorite part of our meal (strangely, I like nigiri more than I like sushi rolls—most people seem to be the other way around). Nigiri is an oval-shaped sushi that includes a piece of raw fish over a bit a rice. We ordered two types: salmon and albacore tuna. When you place a sample of nigiri in your mouth, you’re awakened to the simple, yet unique, flavor of each fish. The rice cleanses your palette in preparation of your next bite. Whereas cooked fish often has more robust flavor from its juices, the nigiri requires its taster to look for and pay attention to its flavor.
Our “Memoirs of a Geisha” roll arrived last to our dinner table. The Geisha is an inside out roll where rice encases the roll rather than seaweed. Inside, the Geisha was laced with crab meat, cream cheese, and avocado; outside, the Geisha was garnished with a variety of roe (fish eggs). Though it’s a simple roll, the combination of flavors boded well with our palettes.
Our only “complaint” about Kai was our server. It’s not much of a complaint because he was fairly attentive, but he wasn’t super personable. We asked for recommendations from the sushi menu, and he offered a handful, but he didn’t seem too enthused about them.
For anyone who enjoys downtown Springfield, good sushi, or excellent interior design, we recommend Kai, but make reservations a head of time to get a seat in the dining room. Holistically, our entire experience was excellent, and we’re excited that downtown Springfield has a fun, new restaurant for us to frequent.
“I have never cared much for fish – it floats in the belly as much as in the pond.” — Erica Eisdorfer