Bite into a sushi roll made with fresh ingredients and enjoy the salty taste of the sea clinging to the tip of your tongue. You’re just beginning to enjoy a meal at Kaminari, the Japanese buffet-style restaurant near LSU.
The eatery, located inside the new College Row Northgate, more than satisfies hungry diners seeking reasonably priced Japanese food. The all-you-can-eat buffet is priced at $8.99 lunch and $12.99 for dinner. You can also order from a limited menu, which includes a hibachi lunch plate for $7.99. The dish comes with one or two meats, seafood or vegetable selections and is served with soup, fried rice or noodles. Tea and soft drinks are $1.50.
At lunch, the restaurant was packed with the college crowd. We were quickly seated, and our petite waitress (she told us later that she was from China) took our drink order. We forgot to designate “sweetened” or “unsweetened” tea, so we were served tall glasses filled with ice and sweet tea. We decided to stick with the sweet version, and appreciated the frequent refills.
A stroll past the buffet tables and hibachi grill gives patrons a good look at the available selections. The buffet reminded us of a Mongolian “barbeque” we visited in Shanghai, where we piled our plates with raw ingredients and took them to chefs who grilled the meal over open flames. At Kaminari, each guest can create his/her own selection of pre-cut ingredients displayed on ice. I settled on pre-cut steak, crab, a small amount of bacon, snow peas, green pepper, onion and rice. My hungry hubby went for a mixture of steak, chicken, shrimp, crab, green pepper, broccoli, onions and rice. We took our plates to the area where several chefs were chopping and mixing ingredients and tossing them over a large, sizzling hot grill. At this point we placed our plates on the counter marked with letters of the alphabet. Picking up a corresponding letter marker we returned to our table, and almost as soon as being seated, our hot meals were brought to the table.
We were impressed with the quality of ingredients and particularly liked the tender beef and shrimp. Since the food was cooked with almost no seasoning, we made use of the salt, pepper and soy sauce on the table. Additional condiments, including wasabi and sliced ginger, are available at the sushi bar.
A second counter contained an additional selection of items, which can be selected as an appetizer, or main meal. The choices included small spring rolls, crab patties, gyoza dumplings, endamame, miso soup and fried rice. The spring rolls, containing a small amount of vegetable filling, were almost tasteless. The dumplings, stuffed with chopped pork and onion, were tasty when topped with a light, sweetened sauce. Small pieces of Gen. Tso chicken, smothered with a thick, sweet sauce, were overfried and chewy.
The sushi bar contained 10-12 selections of sushi. The rather “safe” choices at lunch were several rolls featuring finely chopped crab, avocado and Japanese mayonnaise. They were fresh but not particularly unusual.
We were told the reason for the higher price at dinner was more fish was served in the evening. Hibachi grill at night mostly featured the same ingredients as lunch, plus scallops and thin strips of zucchini. We recommend a combination of beef, shrimp, green peppers, onions, zucchini and udon noodles. Try adding one slice of fresh jalapeno pepper to give a touch of zing to the dish. The thick udon noodles are especially good in this mixture which is grilled with a slightly sweetened soy sauce.
The appetizer bar included delicious coconut shrimp, with bits of coconut clinging to the crispy tempura batter. We also enjoyed the delicate taste of small fried chicken nuggets smothered in a thick sweet sauce flavored with a hint of coconut milk. We recommend passing up the traditional egg rolls, which were tough and over-fried.
The sushi bar includes a more sophisticated selection of items than lunch. We tried the tofu skin packet, which featured a fried pocket filled with green seaweed, rice and a sweet sauce. The excellent handroll was a sheet of nori seaweed rolled into a cone and filled with sliced crab, avocado and cucumber. The octopus roll, which contained red baby octopus tentacles and rice, was slightly sweet and chewy, much like squid.
For dessert, customers can choose from several types of small cakes. We especially liked the chocolate-and-coffee squares. A good ending to a meal here is the fresh fruit, including watermelon, strawberries, kiwi and pineapple cut in easy-to-eat, small triangles. There’s also a selection of ice cream.
According to our Internet search, we discovered Kaminari translates to earthquake or thunderbolts, which explains the lightning bolt symbol that appears on the menu. If you are experimenting with new foods, this restaurant gives you a chance to try an item that will awaken your taste buds. Chefs at the sushi bar will gladly explain the ingredients in the various rolls. We found the wait staff courteous and efficient. Some of the staff are from Asian countries and are still learning English. If asking questions about your meal, speak slowly and listen carefully for the answer. The cultural exchange here is rewarding.