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A&E >  Food

Sushi, and so much more

Revamped Wasabi Asian Bistro serves up lighter, French-influenced dishes

Wasabi Asian Bistro’s Hawaii roll is tremendous. (Colin Mulvany)
Wasabi Asian Bistro’s Hawaii roll is tremendous. (Colin Mulvany)
By Kirsten Harrington Correspondent

Walking into Wasabi Asian Bistro in north Spokane is like walking into an oasis. The interior is sleek, clean and vibrantly green. A dozen shiny barber-style stools line the sushi bar near the entrance. A lime green banquette affords a view of the sushi chefs and big-screen TV.

The restaurant is divided into two sections. The section near the back is a little cozier, away from the traffic and chill of the restaurant’s front door. The ambiance is soothing, with drop-down spherical lights and dark wood tables.

Lengthy and heavy on Chinese dishes, Wasabi’s original menu got a make-over last fall. Executive chef Burton Hissong revamped the menu to focus on sushi and implement a lighter, French-influenced fare. “Dishes are sautéed and not wok fried. All of the sauces and stocks are made from scratch,” Hissong said. Duck, puff pastry, mango coulis and garlic aioli appear alongside ginger, chilies and miso on the bistro-style menu.

Sushi makes up the biggest chunk of the full menu (available all day), along with a handful of entrees and starters. Fans of Ginger Asian Bistro will recognize some sushi favorites since Wasabi and Ginger share the same owners and head sushi chef. At lunch, there’s also a shorter menu with choices that aren’t on the full menu, like Sweet and Sour Chicken ($8) and Mongolian Beef ($8).

On a lunch visit I ordered the Vietnamese-inspired Bahn Mi sandwich ($10), hoping for a crunchy baguette with tender grilled chicken. The unremarkable bread and too-crispy fried chicken were disappointing. The high point of the meal was egg flower soup, piping hot broth with sweet corn and scallions.

Although I’ve eaten plenty of sushi, I must confess I’m not really a fan. Wasabi just might have changed my mind about that. The Hawaii Roll ($11) – a spicy tuna roll topped with delicate pink Hawaiian tuna – came with a drizzle of ginger garlic sauce. Topped with black and white sesame seeds and tiny orange fish eggs, the roll was so pretty I almost forgot I was eating raw fish.

In addition to almost two dozen different sushi rolls, Wasabi offers a good selection of plain sushi and sashimi. The Ahi tuna, albacore and salmon sushi that my husband and I sampled were simple and fresh, with a delicate sweetness to the sushi rice.

Starters include an Asian Pear Salad ($7), Crispy Calamari ($8) and Crispy Duck Egg Rolls ($8). The Tokyo Taco ($5) is a refreshing, fun twist on standard lettuce wraps, with tempura shrimp and rice wrapped up in lettuce leaves and drizzled with sweet ponzu aioli and spicy garlic sauce. I was puzzled, however, when our server asked if I wanted to substitute crab for the taco’s spicy tuna (I had asked for a “mild” version), since the menu doesn’t list either of these ingredients. If you have food allergies, make sure to mention this to your server.

Chef Hissong admits to being a fan of bold, assertive flavors, and the Thai Basil Flat Noodles ($10) reflect the kitchen’s heavy hand with heat. I like spicy food, but the peanut-y noodles with tofu and vegetables were too hot to finish. Dishes are made to order, and our server assured us we could ask for a less spicy version next time.

The Sautéed Scallops ($16) are a milder option, but by no means lacking in flavor. Surrounded by purple sticky rice, in a pineapple-curry broth and drizzled with cilantro oil, the satisfying dish was a fusion of colors, textures and flavors.

If you’re in the mood for a drink, try a Wasabi cocktail. The Mango Martini is sweet, smooth and not skimpy on the alcohol. The Spicy Basil Mojito packs a pleasant punch from muddled jalapenos. Reasonably priced wines by the glass, beer and Japanese sake are also available.

There are several desserts to choose from, and the small but decadent Dark Chocolate Pot de Crème ($6) with whipped cream was just the right size to satisfy that sweet craving I have after a spicy meal.

Wasabi Asian Bistro is a place where those who love sushi and those who don’t can find common ground. The servers are friendly and knowledgeable and the kitchen seems happy to accommodate special requests. If you’re up north, give it a try. Just make sure to ask the kitchen to turn the heat down if you don’t care for spicy food.

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