Written by Josh Spencer
After a one-week hiatus from Asian food, I returned this week to the Orient as found at Hayashi Sushi Bar and Grill in the Wolf Ranch shopping center near Kohl’s. Hayashi, a restaurant that lists itself as “Asian fusion” cuisine but has a decided Japanese bent, offers an attractive lounge-like interior with just the right level of lighting and a décor reminiscent of something you might find in Austin. I intentionally did not use the word “environment” because that usually implies the presence of other people, which was not the case with our dining experience. Even though we were dining out on a less than peak night, I still am baffled at how we were the only patrons of the restaurant when we walked into the restaurant and when we left, with no other diners coming in the meantime. I don’t think that is an accurate reflection of the restaurant, but I suppose one never knows.
The absence of other diners aside, I was immediately impressed by our waiter, who has to be the most knowledgeable service staff I have ever encountered at a restaurant (I suppose there’s a possibility that some of it was made up and I just didn’t know it, but I’m going to give him – and myself – the benefit of the doubt). While I am constantly working to improve my culinary knowledge, my familiarity with Japanese is at a minimum. Our waiter did a good job of walking me through things and breaking down the meal into things I could understand, be they sake or sea bass. So any comments that follow, you can be sure are the result of multiple explanations and clarifications as to the intricacies of Japanese food.
Speaking of sake, I did give the stuff a try, and went with our waiter’s recommendation on the individual selection. I do not remember what the exact name of mine was, however, I did come to the realization that I do not like the stuff. This was no sake bomb, as apparently quality sake is drunk cold with a taste that can best be described as a mix between bad wine and an even worse tasting shot. To the sake lovers, I apologize, but I’m guessing that the drink is an acquired taste to which I lack the proper development.
Moving on to soups and appetizers, we ordered edamame (steamed green soybeans), miso (traditional Japanese soup), and calamari. Edamame is another food for which I simply do not have a taste, regardless of quality.The members of the group that were not similarly cursed with my feelings towards edamame informed me that it was excellent, or at least excellent enough to order a second serving. Miso is a soup that in Japan is usually taken before most meals. It is a similar to a broth without much solid content, but the overall taste was decent, and it admirably performed its function of cleansing the palate for the main course. The calamari, though, could be given no pass since while it did have a good spice and texture, its flavor was not anything near I have experienced at other restaurants.
Our entrée selections consisted predictably of mostly sushi rolls with one plate of mango and chicken also being ordered. I again deferred to the waiter’s suggestion and ordered that day’s special, a sushi roll of striped sea bass, avocado, cream cheese, and crab salad (with another result being that I once more do not remember the Japanese name). Other sushi combinations were the spicy tuna roll, spider roll, sweet potato roll, California roll, and the interestingly named “Ex-girlfriend” roll. In all of these, there was little with which to find fault, though the spicy tuna, spider, and sweet potato rolls ranked higher than the California and Ex-Girlfriend, the latter of which were good but not delicious. The mango and chicken was certainly up to snuff, with the chicken well cooked and moist and accompanied excellently by its fresh-tasting fruit.
As usual, my dining companions and I rounded off the evening with some desserts, opting for the ice cream with watermelon soup and fried banana with rice and red beans. Both dishes were good, but only the watermelon soup really impressed.
Overall, I found Hayashi to be a good restaurant worth visiting and returning to. Our waiter was full of information with the only criticism being that he did have to be reminded a few times as to a drink or appetizer that was requested. Other than that, food was good along with the service. One thing to keep in mind is that portions do tend to be small and costs of meals a bit pricey, so plan to shell out a bit more than you might normally for a dinner and night out. Happy dining!
Thanks to Winston Pool, Stephanie Seaman, Maddie Robertson, Shannon Plöeger, and Tim Hord for their assistance.