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Bread rises above at Kiyen’s

By Jennifer Christman

This article was published July 19, 2012 at 4:21 a.m.

hibachi-steak-and-shrimp-with-fried-rice-is-served-at-kiyens-on-chenal-parkway-in-west-little-rock

Hibachi steak and shrimp with fried rice is served at Kiyen’s on Chenal Parkway in west Little Rock.

Kiyen's Japanese Restuarant

Highlights of Kiyen's Japanese Restaurant. (By Jennifer Christman)
[View Full-Size]

— At a Japanese restaurant called Kiyen’s Seafood Steak and Sushi, you expect the standout items to be seafood, steak and, well, sushi.

Not bread.

But it’s the unexpected buttery, croissant-like mini loaves of fresh baked bread (served as a side choice with some meals or gifted in a to-go box after) that delighted us most.

From the label on the box: “Thank you for choosing Kiyen’s! Every morning 20 pieces of house bread are made special to give to select lucky customers.” We were select lucky customers on all three visits.

Or maybe we were the only customers. The restaurant, the latest Japanese restaurant to attempt success in the hidden Chenal Parkway strip center space that previously housed Papa Sushi and Koto (and, once upon a time, Vermillion), was rather empty during a weekday lunch, Saturday dinner and weeknight carryout order.

You might think Papa Sushi is still in business as the building signs, menu jackets and chopsticks wrappers still suggest. But Kiyen’s — named for the new co-owner/chef who has held head chef positions at restaurants all over the country and even a position with Philadelphia’s Morimoto, as featured on the Food Network’s Iron Chef (he was a line cook there) — is a new creation.

Kiyen’s (pronounce it similar to the pepper —cayenne’s) offers a lengthy wipeoff sushi menu, complete with a marker, as well as hibachi and Asian

fusion meals in a clean, contemporary space. What it doesn’t offer: A show. Hibachi entrees are prepared in the kitchen; the teppanyaki grills that once provided provisions and a performance have been replaced with regular table tops.

On the sushi side, there’s nigiri (one piece per order, $1.50-$3), there’s sashimi ($8-$14) and combinations ($19-$28). And there’s a double-sided list of house rolls ($3.50-$9) and specialty rolls ($10.95-$19.95).

We couldn’t resist trying the most special-sounding specialty roll of all, the Golden Lobster Roll ($19.95), boasting baked lobster, vegetables, blue crab and — get this — 14-karat gold flakes. The metallic flecks didn’t add to the flavor, so much as they added to the conversation: “How much could we get if we schlepped the leftovers to that gold place with rubber chicken commercials?”

Speaking of rubber, the lobster was unfortunately overcooked.

The real jewel of the specialty rolls menu is the sushi flambe — the Burning Troi Roll ($12.95). The roll of spicy tuna, avocado and shrimp arrives at the table on fire. Blow it out

— be sure! — before stripping back the foil and savoring the smoky smack.

The Kathy Lee Roll ($14.95), fried shrimp with crunch, topped with marinated scallops, crab and spicy mayonnaise, was much like the television personality for whom it’s named (if not correctly spelled): a sassy, charming mess.

The name is what drew us to the Spicy Monkey Ball ($7.50). Each bite of the tempura-style roll of spicy tuna (not monkey) wore a fiery strip of fresh jalapeno that assaulted tastebuds and overpowered other flavors. More subtle was the New Orleans Roll ($7), the shock of spicy crawfish cooled by mellow avocado.

Also from the sushi menu, we sampled the Ahi Tuna Tataki ($13), a fan of fine garlic-butter-seared tuna slices, accompanied by a smartly dressed spring mix with avocado. Pleasant as a shared starter for two, it would make a perfect light meal for one.

Hibachi selections range from $12.50 for vegetables and tofu up to $45 for the Papa’s Feast of filet, shrimp, scallops and lobster. They are served with two dipping sauces, soup (choice of a decent seaweedy, scalliony miso or a boring house broth with quasi-crab and mushroom shavings), salad and steamed rice. Fried rice is a $3 upgrade.

The hibachi steak and shrimp ($24.50) disappointed. Served with vegetables, the sesame-seed-studded beef chunks were stubborn and the saucy shrimp was small in size and sharp in taste. A shower of soy sauce (we requested low-sodium and were told that the housebrewed soy sauce that fills the tables’ Kikkoman containers is low-sodium) perked up the pizzazz-lacking fried rice.

From the Asian fusion entrees, a friend’s Seared Tuna ($18.50) was a bit overdone and the sauce wasn’t much of a complement to the fish.

Such flaws were probably amplified due to improper pacing and inexperienced (although friendly) service. Not to mention seemingly stingy wine pourings.

One dinner was served before we could even take a bite of soup or salad. The other dinner was served much later and incorrectly, with missing rice and missing soup (instead, it was served with a salad, fruit and bread instead — we realized later the bread was the better deal). They did correct the errors.

Service was seamless on a carryout order. Everything, including the soup, salad and sauces, was ready to go and snugly wrapped. The tasty Chicken Cutlet ($16.50), fried and cut into strips, was presented in pride, even in polystyrene, served with a quality fruit medley (raspberries, strawberries and Rainier cherries).

Best of all, it came with the bread, which made for an excellent breakfast the next day.

Kiyen’s Seafood

Steak and Sushi

Address: 17200 Chenal Parkway, Little Rock

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4:0-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4:30-10:30 p.m. Friday, 4:30-10:30 p.m. Saturday, 4:30-9 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Japanese

Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar

Reservations: Yes

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Carryout: Yes

(501) 821-7272

Weekend, Pages 31 on 07/19/2012

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Displaying 1 - 2 of 2 total comments

ebmeyer says... August 2, 2012 at 12:02 p.m.

What a disappointing review! My husband and I frequent Kiyen's as often as possible. We live close by, and love the food! We think that Kiyen's offers the best sushi in town. We enjoy sitting at the sushi bar and have always had a pleasant dining experience. My husband orders the sashimi platter and is never disappointed with fresh fish selection. I enjoy their rolls, and in my opinion they offer the most flavorful rolls in Little Rock. I appreciate the experience Chef Kiyen brings to Little Rock -including his lower fat and no added msg cooking techniques.
I would like to point our that the "Kathy Lee" roll is named after one of the restaurants local owners and not the "sassy charming mess" of a television personality which Ms. Christman refers to in this article. I also enjoy this roll.

I hope others will give this locally owned, neighborhood restaurant a try and not be negatively influenced by the opinion of Jennifer Christman. Thank you.

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nogoodnews says... February 20, 2014 at 9:30 a.m.

We really love this place and find the fish the freshest in town. We go at least once a week. They now have a Korean BBQ - with beef or lamb(my fav). I still like the sushi best espcially the Mt Pinnacle, Burning Troi, spicy yellowtail sashimi, sashimi sampler( if you are ok with a variety of very fresh fish slices - tumbo tuna, yellow tail, salmon, moon fish etc - it changes depending on what's the freshest. Appetisers - spicy sea salt calamari, shrimp shumai, crab cucumber salad. At lunch time there are really outstanding choices for salad or of course more sushi. Oh - and the Kathy Lee roll was named after Master Lee, the former owner's wife - so it is spelled correctly.

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