All restaurants - even the most established - can have off nights.
Kitchens and staff occasionally choke.
Or they cough, as was the case when we visited Shogun Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar. More on that in a minute.
Old-school Shogun has been slinging Samurai Steak and such at its Cantrell Road location since the beginning of time. Or since 1982. when it was the only Japanese restaurant in Little Rock, and busy floral wallpaper - like that in the eatery’s rear dining room - was in vogue.
In the last three decades, scores of competitors - more swanky and contemporary - have crowded the marketplace.
Still, Shogun - of the dim lighting and dark wood Asian stylings - survives with a faithful following, like the nice folks we dined with our first visit (smaller parties, expect to be seated with strangers). The parents that retired to Florida still bring their grown children and now grandchildren to Shogun whenever they’re in town. For a place with lots of smoke (perhaps its ventilation system doesn’t seem as powerful as some places) and cooking clamor, there’s something soothing about it.
But still, we had an uneasy experience there.
.On our second visit, we were seated with two other pairs of diners (the grandmother treating her tiara-wearing Sweet 16-year-old for her birthday and the college gals from Fort Smith). After saying hello, the chef who’d be preparing our hibachi meals before our eyes had us not believing our eyes.
He coughed. Into his hand.
Surely he’d go immediately wash his hands - after all, that’s rule No. 1 of food safety.
But to our shock, he didn’t. Instead he began spooning our mustard and ginger dipping sauces while the rest of us shot concerned looks around the table.
“You’re going to wash your hands, right?” the grandmother asked the chef. “You just coughed!”
Maybe he didn’t understand her or perhaps was trying to make a joke. He remained at the table, rubbed his hands together with a laugh and proceeded to serve sauce.
More anxious looks around the table. What do we do? Leave? Oh wait, I’m writing the restaurant review. I don’t get to leave!
My dinner date spoke up, telling the chef we saw him cough and requesting that he wash his hands. The chef did retreat to the kitchen to soap-up, to the collective relief of our table who even gave him a good-natured round of applause when he returned. Whew. Crisis and awkwardness avoided, or at least minimized.
Cough aside, we experienced no hiccups with our hibachi meals.
Shogun selections range from $11.95 for Teriyaki Chicken to $31.95 for the Shogun Special (shrimp, scallops, lobster tail, steak and chicken). Meals include an appetizer (a few grilled shrimp cooked while soup and salad are served); a forgettable onion broth with mushroom shavings and scallion slivers; a chilly, crisp iceberg salad (choice of ranch or a sweet and slightly acidic ginger dressing); vegetables; and steamed rice. While described as “rare, Oriental,” the vegetables are rather ordinary zucchini, mushrooms and onions (onions that the chef might form into a flaming volcano before they are sliced and served).
Fried rice, composed of eggs, vegetables, sauces and lots of butter (and perhaps sculpted by the chef into a heart with spatula-powered beating effects before it’s distributed), is worth the extra $2.50.
The menu features various combinations of the same proteins. The Geisha Dinner ($18.95) offers chunks of satisfactorily sizzled New York strip sirloin and tender teriyaki chicken. But for the same price, we’d skip the chicken and order the Filet Mignon dinner ($18.95), featuring a superior steak that was, well, like butter. At least, cooked in plenty of it.
Also blissfully buttery was the nice-size shellfish in our Seafood Lover’s Feast ($26.95) - shrimp, scallops and lobster - and Jr. Seafood Lover’s Feast ($17.95) - shrimp, scallops, no lobster.
There’s no official vegetarian meal, but you could order, say, a side of vegetables ($5.95) and request rice ($1.50-$2.50). Full-course meals for children younger than 10 are $8.95 for chicken and $9.95 for steak or shrimp.
As for sushi, which is available in a separate bar (where hibachi dishes can be requested without the show) or at the hibachi tables, Shogun keeps its presentation simple. In addition to nigiri and sashimi, sold individually ($3.25-$9) and in dinners ($16.95-$39), there is a list of 35 rolls (3.50-$11.50), of which we tried four.
The Bomb ($7.50), though there were no fireworks, was a fine bundle of cucumber, avocado and quasi-crab.
The Lemon Salmon roll ($8.50) sounded mysterious. It wasn’t. It was a California roll topped with slices of raw salmon and raw lemon. The roll wasn’t exactly a lemon, but it was a bit harsh.
The Spicy Crawfish ($6.25) packed some heat on a menu of mostly mild selections.
And the Hog ($9.95) - fried shrimp and quasi-crab topped with spicy tuna - was our favorite and left us both wanting to hog the last bite.
At each meal we left with take-home boxes and no room for dessert - ice cream ($1.95) or a pineapple boat ($2).
Shogun Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar
Address: 2815 Cantrell Road, Little Rock
Hours: 5-9:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Alcoholic beverages: Full bar
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Weekend, Pages 31 on 03/28/2013
Print Headline: Ahem, Shogun still gratifies