There's no way over a couple of weeks a reasonable diner could make it completely through the expansive menu at Kamikaito, the new Japanese restaurant in North Little Rock's Argenta neighborhood. In fact, expansive doesn't even capture the menu from owner and chef Kiyen Kim, who also runs Kiyens Seafood Steak and Sushi in west Little Rock.
I counted more than 200 items on the menu -- including more than 30 specialty rolls -- spread between appetizers, salads, rolls, sashimi, hibachi grill, noodles and so on. But what I did eat during several trips to Kamikaito, located in the former Good Food by Ferneau space, was good and sometimes even great.
Address: 521 N. Main St., North Little Rock
Hours: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 4:30-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 4:30-10:30 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Saturday
Credit cards: MC, V, D, AE
Alcoholic beverages: Full bar
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
What's great? Let's start with the udon noodles, which I enjoyed as part of Kamikaito's lunch specials menu: a yaki noodle grill ($9 for chicken, tofu or vegetables; $10 for steak, shrimp or mushroom) with a choice between thick udon or thin soba noodles.
The Japanese udon noodles -- with a buttery bite but a firm finish -- are a wheat flour noodle, usually found in soup. There's something surprising about how simple yet wonderful the noodles are. Here they are stir fried and coated in a spicy, soy-based sauce. Though the noodles are fat, the dish is airy, owing mainly to the lightness of the sauteed onions, which also lend a texture that is enhanced by the layered interplay of the fatness of the noodles, and the crunch of the carrots and bean sprouts.
Adding to the charms of texture and flavor was the soft crispness of the grilled-right shrimp and the muffled explosion of heat from the jalapenos.
The shrimp udon noodle bowl I ate was a delight, and as I type these words I'm seriously thinking of going to Kamikaito for lunch just to relive the grandness of this dish.
There are other items on the lunch specials menu I didn't try that I'd like to order, including a Hawaiian poke (a raw fish salad that is rising in popularity). Nothing on the lunch special menu, which also features salads, Japanese gumbos and hibachi grills, costs more than $11.
Kamikaito's hibachi provides the grilled foods without the pomp and circumstance of the hibachi show. The star of my shrimp hibachi grill ($10) was an excellent fried rice with strips of carrots and fried egg and an understated spiciness. Likewise, the shrimp also possessed that same faint spiciness that merged well with their clean taste.
With so many menu items, I never sampled the signature appetizers, a series of 10 appetizers with nine of the dishes having a $19 price tag, including coffee steak, a pan-seared rib-eye marinated in a coffee-based marinade; and a spread, whole lobster coated in a house breading. Still, nothing was enticing enough for me to overcome that $19 price tag.
The house appetizer list includes expected items, such as a great-tasting gyoza with pork ($5.50), crisply pan-fried but bursting with a flavor that is only amplified by a sweet but slightly spicy dipping sauce. The vegetable tempura ($6.50) could've been more fluffy while also being crispier, and the spring rolls ($6) were exactly what one expects from spring rolls -- lightly fried rolls wrapped around crunchy vegetables -- but nothing more.
The chef's spicy seaweed salad ($6) was a godsend, though. Yes, the salad is that weird, nuclear-green-glow color, but get past that and it's a salad that offers sturdy, stringy seaweed covered in a spicy dressing that plays well with the muted natural sweetness of the salad.
The 200-plus item menu at Kamikaito is made plump by its offerings of nigiri (raw fish atop pressed rice), sashimi (raw fish) and rolls (which many of us just call sushi). There are more than 100 variations of these items on the menu, ranging from octopus and yellowtail sashimi to fish roe nigiri and a roll topped with filet mignon. Prices start at $4 and climb to $40 for a sushi and sashimi deluxe, a chef's choice that includes 15 pieces of sashimi and an eight-piece roll. Most of the house rolls are in the $8 range and the more than 30 specialty rolls are mostly $13.95 or $14.95.
I sampled four rolls and each was good if not great in its own regard. The New Orleans Roll ($8) is a simple concoction of spicy crawfish and avocado, and a roll that many diners should be familiar with considering most Japanese restaurants have some variation of it. Still, I'm always surprised, pleasantly so, how well the crawfish and avocado work together, in flavor and texture. The Green Zone Roll ($9) is a tasty cylinder of firm vegetables topped with creamy avocado, and a vegan option on the menu, though a server pointed out that chefs could create rolls especially for vegans or vegetarians.
The Chile Tai Roll ($13.95), a blend of spicy tuna, jalapeno, cucumber, white fish and sweet chili sauce, was a roll where perhaps only the white fish was underplayed, with the piquant jalapeno being restrained by the other flavors in the roll. Featuring spicy blue crab, avocado, vegetables, seared albacore tuna and spicy ponzu sauce, the Mt. Pinnacle ($14.95) was a little less pleasing, with the crab and tuna's tastes being muddled by the citrusy ponzu.
Kamikaito, which opened Sept. 14, is still getting its restaurant legs under itself. The promised frozen yogurt and ice cream bar and grab-and-go kiosk were not opened as of the writing of this review, but the service is excellent as some servers have arrived from Kiyens to oversee the opening.
Some slight interior design touches -- brightly colored lighting fixtures and pottery, fluorescent lighting fixtures covered with Asian decorated shades -- subdue the industrial look of the space. And crystal-like curtains enhance the abundant natural light of the restaurant.
The restaurant's floor is a warm, inviting setting that provides a comfortable atmosphere where diners can venture into new territory while enjoying old favorites.
As for me? My mission is to work through the udon noodle variants, enjoying every wonderful bite, while experiencing side trips along the way. It'll be a long journey.
The specialty roll menu at Kamikaito contains more than 30 rolls, including the chile tai (left) and the Mt. Pinnacle.
Weekend on 10/05/2017