My good friend Robert K. Oermann once shared with me his idea for a brilliant business plan: Bob’s Bait Shop & Sushi Bar. ”Today’s bait, tomorrow’s sushi; today’s sushi, tomorrow’s bait.“
I thought of Bob’s idea when I saw the ad for the ”First Sushi Buffet in Nashville. All You Can Eat Buffet $14.99.“ The idea of raw tuna sitting on the typical steam-table sounded, pardon the pun, a little bit fishy to me. I always wonder about the shelf life of the prepacked sushi at Kroger and Harris Teeter. Still, those are sold from refrigerated cases, and I make it a habit to get my tray from the bottom of the stack, reasoning that these are the most recently made.
Nashville’s first sushi buffet is offered by Fuji Japanese Cuisine, located in the Kroger shopping center on Highway 70 South in Bellevue. The room is large and sparsely decorated. There is a long sushi bar along one end of the room; the brightly lit buffet separates the bar from the dining area. The usual assortment of freshly made items are available from the sushi chef at the bar or can be ordered from the menu, which also includes such Japanese fare as udon, tempura, teriyaki, and don buri.
Our party of two adults and four children opted to try the buffet, which carries a $14.99 price tag for adults, $8.99 for children. On one endnot the heated endis the sushi, which on the night we visited consisted of tuna sashimi, salmon sashimi, and California, tuna, and crunchy shrimp rolls. Thick and bright red, the tuna sashimi was the closest to what you’d get from the sushi bar. The rolls, however, were comparable to the Kroger/Harris Teeter varietysmall, tightly rolled, and bereft of flavor. The crunchy shrimp rolls were the most distinctive, but only because of the texture.
Two types of soup are offeredmiso and a broth with vegetables. The children loved the miso and had several refills. There was also a huge bowl of edamame, or boiled soybeans, which we quickly emptied.
Besides the soup, the children filled up on green salad, fruit salad, and rice. On the heated end of the buffet were several dishes that could be spooned over ricechicken teriyaki, steak teriyaki, and shrimp teriyaki. There were also doughy clumps of chicken and vegetable tempura that didn’t fare too well under the heat lamps. The gyoza, or steamed dumplings, were greasy and scantily filled. The King Crab legs, which had been just recently thawed, were hardly worth the struggle to remove the little bit of frozen meat. By far, the stand-out was the large, meaty New Zealand green mussels, which came steamed in a tasty garlic-soy broth; they sent me back to the buffet several times.
If you are a fan of all-you-can-eat buffets and have a prodigious appetite for Americanized Japanese fare, then the price is worth it, if for the mussels alone. But I wouldn’t spring for the kids’ buffet again; I could have ordered miso ($1 a bowl), salad ($1 a bowl), and a side of rice and gotten off much cheaper.
Fuji carries Japanese beers, sake, and a small selection of wine.
Clearing out my files in preparation for 1999, I came across The Loews Hotels Family Cookbook, a collection that pays extra dividends. The small hardcover book includes recipes from Loews properties in Canada, Colorado, Arizona, Maryland, Washington, Los Angeles, New York, South Beach, and Nashville. Executive chef Josh Weekley of the Loews Vanderbilt Plaza Hotel is profiled, along with five recipes from his kitchen.
The cookbook is just $10, and $1 from each purchase will be donated to Share Our Strength, a national hunger-relief organization. In Nashville, the book can be purchased at the concierge desk of the hotel or by mail order from Loews Hotels Family Cookbook, Loews Vanderbilt Plaza Hotel, 2100 West End Ave., Nashville, TN 37203. (Add $5 shipping and handling.) An extra $25 donation to Share Our Strength will make you eligible to win a dinner for six in your home prepared by Chef Weekly. Entry deadline is May 31,1999.
Suzie and Greg Razmus, who opened Cafe Bambino in the 100 Oaks area about a year-and-a-half ago, have thrown in the towel. The small restaurant/coffee bar, which served good, healthy, kid-friendly foods and fresh, tasty grown-up meals, closed its doors on Dec. 13.
According to Suzie, the couplewho opened Cafe Bambino shortly after the birth of their first child, Saylorno longer wanted to endure the daily grind of owning and operating an independent restaurant. ”We were so naive,“ she says with a laugh. ”I thought waiting tables and running a restaurant would be the same thing. We made some changes in the menu to try to simplify things, but it was still too much. Our customers are sad, but ever since we made the decision, I’ve been giddy with irresponsibility.“
The couple are taking an extended six-week vacation and then will explore their options, which include having another childbut not another restaurant. ”I want to go to a place like Cafe Bambino and enjoy it as a mother. The restaurant is for sale, and we’re just hoping someone else will pick up the baton and carry on.“
Happy New Year
I’m hoping 1999 will be more culinarily exciting than the past year, which saw the opening of only a handful of new restaurants, little chef movement, and lean pickings in the way of innovative food ideas. For the most part, 1998 maintained the food status quo around here, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
It has been great to see the growth of our ethnic food landscape, with the opening of two more Vietnamese restaurants, a second Somalian restaurant, an Ethiopian restaurant, the Russian market on Nolensville Road, and the new Siam Thai restaurant on White Bridge Road. We could still use a Cuban restaurant, even something as simple as a sandwich shop. And why are we still deprived of a cozy French bistro with simple food and good, reasonably priced French wines? I’d love to be able to dine on steak frites, roast chicken, onion soup, cassoulet, and pommes fritesSouthern cooking with a French flair.
I’m looking forward to trying Anita Hartel’s Sasso in East Nashville (now open for lunch and dinner); to the opening of Jubilee, now under construction on Jefferson St.; to seeing some action, any action, at the former Club 106; and to seeing whereand whenJeff Lunsford, former chef at Sunset Grill, might pop up. Happy New Year, and good eating in ’99.