POSTED ON MARCH 17, 2010:
Rolled Up into One
Haruno provides a flare for Japanese and Korean cuisine
Mention sushi to just about anyone, and you will generally get one of two reactions: The crinkled up nose and "that's fish bait" response that I affectionately call the "Terry Bradshaw Reaction," or the equally strong response from the other camp -- the "I could eat my weight in sushi every night!" crowd -- the plus column.
It is a conceptual issue for many, and often difficult for some to get past, but if you are one of those who loves it, then you probably agree with the folks who say there can never be too many sushi bars in Tulsa.
This is why, even though we were there on a Sunday night, it was dead quiet at the Haruno Sushi Bar and Korean Restaurant.
Self-described as a Pan-Asian restaurant, it falls a bit short of fulfilling that definition, considering Pan-Asian describes a swath that includes all of Asia.
At last count, Japan and Korea, "do not an Asia make." In fact, sushi "does not a Japan make." Having said that, however, they did a good job with those two cuisines.
Décor is what I would call slightly upscale utilitarian: modern, dark colors, tile floors and dark wood tables.
There are several small private rooms I assume are for intimate parties and overflow since they were not set up. A Karaoke room sits in the back, behind a very nice looking bar area, and is available to reserve for private Karaoke parties, according to the Web site.
I have a feeling that it would be very difficult to enjoy a quiet, relaxed evening with a Karaoke party going on, since there were no doors -- only a curtain closes off that room from the rest of the dining room.
Indeed, it was a bit noisy with only one other table of five people and a family of four in the dining room, especially since there was essentially nothing to absorb the sound. If it hasn't been an issue yet, it might be.
Old restaurant pros carpet the undersides of their dining tables to absorb the bouncing sound in décor such as this. Hopefully, they will figure this out.
It was interesting -- as it always is -- to follow sushi bar protocol, which is to order hot food from the waiter working the bar from behind you and sushi items from the sushi chef in front of you. Since it wasn't busy, it wasn't an issue, but I could see it being a problem if one was trying to time their meal to have some congruency.
Our waiter was quite knowledgeable regarding the menu, and the processes and ingredients used, which made up for the sushi chef's glaring lack of menu and item knowledge. (He had only been making sushi for two months after a crash course by the previous guy, he told us.)
We started with a seaweed salad. A mixture of several different types of thin sliced seaweeds in a sweet marinade with a hint of smokiness from just a bit of sesame oil.
Next, we had a delicious bowl of Shiitake Miso soup and an appetizer of Pork Gyoza, a small dumpling stuffed with a pork, scallion and tofu mixture that was deep fried, fresh, hot and crispy. Served with a small dish of teriyaki sauce to dip them in, they were excellent. A few more seconds in the fry basket before plating would have allowed the frying oil to drip back into the fryer, instead of collecting on the paper underlay on the plate, which made a good appetizer a little less appealing by the time the plate was cleared.
We then tried a variety of nigiri sushi, which is generally raw fish paired with a small rice ball in a one or two bite treat, (one for me, two for my wife) or rolled up in pressed, roasted and dried seaweed sheets with vegetables. Cooked fish can be used as well, but its use is generally a lot less frequent.
The rice was an excellent blend of rice vinegar, salt and sugar, not overcooked, and perfectly sticky. I'm sure our young sushi chef will learn to be a bit more forceful when pressing the rice either for sushi or for the rolls. I noticed ours and others that went out were not as compacted as they should be which leaves little "pot holes." A small detail, but it makes it a lot harder to eat in the end, especially after dipping it in soy.
I have a soft spot for a Korean BBQ dish called Bulkogi or Bulgogi. It's a marinade of soy, brown sugar, ginger, garlic, scallions and sesame oil that makes ordinary meat an absolute joy to cook and eat. I've used it as a marinade for rib-eye and T-Bone steaks on menus in the past, and it never fails to please. So I couldn't pass it up here.
It was prepared more traditionally, using small cuts of meat from a tougher piece (maybe short rib meat), but the marinade is a perfect treatment for it. It tenderizes beautifully and makes it flavorful. Ours was a bit sweet for my taste, but the recipe is subject to interpretation by the chef as any recipe is. Even so, it was delicious.
Served with steamed rice, homemade pickled onion and jalapeno relish, housemade kimchee, a fermented cabbage dish that Koreans take months to make and is SO hot it will set you free, and a marinated bean sprout relish that was a bit bland for my taste. Overall, it was an excellent item and in spite of it's sweetness I would probably order it again.
"The devil's in the details" as they say, which is why we shouldn't have noticed things like soiled stools at the sushi bar and less than spotless bathrooms. As slow as it was, there was no excuse for that. I call it occupational blindness. See it every day, and eventually you don't.
You have to look at it from a customer's point of view, and someone isn't.
All in all, I do have high hopes for them. If they pay attention to the little things, and staff up for the busy times, I think they will make it onto the slowly growing list of options for those of us in, well ... the plus column.
Haruno Sushi and Korean Cuisine
7104 S. Memorial Drive
Tulsa, OK 74133
Closed 2:30pm-4:30pm during weekdays
Prices range from $3 to $6.50 for appetizers and nigiri sushi
$5 to $11 for sushi rolls
And $10 to about $16 for Korean entrees.
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