A leisurely visit to Edokko can expand your horizons

07/02/2013 3:23 PM

07/02/2013 3:24 PM

Since opening in early 2009, Lenexa’s Edokko Japanese Restaurant

has become known for beautiful and super fresh-tasting sushi.

“The tuna and salmon are so good, they just melt on your tongue,” says Andrea Layden, a reader who recommended Edokko to me in May.

But owner Anne Ai — regulars and staffers call her Mama — says customers tend to overlook the menu’s hot noodle, tempura and teriyaki dishes.

“Everyone who comes in wants sushi,” Ai says. “But our teriyaki is exceptionally good. We make all our own sauces, and we don’t make it in big batches. No preservatives, no MSG.”

Edokko’s atmosphere is closer to a low-key sushi bar than a bustling teppanyaki restaurant, the kind of place where hibachi chefs juggle knives and onion “volcanoes” spout soy sauce “lava.”

Ai says that sushi lovers don’t like all the noise and strong smells that come with tabletop hibachi cooking. And some people don’t like sitting with strangers. So at Edokko, the hibachi tables are behind closed doors, in the kitchen. That creates a more peaceful dining room that feels far away from its location in the corner of a Lenexa shopping center.

An entryway decorated with bamboo shoots and a bubbling koi pond separates the parking lot from the romantic, dimmed dining room, which is lined with cozy booths and painted warm red and gold. A river rock mosaic in the shape of sumo wrestlers is a memorable detail in the pleasing decor.

When I went for lunch with a friend, it was supposed to be a quick break from our cubicles. But once we settled into our booth at Edokko and started looking over the book-length picture menu, time slowed down. We ordered the Takoyaki ($5.95), fried octopus dumplings with homemade Katsu sauce. The appetizer came to our table fresh from the fryer — the breaded orbs of springy seafood were almost molten inside. They paired perfectly with the sweet, sticky sauce.

I’m a salmon fanatic, so I had to try the Golden Dragon ($11.25) — a California roll draped with plump pink slices of fresh fish. My friend suggested her go-to roll at any sushi restaurant, the Spicy Spider ($11.95), and the Sweet Potato roll ($4.25). At first, I was skeptical of the latter — all it consists of is tempura-fried sweet potato rolled in nori (seaweed) and sticky rice. Turns out, that Sweet Potato roll was surprisingly satisfying — the orange flesh was tender yet firm, with a sweetness that contrasted nicely with a drizzle of soy sauce.

Edokko serves only low-sodium soy sauce, but if you like the salty stuff you can request it. Same goes for wasabi. The restaurant makes homemade fresh wasabi paste, which is paler and punchier than the usual powdery green stuff, but you have to ask for it. It’s free the first time, and $1 after that.

“I convert a lot of customers to fresh wasabi,” Ai says.

Ai loves nudging customers out of their culinary comfort zones. She says Americans tend to like anything fried and spicy. So Edokko’s deep-fried Las Vegas roll ($11.50), stuffed with smoked salmon and cream cheese and topped with spicy mayo, is a top seller. But ask Ai about her favorite rolls and she points to the lighter Special Tuna ($12.50) and the Green Devil ($12.95) — spicy tuna, tempura shrimp and avocado in bright green soybean paper.

“I tell people ‘I’m the devil, so the Green Devil is my favorite,’” Ai says. “It’s just fun to say that.”

Ai can also help you pick out sake. If you’ve only tried hot sake, she recommends the Sake Experience, a $15 flight of four sakes (hot, sparkling, unfiltered, top-shelf) and one plum wine. Twice a year, Edokko hosts a sake-pairing dinner. You can follow updates on those dinners and other specials at the Japanese restaurant on

Facebook

.

With its extensive menu and friendly, knowledgable staff, Edokko is a great place to branch out and try something new. I was on the fence about whether I liked octopus until I tried those dumplings. And I never thought sweet potato rolls could be so satisfying.

After my friend and I enjoyed a leisurely hour-long lunch, our smiling server placed two Kopiko candies on the table.

I’d never tried the cappuccino-flavored treats from Indonesia, which taste like an iced coffee version of Werther’s Original hard candies. But now, like the sweet potato rolls, they’re among my favorites.

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