Maiko Sushi Lounge has great potential, but some of its promises have gone unfulfilled
Maiko Sushi Lounge
311 W. Sixth, 236-9888
Sunday-Wednesday, 11:30am-2pm, 5:30-10pm; Thursday-Saturday, 11:30am-2pm, 5:30pm-midnight
The Web site for Maiko Sushi Lounge created the impression of a sophisticated, modern restaurant with interesting cuisine and unique sushi offerings. Chef Seiju Onami's food was described as a fusion of classical French, Spanish, and Japanese cuisines, featuring Edomae, or Tokyo-style sushi. I was very curious and eager to check it out.
Our first visit was for happy hour on a weekday afternoon. We were impressed with the simple, modern redesign of the space by Michael Hsu and Dick Clark Architecture. Cool retro pastels and warm woods give the restaurant an elegant yet comfortable and relaxed feel. The look and atmosphere suggested something special was in store.
We sat at the sushi bar where a waiter promptly came to take our order, yet we hadn't even seen a menu or heard about any specials. At the request of the young sushi chef, the waiter brought the happy hour menu and the wine list. When we asked about sake, he said they had "cold and hot." We went for beer.
We ordered some specials from the Happy Hour menu. The lightly battered Fried Calamari ($4) came with spicy mango and chili aioli dipping sauces. When we inquired about the interesting sounding Chickpea-Nori Fries ($2), the waiter shrugged and said, "I don't know, I've never had them." After telling him to go ask, he came back with a still uninformed description. Undeterred, I ordered them. Made from chickpea flour speckled with nori, they were crisp yet tender, served with a side of wasabi aioli and dusted with house-made green-tea-flavored sea salt. The flavor was outstanding. They were the best dish of the evening.
The sushi chef was more knowledgeable and friendly, and he suggested we try some specialty rolls. The menu didn't say anything about Edomae-style sushi, and we didn't notice anything different in the preparation of the average sushi we got. The fish wasn't of the quality I expected, the restaurant was out of mackerel, and the rice fell apart when we picked up the nigiri pieces. It seemed that the staff had not had much training, and there was no sign of an experienced chef in the house. It made for a disappointing experience.
Thinking that perhaps we had come on the wrong day, we returned for dinner on a Friday night, and right away the difference was evident. The waiter was delightful and knowledgeable. Turns out they have a whole sake menu, including special sake cocktails. We asked for a recommendation, and he quickly came through for us. We started with an assortment of nigiri sushi, and this time it looked fresher, bigger, and better prepared; perhaps chef Onami was actually in the house. We followed with a recommendation from our waiter, Aizamo Tamari Soya Braised Duck Breast ($7). The duck was sliced and served room temperature over a bed of warm eggplant cooked with soya milk and drizzled with a ginger emulsion, a pleasing combination of flavors and textures that we thoroughly enjoyed. Next we had the Spicy Tako Salad ($6), another combination of textures and temperatures that worked well: Thin slices of tender marinated octopus were placed atop wedges of warm caramelized endive and drizzled with a clementine-jalapeño dressing that was fresh and zesty.
Some of the entrées were unique and interesting. Since they were out of my first choice, the Cattail Leaf Tuna Tartare ($18), I settled for the Angus New York Strip ($22), with maetake, shiitake, and shimeji mushrooms sautéed in garlic tarako (salted cod roe) butter. What the menu didn't mention was the sweetish, dark soy demi-glace that overpowered the delicate taste of the mushrooms. The Shrimp and Scallop Sei San ($18), green tea soba noodles tossed with sautéed shrimp and scallops with wasabi-flavored tobiko and yuzu beurre blanc, sounded great on paper but lacked flavor and depth. For dessert, the only offering was tempura fried ice cream, an unimaginative dessert for such an otherwise innovative menu.
Maiko has the potential to be great, but its staff needs to pay close attention to details every night to ensure consistency and quality of both food and service.