Sometimes you have to root for the little guy. You want the least favored to win, you want the glorious comeback, the grand gesture that saves the day.
In this case, the little guy is Kohnami Japanese Restaurant, an excellent little eatery in a location that seems doomed, the Mission Trace Shopping Center. This restaurant was the launching point for Coozan's, which some of you may remember fondly and miss greatly, as I do. The building also briefly housed a branch of Rocco's that came and went in a flash, and I may be forgetting an incarnation or two.
Kohnami is definitely a restaurant that deserves your attention. If you ever visited Coozan's, you won't find a single trace of the Louisiana bayou-infused front porch dcor hanging around. The soothing, Asian-influenced dcor is simple and welcoming. And speaking of welcoming, you'll be hard pressed to find better service at another restaurant in the Springs. Although service slowed some as the restaurant got busy, our waitress was still cheerful, knowledgeable, friendly and welcoming. And she was, after all, moving as fast as she could.
I have never claimed to be an aficionada of sushi. Sashimi, frankly, scares me a bit. But I've learned to appreciate the fresh, clean flavors of good sushi, which brings a whisper of the ocean to your mouth. What I do love are rolls, all sorts of rolls, from Korean kim bap to the ubiquitous California. And it seems that I can visit Kohnami for a long time to come before I get tired or bored with their inventive sushi menu. The sushi menu is divided into seven sections: Sushi, Discount Rolls, Prime Sushi, Fresh Rolls, Tempura Rolls, Baked Rolls and Sashimi.
We tried the octopus ($2.50), and I'm pleased to announce that even my daughters wanted to sample a sliver. It was impeccably fresh and firm, and the pieces were quite large. We also got two orders of Cucumber Roll ($1.99) and wished we had ordered two more. We all loved it, and it was the world's most perfect palate cleanser/cooler, with fresh shredded cucumber wrapped in sushi rice and seaweed.
From the Fresh Rolls we sampled the Rainbow Roll ($9.45), which is my idea of perfection. A California roll is sliced into five hefty slices then topped with five assorted slices of fresh fish. For wimps like me, it's sushi without being too intense. I lucked out and got a piece with salmon on it, beautifully pink and slightly sweet. We also tried two different Tempura Rolls, which could be my new favorite. The Salmon Tempura Roll ($6.50) is salmon tempura rolled with cucumber, avocado and crab. So you get a little bit of a crunch from the tempura batter that blends wonderfully with the soft crab and the smooth avocado. But the very best we sampled was the Spicy California Tempura ($8.95), which combined crab, avocado, spicy tuna and cream cheese. It was a simultaneous explosion in your mouth of cool, smooth, crisp and hot. Again, I wish we had ordered more.
What we ordered, though, was the tip of the iceberg. Besides all the sushi and sashimi choices you would expect, there are spicy rolls like the 911 (salmon, hamachi and avocado, billed as very spicy) and the Fire Cracker (spicy scallop, crab, avocado and cucumber, topped with spicy tuna). The vegetable tempura rolls uses soft-shell crab, and the Crazy Boy roll is tuna, salmon and white fish with cream cheese, deep-fried. As for baked rolls, I'm intrigued by the Snow Cone Roll, which is a California roll topped with snapper, green onion, smelt egg and special sauce.
Don't shy away from Kohnami just because you aren't crazy about sushi. Their tempura is excellent, with perfectly cooked vegetables inside a shattering, crisp shell of golden fried batter, served with a soy-based dipping sauce. You can get this as an appetizer ($4.50) or with a giant bowl of udon noodles, vegetables and chicken broth ($8.95), which our waitress graciously and gracefully separated into two bowls for us at the table.
There are a variety of teriyaki dishes that I'm eager to try, along with sukiyaki, yakitori and my personal favorite, Tonkatsu ($8.95), a deep-fried breaded pork cutlet that is crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside, served with a special dark and sweet katsu sauce. We sampled the Bi-Bim-Bab ($8.95), which is Korean in origin. A large bowl is first layered with steamed rice, then an assortment of exotic mixed greens, then topped with spicy grilled meat and served with a spicy sauce on the side, so you can adjust the degree of heat to your personal satisfaction. It lacked the pickled vegetables and the egg that I've come to expect from this dish, but it was different and refreshing, nonetheless. And the Korean Bul-Go-Ki ($10.95), spicy marinated rib-eye beef sliced into thin strips, grilled to perfection and served with green onions, was just wonderful, rich and spicy.
Besides everything I've mentioned, there's an extensive appetizer menu and a prodigious lunch menu that ranges from $4.45 for a lunch bowl with orange chicken and sesame rice to $12.95 for a lunchtime feast consisting of miso soup, steamed rice, California roll, three pieces of nigiri sushi and four pieces of fresh sashimi. This is truly a restaurant that anyone would enjoy, with something on the menu for everyone. I can't wait to go back.
Kohnami Japanese Restaurant
3105 S. Academy Blvd. (Mission Trace Shopping Center)
Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5-9 p.m.; Fridays 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-10 p.m.; Saturdays 3-10 p.m., Sundays 5-9 p.m.