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Review: Akai Hana

 Morgan Kelley Review: Akai Hana
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Akai Hana is an authentic Japanese restaurant which celebrated 25 years in business in 2011. Their menu includes a mix of Japanese-style and Western-style sushi, noodle bowls, several Korean entrees, yakitori and more. The restaurant decor feels like a throwback to the 1980s, in a half-kitsch half-earnest fashion, but the staff is always quite friendly, and the divided configuration of the restaurant space keeps it feeling intimate despite the large size of the place.

The Miso Soup (included with many entrees) was brought out first, as it accompanied one of the entrees ordered. The bowl was light on tofu (I counted only five or six tiny pieces) but the broth was heavy on flavor. The stock used in the soup seemed lighter on fish flavors and heavier on vegetable flavors. Slightly different than other miso soups I’ve tasted, and I found the differences quite satisfactory.

I often stick solely to the sushi menu at Akai Hana, which is always a great experience. I went light and simple this time around, ordering one piece of Fresh Salmon Nigiri ($2.50) and one Tuna Nigiri ($2.80). Both were ample portions of fish with fresh flavors and a small dab of wasabi under the neta.

Akai Hana offers many types of specialty western-style sushi rolls, such as the Spicy Scallop Roll ($9.75) which includes scallops topped with a mayonnaise-based sauce and chili pepper. The dish is baked in foil and served hot. The result is a creamy spicy mess that is delicious despite being a far cry from traditional sushi.

The city’s namesake Columbus Box ($17.95) is a large sampler entree that includes shrimp and vegetable tempura, a six-piece California roll, Korean beef short ribs, salmon terriyaki, wakame, chuka ika (squid), a cup of miso soup and a simple salad with diced chicken and and mandarin oranges. This type of entree is large enough to share between two people and provides a nice assortment of small portions from all over the menu. The tempura were all excellent, especially the shrimp which were cooked beautifully and battered and browned perfectly. The salmon and short ribs make an excellent “surf and turf” option for those who prefer their meats cooked in Japanese dishes. The variety of salads balanced out the box with some cold, crisp greens.

One of my favorite noodle dishes at Akai Hana is the Tempura Udon ($9.95), which is a pretty traditional bowl of udon noodles in broth with two pieces of tempura shrimp. The noodles in this soup are thick and hearty while the broth has a mild fishy aftertaste. The tempura shrimp quickly turn soggy when soaking in the soup, which enhances the flavor of their batter if you don’t mind the spongy texture.

The northwest quadrant of Columbus has no shortage of Japanese restaurants, many of which are regularly reviewed as tops in the entire region. After a quarter century in business, there’s plenty of proof as to why Akai Hana has retained their reputation as one of the go-to places for quality Japanese cuisine.

Akai Hana is located at 1173 Old Henderson Road. More information can be found at www.akaihanaohio.com.

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