1060 Old Marion Rd NE
Cedar Rapids, IA
It is always hard to write reviews close to home. I have a good friend who has been encouraging me to try Kaji for some time, so last week my wife and I were in the neighborhood and decided to stop in. Kaji is a new restaurant in an out of the way corner of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. From the outside, Kaji has an upscale look. When we entered, the atmosphere was somewhat industrial/trendy.
Kaji has a sushi bar, some teppanaki stations, a dining room and a bar. All of these are in one large roughly square room. The atmosphere at Kaji is definitely bar/party. The music was not overly loud. From where I sat, I could see the three TVs over the bar, one tuned to MTV. This is not the kind of place I generally enjoy, so Kaji had to try harder to score in my review.
My wife was not too hungry so we ordered a combination appetizer, a Philadelphia Roll and the sashimi combo. I guess the kitchen was having a rough night since our entire sushi/sashimi order arrived before our hot appetizer. I asked our waitress to bring the appetizers first, and she volunteered to have our sushi/sashimi re-made. Even after sending the fish back, the appetizers took forever. The appetizers were pretty good, a pork egg roll, some spicy shrimp, something that I forgot and an order of Gyoza. The Gyoza was unusual and I really didn’t enjoy it much. I thought it had a sort of mealy texture. I order Gyoza in Japanese restaurants all across the country and this is on of the few I did not like.
On to the fish. My Philadelphia Roll seemed to be thrown together. The pieces were of uneven size and the mix of fish to cream cheese was different in each piece. The sashimi was average. I thought the salmon was good and it was nice to see Uni on the plate. However, I thought that the portion was a bit small for $25. The presentation was only adequate, piles of shredded Japanese radish with some leaves.
I did like the fact that Kaji had a variety of specials on their chalkboard. I also learned later that the chef tries very hard to handle special requests. One can make a request in advance for some exotic item, like fresh mackerel or live scallops. I was told that the sushi chef had worked at Nobu in Florida. With that pedigree, I would have expected more. In the end, my favorite local sushi bar is still Sushi House.
Kaji wasn’t bad, but it was not great either.
725 Mormon Trek Blvd
Iowa City, IA
A reader suggested that I try Sushi Popo. I already had reviews of nearby Takanami and Three Samurai. and I received an email from a reader saying that the best Iowa City sushi restaurant was Sushi Popo. I am spending the week in Iowa City on business so I decided to try it.
Sushi Popo is a large restaurant with two dining rooms and a small sushi bar in a mini mall on Iowa City’s west side. Sushi Popo serves both Chinese and Japanese food. I decided to meet an old friend there for lunch. Since I arrived first I order Edamame and Gyoza for us. My friend arrived with the appetizers. The Edamame was a generous portion and the Gyoza were excellent — a good start.
My friend ordered Chinese and I ordered a Deluxe Sashimi Combination. When the sashimi arrived I was pleased to see that it was arranged very nicely on beds of Japanese radish. The combo included octopus, salmon, mackerel, yellowtail, red snapper and white tuna. I think the selection was excellent. The fish was all very good but the yellow tail and mackerel were absolutely perfect.
Mackerel spoils quickly so it is almost always served marinaded in vinegar. This mackerel was lightly marinated and tasted great. On of my favorite sushi items is fresh unmarinated mackerel but it is relatively rare.
I liked everything about Sushi Popo. The only disappointment was that there were no special or exotic items. (Uni, Miragai, etc.) My friend enjoyed his Chinese food as well. All in all Sushi Popo was a gem. I will definitely be back.
217 Iowa Ave
Iowa City, IA
In Iowa, sushi restaurants are few and far between. Since I live only an hour from Iowa City, I had been hearing about Takanami. This week I was working in town and I thought I would give it a try. For lunch today I called my friend, Joe and we went to give it a try.
Takanami is in the downtown section of Iowa City near the heart of the University of Iowa campus. Because of the university, parking can be difficult but there is a new ramp about a block east of the restaurant.
Takanami is a relatively new restaurant their cuisine is a cross between traditional sushi and Asian fusion. The restaurant has about a dozen tables set up outside like a sidewalk cafe. Inside the restaurnt is clean and modern with a large aquariaum behind the sushi bar full of trigger fish. Takanami is huge, when I walked in it was deceptive, as I walked behind the sushi bar I realized that there were as many tables behind as in front.
Joe ordered a tuna bento with seared tuna. It sure looked good. Like most inland sushi bars, Takanami lacked a selection of exotic items or daily sushi specials. I ordered a sashimi appetizer and a Philadelphia roll. The sashimi was 3 pieces each of tuna, white tuna and salmon served on a bed of Japanese radish. The roll was served on a rectangular glass plate that added a classy touch to the otherwise simple item. The fish was very fresh and tasted great. The roll was nicely made and had consistent sizing throughout.
I enjoyed Takanami and had no complaints. I hope someday to order some of their intruiging non-sushi items but I should be realistic — it’s unlikely since their sushi is so good.