Dinner Out @ Jo An Japanese

Most times, you go to a restaurant and find that some of what others have said jives with your experience, and other times not so much. In the case of our trip to Jo An Japanese, it was exactly what we'd been told to expect. Yes, it's smack dab in the middle of an office park. And yes, it very likely has the best sushi in Cincinnati (well, Erlanger, Kentucky actually).

The Food: I should say from the start the we barely even looked at the non-sushi menu. A quick order of sashimi salad (small bits of tuna, salmon, shrimp, and yellowtail mixed in with wakame) tided over our hunger, and it was fantastic. At most places, less wakame with no fish is about the same cost ($6). But we were here on a mission: sushi. Choices are made from a paper sheet where you mark what you want (is this really necessary - why don't they just ask you what'd like and save the paper?) as well as another menu with a front and back for specialty rolls. Here's what we ordered, and what we thought of it. With so many items, a bulleted list seems sensible:
  • Salmon nigiri sushi - As you may recall from our last post about sushi, I've been trending toward the "less is more" approach on sushi. It's hard to pass up all the fancy and colorful combinations that are available, but every time I take a bite where I can't taste the fish, I move one step closer to being an all nigiri/sashimi guy. This salmon was colorful, and had none of the mealiness to the meat that you sometimes get - these were smooth bites, with no tearing through anything needed.
  • Spicy tuna roll - Scallions added a crunch, and overall this roll had a nice texture. It was not too spicy, which is in part why it may be Sarahs new favorite spicy tuna roll in town (it used to be Bangkok Bistro).
  • Spicy shrimp roll - A clean, crisp snap from the cucumber, went well with the spicy mayo that adds a kick. This was the roll that led me to thinking how strikingly well put together Jo An's rolls were, after just eating Bangkok Bistro's sushi.
  • Salmon crunch roll - Texture in food can be so underutilized. From the crunch in our wedding cake to the tempura crunch in this roll - we are really enjoying what crunch can add to just about anything. This roll also had a lot of sesame seeds on the outside, which were very tasty. But, this was one roll where a bit too much rice made it hard for me to taste the fish on a couple bites. That said, the salmon, crunch, and avocado paired so well together - this was my favorite choice of the night.
  • Spicy baked slamon roll - I just mentioned the avacado, and on this roll - where it is sliced thin and laid on top of each piece, it became clear that this tropical vegetable really was delicious. The masago (capelin roe) also added a different texture to this roll.
  • Jo An roll - This was one of those double-wide size rolls where you're not sure if you should (or even could) eat it all in one bite. It was very tasty, and we liked that soybean paper - which held the roll together, but also was barely distinguishable in taste and broke easily as we chose the multiple bite method. With salmon, tuna, yellowtail, avocado, and tobiko (flying fish roe) on top, there is a lot going on here. The plate is then covered with a pattern of spicy mayonnaise and a hoisin-esque brown sauce, and the total package is something you'll want to taste.
In general, we thought all of the rolls had a buttery taste and mouth feel that was quite enjoyable.
A couple of small additional notes. First, they use ginger that is ginger colored, not pink. I always like that, makes me feel like I'm ingesting one less unnecessary substance. Second, I was surprised to learn that the salmon was from Norway. I assumed a top place would use something Pacific. The refrain again: lots yet to learn about sushi.

The Ingredients: No mention of any local or organic ingredients on the menu. I will say that there were some types of fish and roe that I hadn't noticed on a menu before. That's not saying too much, because I still have a lot of learning to do about sushi (in fact, I just ordered this book today), but it is to say that the menu at Jo An is substantial.

The Story, Setting, & Service: Jo An's is hard to find - Google maps on my phone got it wrong the first time. It's totally nondescript - check the barely visible sign in the slideshow below. There was even a janitor vacuuming in the entry of the office building when we went in - everything about this place said "we don't exist." A hot towel is brought when you sit down, which is a nice touch (remember when Delta did that?). The service is straightforward. One of the staff asked if we were food bloggers - that camera can be a giveaway! Muzak/easy listening on the radio. There were a few other folks there when we arrived at about 8:15, and there was only one other person at 9. Not a busy spot on a Wednesday night. On the way out we noticed that they serve a lunch too - $12 for sushi and what they said was a great deal. It's chef choice, so who knows. They also had non-sushi options for $8.

I doubt we'll go back to Jo An's often. If we're going out only for the sushi, then we will. But most times, we like the full package, and Jo An's offers so little in the way of ambiance that it's probably not ever going to get a lot of traffic - especially being in Erlanger. Hopefully the city sushi places will step up their game to make the drive totally unnecessary, but for now you should at least go once.

Jo An Japanese on Urbanspoon

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