In Harbor East, fresh sushi comes with loud, loud music

Sun Restaurant Critic

There are two kinds of people who shouldn't even consider eating at the new RA Sushi in Harbor East: Those who take their sushi seriously, and those who don't like really loud, throbbing rock 'n' roll music while they eat.

In fact, if you fall into either of those two categories, don't even read any farther. That's how enraged this Arizona-based chain will make you.

If your idea of sushi is traditional, simple preparations made with very fresh fish, then rolls created with ingredients like cream cheese, kiwi, cilantro, pine nuts and pesto sauce will freak you out. If you like the idea of eating your sushi in a serene atmosphere, then the mach-five noise, the screeching red-and-black color scheme, the sports bar TVs and the sexual innuendos on the servers' T-shirts will get to you after about two minutes.

I, however, get paid to do this stuff; and anyway, as my daughter says, I'm the world's oldest teenager. I can't say I would voluntarily go back to RA, but that's only because I don't have any spare eardrums. My reluctance has nothing to do with the food; I've eaten worse takes on Japanese cuisine. Fun is what they are selling, and I had a good time. But I'm going to leave RA to its constituency, which seems to be 20-somethings judging from the other people there.

If you decide to give it a shot, you will find that the fish is very fresh and you don't have to order the weird rolls, although they seem to be a specialty of the house. Classic nigiri sushi, sashimi and maki are offered. I wanted to try one of the house specialty rolls, but not one with cream cheese. Our waitress, who won me over by persuading me to order a less expensive glass of wine at the beginning of the evening, recommended the Crunchy Shrimp Tempura Roll and suggested adding asparagus for even more crunch. The roll was draped with soft slices of raw tuna, although the menu didn't mention them - an excellent addition. My guess is that, for many people, these rolls are a way of approaching the real thing by the back door.

Our food pretty much came out as soon as it was ready, whether it was an appetizer or an entree. We didn't mind. We knew we weren't going to last long at RA as the music cranked up, so we were willing to eat and run.

One of us had ordered potsticker soup, and it arrived in a large covered pot with bowls and spoons for four. This is the perfect winter soup: a not-too-salty chicken broth, blazingly hot, filled with bok choy, julienne carrots, a few snow peas and pork dumplings in the most delicate wrappers imaginable.

We also tried the shrimp gyoza made with more of those delicate wrappers. Anything involving dumplings shouldn't be overlooked.

The mango ceviche is overpriced at $12.50 (it doesn't involve a lot of seafood) but is quite good. The chopped, marinated shrimp, scallops and lobster are tossed with mango salsa and served on four Belgian endive leaves.

Be prepared for the fact that some entrees are labeled entrees but seem deliberately designed to share. Four Black Pepper Filet Medallions, quite thin but still cooked medium rare as ordered, were balanced on four mounds of mashed potatoes seasoned with a bit of wasabi, and with shiitake mushrooms and a couple of slender asparagus spears. They were decent but in no way memorable.

It makes much more sense to get fish here, even if you don't want it raw. The halibut was moist and beautifully fresh, floating in a milky Yuzu broth you eat with a spoon, with shiitakes, a bit of spinach and "spicy, crispy rice," which turned out to be something like rice croquettes.

Prices are moderate at RA, but it's easy to run up the bill by ordering edamame to begin with and one of the rich desserts at the end.

The coconut creme brulee was as cold as its crackly topping was warm. The tempura fried ice cream with cinnamon serves four, but otherwise didn't have much to recommend it. The chocolate-stuffed fried banana was the best of them, but just a mug of the green tea would have been enough for me. And as long as I'm ending on a negative note, although overall our experience was pretty good, the happy hour cosmos my friends ordered were almost undrinkable, with little alcohol and less taste.

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