First impression: Japanese and Thai food have little to do with each other, except that they both involve rice. Kansai in West Boca Raton, however, manages to present the two cuisines in relative harmony. The key to enjoying Kansai's vast bill of fare is to go with friends, order a selection of items from both menus, and share.
Ambience: If you're looking for an elegant and refined dining experience, Kansai is not for you. The interior is standard Oriental restaurant decor, nothing fancy. A plus is flexibility: Conventional table and booth seating is available and there are private tatami rooms in back for parties of six or eight. There's also a convivial sushi bar where patrons can sit on stools and watch the chefs ply their skills, and a few Benihana-style hibachi tables where friends can gather, make new friends, and enjoy the culinary acrobatics. Ceiling-mounted TV sets abound, presumably to accommodate evenings when there are major sporting events.
Starters: The menu is, frankly, intimidating. First-time customers are best advised to stick with the classics of the two national cuisines. On the Japanese side, California roll ($5.50)—avocado, artificial crabmeat, cucumber and seaweed wrapped in rice with sesame seeds—was serviceable, although the rice was a little rubbery, indicating it had been sitting around for a while. Thai (or is it American Chinese?) crab Rangoon ($4.95) was succulent: deep-fried wontons containing a dollop of crab and a schmear of cream cheese, along with a sweet dipping sauce. The wontons had a pleasing crispy-soft balance. Soft-shell crab ($7.95), battered and deep-fried, was not heavy or greasy, and came with a soy-based dip sauce. Nam Sod ($7.95) is a salad of ground chicken, peanuts, sweet peppers and scallions heavily laced with fermented fish sauce (a Southeast Asian staple) and redolent of ginger. It's salty but flavorful, and best enjoyed in small amounts and shared.
Entree excellence: Shogayaki ($16.95)—strips of cooked pork with onions and peppers—was not extraordinary. A Thai restaurant classic, Penang curry ($12.95)—in this case, pork and curry sauce with cabbage, onions and peppers served with steamed rice—was flowery and complex. In both dishes, the pork was a little tough and dry, but the texture was mitigated by the richness of the sauces. A big plus for those who fear Thai cuisine because of its reputation for spiciness: When you ask for "mild," it's exactly what you get. There wasn't a hint of hot pepper in the curry.
Hibachi tables: Hibachi specials range from $15.95 for vegetable only to $27.95 for a filet mignon/shrimp combo. These are prepared at the table, and are accompanied by soup or salad, white rice and mixed vegetable.
On the lighter side: Asian salad ($11.95) was refreshing, made with lettuce, green onions, and a generous amount of sliced avocado. The salad is topped by a mound of dice-sized sashimi tuna and then everything is bathed in a light, unassuming sauce that brought out the natural flavors of the ingredients. The portion was sufficient for an entree.
Sweet: Thai Donuts ($3.95) are thin deep-fried slabs of doughnut batter that are not sweet by themselves, but come with an Eagle Brand-based dip that provides all the sugar necessary. There are about seven or eight of them, so they make a perfect dessert for sharing. Tempura ice cream ($4.95) is exactly what it sounds like: vanilla ice cream deep-fried in tempura batter and drizzled with chocolate sauce. This is unnecessarily heart-unhealthy for a dubious payoff, and it doesn't share well, instantly disintegrating into a mess on the plate.
Service: Attentive and friendly.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun