I am definitely a fan of sushi, so when the chance to review Otani came up, I was happy to grab my chopsticks and head to Gambrills.
Otani Japanese Cuisine is tucked away in well-maintained strip center between several other shops. At first glance, it doesn’t catch the eye, but inside the restaurant is well presented, with a sushi bar, nice décor and ethereal music setting the mood.
We started with an interesting drinks menu. Choya Ume Plum Wine ($7) caught Chandra’s eye. This is a sweet and tart white “wine” that is reminiscent of sauternes. Despite all of the sweet and fun Mai Tai’s or a Blue Hawaii’s I might normally go for, I decided to get a classic Cosmopolitan ($8.95). This is one of Chandra’s favorite drinks, and I knew we would end up switching drinks after the first sip. The Cosmopolitan was done very well (Chandra loved it), and I really enjoyed the unique flavors of the Plum Wine.
The owner, after hearing us discuss our drinks, came over and pointed out another drink called Shirotini, which was a mixture of the Plum Wine with Sake. I can see how this would cut the sweet, and enhance the depth of the wine. This is something I’ll have to try for next time.
After getting some recommendations from the waitress, we settled on a mixture of sushi and hibachi. I ordered one of my favorites, a Spider Roll ($10), a Tuna and Avocado Roll ($6.50) (one of Chandra’s favorites) and a Playboy Roll ($16). The Playboy roll is not one that I have ever had before, but we were told it was one of the most popular dishes on the menu. This is listed as shrimp tempura, spicy tuna and avocado with a special sauce.
Chandra ordered the Chicken and Scallop Hibachi combo ($23) with fried rice. The hibachi also came with a cup of miso soup and a green salad with yum yum sauce. The soup was different than miso that I have had before. It seemed earthier and a little richer. The salad was fair, though I was not a fan of this particular yum yum recipe. It could very well be that I am Americanized, and that both of these items were a little too authentic for my tastes.
We also ordered a plate of edamame. Chandra and I love snacking on these salty treats. This dish was a little undercooked and under-salted, but still fresh and enjoyable.
At this point, with my wine now gone, I also ordered another cocktail. The Green Tea Mojito ($8) is made with Cruzan White Rum, fresh mint, lime and soda. I love a good mojito, and this was a fun iteration of the classic. The hints of green tea mixed with the lime and mint went very well together.
Our mains arrived soon after my drink. Chandra enjoyed her hibachi, though (as we have experienced in the past) kitchen-made hibachi is never quite the same as table-side, teppanyaki style. The funny thing is that while Chandra prefers the theatrical version, I feel the kitchen-made is better. I enjoyed the rich sauce and the flavors of this dish. As entertaining as teppanyaki is, to me when it’s all cooked together it kind of all tastes the same.
Both the Spider Roll and the Tuna Roll were very good. The sushi rolls are well formed and flavorful. The Playboy was an exceptional surprise. This roll was brought to the table wrapped in tin foil on a burning plate. The server then “cooked” the sushi roll by waiving it over the flames until it began to smoke. She then swiftly put dowsed the fire and opened the foil. Inside was a large sushi roll with a spicy mayonnaise-based sauce that was slightly charred. The result was a smoked sushi roll that I absolutely loved. Every bite was delicious. This was exceedingly good sushi.
Quite satisfied but not overly full, we ventured on into desserts. Otani has a nice selection of sweets to finish the meal. Once again the owner stepped away from the front to give us her suggestions. I ordered the Fried Banana ($7), which was only just fine. There wasn’t a lot of flavor, and in my opinion it could have been cooked a little more. I also would have included a sauce or some ice cream. Chandra chose much better than I did with the Chocolate Temptation ($9). This is a chocolate mousse cake with layers of hazelnut crunch and Ecuadorian cocoa. This dessert was smooth and enjoyable.
Otani was a fun dining experience just a little outside of my normal fare. I love experiencing new flavors and concepts, even if I didn’t take to all of them right away. I definitely recommend Otani’s quality food and imaginative offerings.
David Ludwig is a Chef Instructor at the HCAT Institute of Anne Arundel Community College
Otani Japanese Cuisine
WHERE: 1153 Route 3 North, Suite K, Gambrills
HOURS: Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.,
Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.,
Sunday 12 p.m. to 10 p.m.
(Closed every day from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.)
LUNCH: $6 to $17
DINNER: $10 to $30
CREDIT CARDS: Visa and Master Card