Although it's in the heart of Mt. Vernon on Charles St., you may find that it's somewhat difficult to locate Kawasaki, one of Baltimore's best Japanese restaurants.
Although the windows are noisily decorated with Oriental lights and "Japanese Restaurant" in large, red capital letters, the real name of the establishment requires a much keener eye - it's printed in much smaller, white letters, near the outside menu.
The interior of the restaurant is half-American steak house, half-sushi bar - although I'm not quite sure it was intended that way.
Kawasaki features many traditional touches, such as a full sushi bar with four chefs and an option of traditional Japanese-style seating (no chairs and a lowered table), yet the proprietors clearly couldn't resist lining their wall with their accolades. One wall is filled with tacky promo photographs of celebrities, and the other wall is similarly decorated with awards from local publications.
One interesting touch offered at Kawasaki is the option of personal chopsticks for regular customers. The walls in the back of the restaurant are lined with glass cabinets that are filled with individual chopstick cases bearing the names of such patrons. For a small fee, the restaurant offers this option of non-wooden, personal chopsticks for any customer who plans on returning.
Most of the menu at Kawasaki is comprised of a variety of types of sushi. There are over a dozen creative and original maki rolls to choose from, as well as the standard fare of plain fish and vegetable rolls.
There are a variety of appetizers as well, including dumplings, soups, and a light, not-too-greasy tempura platter. The miso soup was well prepared, but the edamame (boiled soybeans in the pod) was a little heavy on the salt.
Next, my party tried a number of maki rolls, including the Baltimore Roll, with plenty of jumbo lump crabmeat (not the imitation stuff) and avocado and the Shrimp Tempura Roll. One interesting choice is the Tiger's Eye Roll, a rice-less roll consisting of cooked salmon and scallions stuffed into a roll of squid and wrapped in seaweed.
Although the Tiger's Eye is exquisitely prepared (the thin slices actually do look like eyes), the rather small size left my stomach unexpectedly empty considering the $9 price tag.
As with many sushi restaurants, there are also larger dinners that include a salmon roll and nine or 12 pieces of nigiri. In addition, there's also the sushi boat, which runs about $50 or $80. Our only qualm was that the rolls were not wrapped very tightly and some pieces fell apart before they got to our mouths.
Although this restaurant is known for its sushi, I didn't consider it a standout in terms of quality.
There are other dishes, however, that make the trip to Mt. Vernon worthwhile.
The house salad, for example, a standard mix of romaine lettuce, purple cabbage and tomatoes, comes with delicious, light dressing made of soy sauce, vinegar and sesame seed oil that left me dipping every vegetable until it was drenched.
While the menu doesn't include many entr??e choices, what's there is excellent. The teriyaki chicken is delicious, but what really takes the cake is the teriyaki beef - a filet so tender it almost melts in your mouth, with a sauce that is tangy but not too overpowering.
Despite its few shortcomings, Kawasaki is an excellent choice for sushi and particularly for other Japanese fare. Regardless of what you order, you can be sure that it's prepared fresh and with an artful touch.