Kampai Sushi Restaurant Review – Japanese Dining In North Phoenix

Kanpai Restaurant

Kampai for dinner last night.  One of my favorite sushi bars in the Phoenix area. It actually looks like a sushi bar you might find on a street corner in Kyoto…no frills but charming and to the point and NOT a Las Vegas night club like so many around town these days.  Having lived in LA where some of the best sushi joints downtown in little Tokyo live this place has it going on thanks to the expertise of Yuki and EJ and the crew that make it happen.  I come here with my dining companion often for our ‘sushi fix’ close to home. The line up for last night:

  • A little complimentary edamame to start
  • kanpachi (amber jack) sashimi with yuzukosho (a yuzu chili type paste) special sauce
  • Uni nigiri (sea urchin) on top of cubed yamaimo (mountain potato). Delicious and refreshing!
  • Sauteed shishito peppers perfectly seasoned
  • Ankimo (monk fish liver pate) home-made here and delicious seasoned with grated radish, minced green onions  and ponzu sauce.
  • Fresh ika (squid) and japanese cucumber spicy sunomono type salad that I have know idea what it’s called but the ika cut perfectly and just fabulous.
  • Tuna and Salmon nigiri fresh and simple palate cleansers

Washed it all down with some great cold sake and Asahi beer. Don’t forget to ask for the the “good” or “better” wasabi…not the powdered kind. Only about a buck more but worth it…don’t mix it in the soy sauce just place a dab on top the sushi or sashimi before lightly dipping in soy.

I would definitely recommend this place for some great sushi.  I haven’t had the chance to try much of the cooked food here since when I come I go straight to the sushi bar but my daughter raves about the vegetable tempura one of the few places–if not the only in town that actually uses lotus root which is her favorite.  Until next time…

Kampai Sushi
2945 E Bell Rd, Ste 102
Phoenix, AZ 85032
(602) 482-3260

Pita Jungle Mediterranean Feast in the Desert

Pita Jungle Wood-Fired Chicken After traveling through the wonderful presentations of Africa and South America for Passport Academy at my son’s school we all had an appetite for something ethnic.  Pita Jungle at Desert Ridge was the pick for the evening since it was close and inexpensive. This was not our first visit to the Pita Jungle chain and won’t be the last but this is the first time I’ve decided to write my review for the place.

The atmosphere at the Desert Ridge restaurant is bright and airy with a funky sophisticated twist. They showcase artwork by various artists that rotates on a regular basis so it’s got an artsy vibe as well.  They have this great large family style eating table and a huge full bar near the entry way.  Beyond that there’s the main dining area with a semi-open concept kitchen and a spacious patio outside– it overlooks the the parking lot but it’s set back alittle a ways so it’s not really an eyesore.  Besides I come to Pita Jungle for the great price and good food so the atmosphere is just a perk.  Note: The acoustics-  I suppose because of the high ceilings– in this location are loud.  I don’t mind since I usually come here with a larger group but for a quiet intimate evening this would not be my pick.

The service is generally good but tends to be inconsistent.  I kind of feel like you never know what the service will be like the day you choose to dine in.  There’s really no rythm or reason to it sometimes the service is great and the place is packed or sometimes the service is really slow and the place is only 1/4 full.  But on as a rule I would consider the service good and what you might expect for this laid-back type of restaurant.

On to the important stuff…the food.  I really like the food.  It’s fresh, healthy, tasty, has many authentic nuances, nice sized portions and reasonably priced…I would go as far as to say inexpensive for what you get for most items on the menu.  They even have nice house wine…seriously…for only $2.99 a glass.

The regular menu is quite extensive in addition they have a seperate specials menu and they even offer happy and reverse happy hour tapas menu.  The tapas menu in my opinion is hit or miss.  Most items I ordered from the tapas selections were over-priced and small in comparasion to the regular menu.  My suggestion would be to stick to the regular or specials menu and skip the tapas.

Before I get into what we ordered this particular evening  I find that as with the service the food tends to be a little inconsistent as well.  Some days it’s really good and some not so much so if you tend to order the same thing when visiting a particular restaurant you’ll know what Not to expect.

Okay here’s what we ordered:

Mediterranean chicken salad $9.29 which  tonight was great. Pieces of grilled chicken (I have to say Pita Jungle makes some of the best grilled chicken I’ve ever had–and honestly I’m never that enthusiastic about chicken–so that says a lot) tossed with diced tomatoes, onions, roasted red bell peppers, pine nuts, chopped cucumbers, corn, golden raisins and taboule, over a bed of mixed greens with feta and lemon vinaigrette.  It’s basically a giant tossed chopped salad. It’s quite good.

The daily/weekly special wood-fired chicken entree $9.99. Fabulous.  Whole wood-fired marinated boneless chicken breast on a bed of lightly seasoned wilted spinach and garlic herb smashed new red potatoes done rustic style with some skins.  This was all topped with a light garlic and chopped tomato concasse and seasoned perfectly.  A nice large portion as well.  This I would say was the star of the evening.

Wood-fired salmon entree $14.59. It does not compare to the fowl version of this dish mentioned above.  Although the salmon was nicely cooked lightly seasoned and grilled, the rest of this entree–garlic smashed potatoes and wilted spinach– is just plain, uninteresting and paltry.

The falafel pita $5.99– crispy croquettes (fairly large size) of chickpeas and the gyro pita $6.49–thin slices of broiled beef & lamb that’s been marinated with spices and herbs both with similar fixings of chopped cilantro, mixed greens, tomatoes, onions, israeli-style pickles and tahini on the falafel or tzatziki for the gyro.  With the exception of the falafels which are very good here and I highly recommend but I prefer having them in the Mediterranean Platter (see below)  the rest is basic with traditional fixings.  Either of these are a good sandwich choice but nothing extraordinary.

Mediterranean Platter $10.29. This is one of my favorite items on the menu at pita jungle.  It’s a great share appetizer or as a full and I mean extra full meal.  It comes chuck full of all the traditional middle eastern goodies such as hummus, baba ganoosh (eggplant-tahini dip), tzatziki, taboule, feta cheese, dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), falafel and braised green beans with stewed tomatoes…reminds me of my grandma’s Turkish style green beans. Top it off with a couple of pitas to soak up all that goodness! Yum!

What I don’t recommend is the mozzarella tomato and basil $7.99.  It was not that it was bad and it even looked delicious but it tasted bland and flavorless.  The tomatoes were barely ripe and the mozzarella was tasteless.  Even with the addition of a chiffonade of basil, balsamic vinegar, olive oil.  This is too simple of a dish to not use better ingredients.

Rice Pudding $3.69– This is one of the better rice pudding I’ve had.  It’s nice creamy with plump and juicy golden raisins, sprinkled with cinnamon and garnished with fresh strawberries.  If your to full–get it to go. You’ll be happy you did.

To sum this up I have had many meals at Pita Jungle that alone says that it’s a restaurant I would consider a good place to eat for a quick, good, inexpensive meal with a group.

Pita Jungle — Desert Ridge Location
20910 N. Tatum Blvd. • Suite 140 • Phoenix, AZ 85050
480-473-2321
Open 7 Days a Week 10:30 am – 10:00 pm

 

Viva Italia! Italian Dinner Night At Home

Italian dinner at homeThe following is my first official post. I wrote it about 6 months ago hoping that I would have put my blog up shortly after but obviously I didn’t.  So here it is now! 

Tonight I was in the mood for Italian dinner. Italian food is always a hit at my house and generally pretty easy to make. I had made a trip to Trader Joe’s earlier today.  It always feels like a treat when I go to Trader Joe’s good fine quality products at a great price.  So in addition to what I had in my pantry and fridge I thought I’d add a few quality products from TJ’s to enhance my meal.  The menu for tonight was:

  • Baby Arugula Salad with shaved Parmesan, red & yellow baby tomatoes with lemon & extra virgin oil dressing
  • Rotini Puttanesca / Arrabiata ‘a la Me’ with spicy italian sausage
  • Fresh Fruit– sliced pears and white grapes

Baby Arugula Salad  serves 4-6
The inspiration for this salad came from a little tiny Italian resturant in the back bay area of Boston on Newbury Street called Piattini.  My family and I went there this summer and the meal was abosuletly fabulous but it was the salad that sang to me.  So here’s my take on it. Enjoy.

1 bag baby arugula from Trader Joe’s
10 red & yellow baby tomatoes halved
2 oz. Shaved Grana Padano Parmesan from Trader Joes’s–crumble 1/3 of the cheese (Parmesan reggiano would be my first choice but for a Thursday night meal the Grana Padano Pramesan is a good alternative)
Juice of one lemon
1/2 cup Extra virgin olive oil
Fleur de Sel to taste (remember that the parmesan is salty too so keep that in mind when seasoning)
Tri-color (pink, green, black) freshly ground pepper to taste

Mixed the olive oil, lemon juice, the crumbled parmesan cheese, salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Set asside. In a salad bowl put the baby arugula top with baby tomatoes and the remainder of the shaved parmesan. Keep the dressing and the salad separate until just before serving.  Toss well.

Rotini Puttanesca / Arrabiata ‘a la Me’ serves 4-6
I was tired today and didn’t want to make the whole deal from scratch so I opted for the semi-homemade quick tasty and easy version. Turned out great!

Note:  Some foodie’s might shun this idea of ‘semi-homemade’ (honestly if they do then they really aren’t foodies anyway) but my philosophy on this especially with tomato sauce is  the longer it cooks the better it tastes.  If you use a good quality pre-made sauce (check the ingredients) and if they use good ingredients…that are similar to what you would use if making it from scratch then why re-invent the wheel. The store bought one has cooked for hours already…just doctor it up.

6 Italian sausages (hot or mild)
1 12-16 oz box Rotini pasta  (I like to use the Ronzoni ‘Smart Taste’ it tastes great and has 2.5x the fiber)
1 jar of Arrabiata Sauce from Trader Joe’s
6 cloves of garlic sliced length wise
1 can of flat anchovies chopped fine (keep the oil–you’ll use that too!)
2-3 tablespoons capers finely chopped
1 tablespoon parsley finely chopped
1/2 of a small or 1/4 of a large yellow onion sliced length wise very thin and then rough chop
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 oz shaved parmesan cheese to garnish
salt and pepper to taste
Hot chili flakes if desired can be served on the side.

Put the italian sausages on a baking sheet and place in the broiler on low turning once halfway until they are fully cooked and nicely browned. (No need to put oil on the the baking sheet since the sausages will secreet oil on their own while cooking)

While the Sausages are cooking bring a large pot of water on the stove top to boil with a couple of tablespoons of salt.  Once the water boils cook the pasta as directed on the box.

For the sauce:
Put the Extra Virgin olive oil and the reserved anchovy oil in a sauce pan on medium high heat.
Add the onions, garlic and anchovies and saute until nice and brown with a bit of carmelization going on.
Then add the Arrabiata sauce, capers, and the parsley (reserve a couple of pinches of parsley for garnish) stir and lower the heat to medium low and cover.  Cook for about 20-30 minutes stirring occasionally.

All three steps of the pasta dish kind of goes simultaneously so you need to keep an eye on the sauce, the pasta and the sausages and time them accordingly.

Once all three are cooked and ready to go it’s time to assemble.  Mix the sauce in with the drained pasta and toss well pour into a nice pasta serving bowl and garnish with the shaved parmesan cheese and parsley and finally arrange the italian sausages in a ring around the bowl for a nice presentation.  Serve immediately.  This dish would go fabulous with a nice medium to heavy body red wine–like a nice argentinian malbec.

This meal was a hit as I suspected it would be.  My daughter said she couldn’t decide which she enjoyed more the salad or the pasta but she was leaning towards the salad.

Ciao for today!

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