Shogun needs more show
Sharonville restaurant has authentic Japanese atmosphere, but food falls short
BY POLLY CAMPBELL
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The Japanese steakhouse, with stern chefs flashing sharp knives at lightning speeds, plays to several American conceptions of the Japanese: fierce, technically advanced, aesthetically refined.
Hence, such places with martial names, such as Samurai, and the latest addition to the category, Shogun, which opened in Sharonville in June.
Shogun has grill tables, a sushi bar and a separate Japanese menu that caters to American tastes, but falls short of being a good introduction to the cuisine.
My little brother was in town and I took him to Shogun. Years ago, we traveled around Japan, having youthful adventures that included eating a lot of things we couldn't identify.
A few things about Shogun helped recapture that experience -- the babbling, pebble-lined fountain and carp stream outside, for instance, and bamboo and paper-screened windows. But mostly the sushi bar in the middle of the large dining room. There's always a sense of adventure at a sushi bar. Though come to think of it, we got fairly standard selections at Shogun. The maguro, or fresh tuna ($3.25), and tako, or octopus ($3), were light, fresh and only delicately fishy. Hamachi, yellow tail ($3.50), was buttery and smooth, but kani, or crab, ($3) was fake. California rolls ($4.50) -- always a good choice for the sushi novice because they don't have raw fish -- are inside-out, with salmon roe on the outside, seaweed inside the rice, and avocado, crab and cucumber in the middle. Rainbow rolls ($7) were special, with three kinds of fish rolled around the outside of rice. Dynamite Hand Roll ($3.75) has an unexpectedly spicy filling mixed with tuna.
I was prepared to enjoy the grill table. It can be a good show if the chef can break eggs in the air and flip shrimp onto plates across the table. But maybe because there were only two of us, our chef didn't show off much. There was a great rattling of salt shakers and rapid chopping and totally unnecessary flaming, but it just wasn't showy enough. When it was finished, we had plates full of unexciting, colorless food. Our eyes strayed enviously to the table next to us, where the chef created a flaming volcano from piled-up onion rings.
Among Shogun entrees, the seafood combination ($15.95) features overcooked scallops and shrimp. The Geisha combination ($14.50) has slightly tough steak and chicken strips. Both include grilled vegetables and plenty of bean sprouts, and are accompanied by a ginger sauce that's too harsh and a mustard sauce that's too mild.
On another night, I took several Japanese food novices to dinner. We sat at regular tables and ordered from a menu of Japanese dishes, cooked to emphasize strong flavors but without the flavor subtleties, in order to make them more acceptable for Americans. I have no problem with that, but even on those terms, the entrees don't impress.
Beef Teriyaki ($12.95) is a strip steak covered with a way-too-thick teriyaki sauce. Salmon ($13.95) is served broiled with an unsubtle glaze. Saba ($9.95), or mackerel, is a fish I love in small bits on sushi, but in big charbroiled hunks it's too oily and rich. Lightly battered tempura ($12.50) is nicely presented, but tastes like it's been fried in old oil. Each is preceded by weak miso soup and a bowl of iceberg lettuce with a creamy Japanese-flavored dressing.
Appetizers offer more variety. Tempura can be ordered in a small size ($4.95). There is a yakitori chicken skewer ($3.95): morsels of chicken alternated with scallions. I've had better Gyoza dumplings ($3.95) in many Chinese places (where they're often called potstickers), and the nameko oroshi, or Japanese nameko mushrooms ($2.95), are pretty hard to take: cold, slippery little mushrooms on a bed of cold, grated daikon.
Our meal came haphazardly -- the soup quickly, the salad before we had finished the soup, the sushi later on and entrees on the heels of appetizers. Our waitress was pleasant and available, but her English wasn't strong, and I didn't feel I could get many answers about the menu from her.
Reviews are done anonymously at Enquirer expense. Ratings take into consideration quality of food, service, presentation and atmosphere, balanced against price.