Kampai Sushi

Kampai Sushi Bar is one of those places that sort of sneak up on you. Although it's located in the bustling Central West End, the restaurant sits on a quiet, tree-lined street removed from the busy Euclid Avenue. strip where most of the neighborhood's high-profile eateries are, tucked next to an equally anonymous apartment building. But Kampai's nondescript exterior houses some fine Asian cuisine, as we recently discovered.

The menu offers a wide assortment of entrees, from the Japanese standard Chicken Teriyaki to Korean dishes like Galbi (short ribs) and Bulgogi (marinated beef). There also are plenty of choices under the Sushi Bar Special Combo section. We were interested in trying a little bit of everything, and the Kampai combos fit the bill. We went with the mid-sized Kampai Combo B ($45), which consists of 12 pieces of assorted sashimi, including salmon and some really gorgeous tuna, eight pieces of nigiri sushi and two sushi rolls. In addition to being delicious, these combos are a good way to sample some high-quality sashimi and sushi at a really affordable price.

We were told that the sushi rolls would be chef's choice, but we had spied a couple of rolls on the menu that we wanted to try and so substituted them in our combo. The aptly named Joy ($11) is basically a California roll (crab, avocado, cucumber) with torched salmon and crispy strands of potato chips on top; while the Caterpillar ($11) features eel, cucumber and crab, and is topped with slices of avocado, giving it the appearance of that many-legged insect. While sushi purists would most likely cringe at the liberties taken with the Joy roll, we found it to be both tasty and inventive. The potato chip bits provided a good textural counterpoint to the other ingredients, while also making for a really attractive presentation. With their intricate arrangement of avocado slices, Caterpillar rolls always are a treat to look at, and the Kampai version is no exception. Aesthetics aside, the avocado also provided a mild sweetness that nicely complemented the eel and crab within.

One of our comfort foods has long been seaweed salad, and we can't go to a Japanese restaurant without trying their version. The Kampai Seaweed Salad ($4) proved to be a solid, traditional take, with plenty of crunch and a mild seasoning of sesame and pepper.

There also are plenty of noodles on the Kampai bill of fare, and we sampled two: Soba ($11), thin spaghetti-like noodles made from buckwheat flour and served with a cold sauce; and Udon ($11), thick noodles served with a hot soy broth. While supremely simple on the surface, each dish was well-balanced, and the noodles had just the right amount of 'give,' without being overly chewy or sticky.

In addition to all of the dinner selections, Kampai also has a lunch menu featuring bento boxes and smaller portions of some of the dinner items. Delivery is available, as well. The restaurant also opened a second location in Chesterfield not too long ago to make it easier for West County denizens to get in on the deliciousness.

--Kampai Sushi Bar, 4949 West Pine Blvd., 367-2020, kampaistl.com.

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