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The grilled entrées turned out to be very good. The beef was surprisingly tender, and the scallops were plump and expertly prepared. While waiting for the meat, we sampled one of Wasahi's signature rolls, a culinary tribute to the late Princess Diana — or Princess "Diana," as the menu reads. I wonder how the former Princess of Wales would have liked this combination of white tuna, dipped in tempura batter and fried, then rolled up with crab — maybe the real thing because the fake crustacean is called "crab stick" here — and topped with sheaths of raw white tuna. It was pretty tasty but not fit for a queen. At least not the ones at our table.
On my second visit, I took sushi-loving Berry and David to Wasahi for lunch. We had set out to have an all-raw experience, though we did share a couple of fish-free starters: a pile of limp edamame and a basket of unremarkable battered vegetable tempura. Country music played over the sound system, and it was a lot bouncier and more upbeat than the glum serving staff. We wondered if our presence was actually annoying the two waitresses. There were only a few other diners in the joint. There looked to be a lot more action in the St. Jude's Thrift Store next door.
The miso soup that came out with the tempura was pretty tasty but not so hot. The tako nigiri — a milky white ribbon of octopus draped over a pad of rice — was very tender and very good. The makimono rolls that we shared were visually pleasing and emotionally satisfying, particularly the 913 roll, named for the Kansas area code, I guess. (I didn't see an 816 version on the menu.) The slices of this spicy shrimp roll are served dripping with a creamy hot sauce. "It's mayonnaise and hot sauce," the sushi chef yelled from behind the counter.
A more striking roll was the "Rock N Roll," with flash-fried salmon and tuna in tempura batter, rolled around that deceptively named "crab stick" and sheathed in a bright-yellow soybean wrapper. It isn't the Led Zeppelin of sushi, but it's worth an encore.
That crab stick, which sounds vaguely erotic but has no such effect, is the central ingredient of several Wasahi rolls, including the cream-cheese-filled Red Devil. Putting the Philly into sushi is pretty American, but the creaminess doesn't hurt when the rest of the roll is cucumber, avocado and smelt roe. It's more hodgepodge than devil, but Wasahi gets points for the fleshy strips of fresh, ruby-colored tuna perched atop each slice.
All in all, I didn't quite understand Wasahi's reputed popularity. Then the bill arrived. Sushi at a trendier place in Kansas City would have cost at least twice as much (without being twice as good). In fact, I did a little price comparison between Wasahi and several of the local new, unrelentingly hip sushi venues, and I found a big difference in price. Is it worth paying more to dine in more stylish settings with better music, more attentive service and without the drive to Gladstone? Some will say yes, but my wallet just isn't buying it.
Wasahi may not be a real word, but the concept that drives the restaurant is real: Someone has to be the Wal-Mart of local sushi vendors, and I'm happy it's Wasahi.