By Gary Nager

Long-time readers surely recognize at least two things about my dining reviews — #1) I prefer mom-and-pop restaurants to any sort of chain eatery and #2) perhaps my biggest complaint is about having too many of certain types of restaurants and not enough of some others. For example, although we have quite a few very good-to-great pizza places, we don’t really have even a non-chain Italian restaurant anywhere in New Tampa or Wesley Chapel.

But, what we do have is quite a few outstanding Asian restaurants, many of which serve delicious sushi.

So, why am I (and my entire staff) so excited about the new Sushi Café, located next to Panera Bread on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd., in The Walk at Highwoods Preserve plaza?

First of all, general manager Kevin Noin, who has run both successful Japanese and non-Asian restaurants in Orlando and Miami, found a “perfect” location for an elegant, but very affordable, traditional Japanese restaurant and sushi bar in our area. His Sushi Café features truly wonderful sushi and Japanese fare at prices well below those found at the Japanese steakhouses in New Tampa or Wesley Chapel.

Our office staff already has enjoyed a wide variety of the Café’s unique sushi rolls, with great names like Monster, Pacific Fusion, Fantastic Spicy Tuna and Rock n’ Roll, and no one at the Neighborhood News who has sampled any of these rolls (I have loved all but those that contain shrimp, because I’m sadly allergic to it) has had anything but rave reviews for them.

And, Sushi Cafe’s seared tuna tataki and red snapper sashimi both rate high among my list of local favorites.

I was told that among the Cafe’s appetizers, the favorites are probably the gyoza (meat & veggie-filled dumplings), edamame (soybeans) and crab rangoon (which offers its own “special sauce”), but my favorite to date is the chicken & vegetable tempura, which also is available as an entrée.

Speaking of main courses, Sushi Café offers some unique choices as well. In the tradition of Spanish tapas and other “small plate” eateries, you can get delicious hibachi-grilled steak, chicken, shrimp, scallops or king salmon with your choice of Japanese fried or white rice, for just $6.50-$8! And the steak is served in tender, rectangular chunks to your desired temperature with a light, teriyaki-based sauce. While the tables themselves aren’t the “dinner & a show” teppanyaki tables you’ll find at a Japanese steakhouse, Sushi Café does have a hibachi grill in its kitchen. And the hibachi dishes are among not only our favorites, but of the months-old restaurant’s already growing list of regular customers. These small plates are available anytime, but before 3 p.m. daily, you can add soup, salad and sautéed veggies for just a dollar or two more. Even the orders of Japanese fried rice, with your choice of veggies, chicken, steak, shrimp or the house special combo are nicely priced ($7.25-$11).

The large plate hibachi meals ($11.95 for veggies only to $31.95 for a shrimp, scallop and lobster combo) offer everything from tofu to filet mignon and are well worth the price. My favorite so far is the teriyaki white fish (izumidai, $16.95)), which features thick, lightly floured fish in a deliciously different savory sauce. I also love the breaded and deep-fried chicken katsu main course.

Sushi Café also features decadent desserts, like fried tempura cheesecake and the new Mochi (pronounced “Moo-chee”) Japanese ice cream, as well as great Japanese (Asahi, Kirin, etc.) and other domestic and imported beers, hot sake and a variety of the very popular cold sakes. So, please tell the staff that the Wesley Chapel Neighborhood News sent you!

Sushi Café (18015 Highwoods Preserve Pkwy.) is open every day (at 11 a.m.) for lunch and dinner (until 10 p.m./ 11 p.m. on Fri. & Sat. For reservations & more info, call 977-7800 or visit

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