Rolling Success - Akai Hana

1173 Old Henderson Rd. 614-451-5411

WHAT: 
Considered by many to be Columbus’ best sushi joint, longtime residents of the city probably remember Akai Hana better under its former name, Restaurant Japan. The restaurant typifies a gathering place for families—Asian, American or otherwise—and has something for everybody. The service is welcoming, hardly intimidating, and if raw fish just isn’t your thing, that won’t be a problem because Akai Hana caters to all preferences. But if you are indeed a sushi lover, welcome to paradise: The sushi chefs at Akai Hana serve all of the traditional rolls, but have also created originals for the city of Columbus, like the Buckeye Roll, which you won’t find anywhere else. 

WHO: 
Owner Takashi “Tony” Takenaka opened the restaurant in 1986 and owns several other shops in the area, including the Asian grocery store that faces the restaurant. The sushi chefs are highly skilled and professionally trained with decades of experience under their belts. It’s easy to tell the staff has been working together for years—personable and attentive, you can’t help but feel you’re in good hands. 

WHERE: 
Located a mere five miles from The Ohio State University’s main campus, Akai Hana is a gem on Old Henderson Rd. You’ll know you’ve found the right place as the aroma of Japanese food 
greets you while walking through the parking lot. The soft lighting and elegance of the demure architecture give you the impression of being a little bit closer to Japan—even though you haven’t left Ohio. The restaurant’s main entrance faces Tensuke Market, a Japanese grocery store that carries fresh fish, produce and other Asian goods. 

WHEN: 
Expect the freshest ingredients any day of the week—fish is flown in from New York City or Baltimore every other day. In fact, the head kitchen chef claims it is the freshest fish in Columbus. With seven days of service a week, there are few excuses as to why you can’t drop by Akai Hana. But if you happen to stop 
by when they’re closed between lunch and dinner, stroll across the sidewalk to Tensuke Market or the other Asian shops in the area. 

THE TEST: 
Akaihana’s chefs had our full attention as they gave us a culinary performance. Korean dishes and sushi platters had us reaching across the table and eating family style, enjoying everything as if it were a mad rush. That’s exactly how the management wants it to be—a family restaurant that mitigates the intimidation factor of raw fish by providing a little something for every taste, all in a comfortable environment. 

We began our meal with two plates of tempura: vegetable and shrimp. Akai Hana’s tempura is as quality tempura should be: lightly battered and exceptionally crisp. A delicious plate of sautéed scallops and a dish of Negima Yaki, sautéed beef wrapped around scallions, two well-paired flavors, completed our sample of the appetizers. 

Next, we moved on to a series of entrées, starting with the Seafood Stone Bibim Bap, one of eight Korean dishes on the menu. The Bibim Bap is cooked and served in a large iron pot brimming with various Asian mountain vegetables, bean sprouts, cucumbers, noodles, and seafood, served with rice and a spicy sauce. The Suki Yaki was also served to us in an iron pot, containing beef ribeye, vegetables, tofu and noodles. These two traditional dishes lend themselves to sharing—so even though you might want to, don’t hog it all. We sampled the warm and comforting Sansai Soba: buckwheat 

THREE TO TRY: 
Akai Hana’s menu is stacked with over  100 Japanese and Korean items. Keep this triple-header in mind if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed: start with  the Shrimp Tempura as a light appetizer; then take on the Seafood Bibim Bap, a Korean dish; and top it off with the Power Up Roll, an Akai Hana original. 
noodles cooked in broth, topped with spinach, mushrooms, scallions and other Japanese vegetables. 

And then began our conquest of Akai Hana’s sushi menu that we had been anticipating all day. We warmed up with the Harvest Roll, which is wrapped in a soybean based sheet, rather than nori. It’s filled with fall flavors; like sweet potato, Japanese pumpkin and tofu; and topped with a miso dressing, but the creativity didn’t stop at choice of ingredients—the sushi chef arranged the roll in the shape of a dragon’s face. Next was the Buckeye Roll, filled with sweet potato and cream cheese, topped with barbequed eel and lightly drizzled with sweet BBQ sauce. 

We later dug into the Sushi and Sashimi Combo a platter consisting of nigiri, various sashimi, and a tuna roll. The Green Hornet Roll followed, filled with spicy tuna and covered with flying fish roe and fresh sliced jalapenos. After a 15-minute breather, we were digging into the Spider Roll, soft shell crab with spicy mayonnaise. The Power Up Roll was next, also an original creation that exemplified the sushi chef’s amazing talent. Filled with asparagus, tempura, eel, avocado and flying fish roe, don’t let this roll intimidate you—it’s a definite must-have. 

We filled up on two spicy rolls before calling it a day. The Dynamite Roll is filled with soft shell crab and calamari and is doused in explosively spicy mayonnaise. The Spicy Scallop Roll consists of scallops, also tossed in spicy mayonnaise, then baked with chili peppers. Akai Hana has certainly captured the attention of their guests with this roll, which is the most popular ordered.