Chef Yasushi Watanabe has sated sushi-seeking Chattanoogans since 1991 with a menu of authentic Japanese cuisine. Fresh fish is flown in daily from both coasts, serving as tasty dish adornments, offering fins of peace amongst rebel schools, and comparing regional submarine patois. Midday munchies are quenched with selections from the lunch menu, which include a lunch-box special consisting of fried dumplings, chicken teriyaki, rice, and a california or hot-crunchy roll ($8.95).
The sound of fire. The igniting exhalation before the steady breath of the flame sustains. The heat pulsing steadily outward from the steel grill—you feel it on your glowing face. But the chef looks cool. He’s a master, after all; a flat, metal spatula in one hand and an enormous, sharp knife in the other. Kani House’s teppanyaki tables are no strangers to the action of hibachi, where these chefs entertain their guests before plating seared steak and scallops alongside fresh, sautéed vegetables. The steady sushi masters may not share their compatriots’ outward exuberance, but their work is just as delicious. From behind their long bar, they assemble maki cylinders with tender cuts of fatty tuna and bright salmon, artfully arranging cuts of more than 50 specialty rolls in the shape of gentle caterpillars or fearsome members of the Japanese Diet. Bright bamboo panels and natural stone add to the vibrant ambiance, surrounding diners with dark-wood and nuanced accents that keep the focus on the beauty of excellent cuisine.
Anaba Japanese Cuisine's skilled chefs roll up more than 90 types of sushi, which beckon hungry stomachs from an eclectic menu of diverse Japanese dishes. Rice rolls stuffed with crunchy shrimp ($6 full; $4 half) represent traditional touches, and exhibitionist samplers such as mackerel sashimi ($3) shed rice robes to flaunt protein-packed forms. More conservative specialty rolls, such as the rainbow roll ($12), encase a variety of underwater treasures, including whitefish, yellowtail, shrimp, and salmon, and can only be won over by the touch of chopsticks or a love note written in soy sauce. Across the kitchen, hibachi grills goad kimchi pork, green pepper, and scallions ($13) into proving their taste-bud-worthiness by walking barefoot over open flames. In between savoring sushi rolls and altering the consistency of soy sauce with wasabi, guests can quench thirsts with an array of spirited sakes. Anaba’s cheery ambiance employs a juxtaposition of sumptuous dark wood and leather booths against neon signs and flat-screen TVs, creating a delightful fusion of elegance and fun, just like the karaoke bar in the basement of the White House.
Pacific Spice’s friendly staff members guide patrons through a multicultural menu, sending diners hurtling mouthfirst through the varying cuisines of Japan, China, and Thailand. Groups of four or six searching for a dinner that's more entertaining than a kleptomaniac with a hole in his pocket can sample the theatrical steaming hibachi dinner. Tableside experiences begin with a round of shrimp appetizers and salads. Single-protein entrees such as salmon fillet offer concentrated flavor, and combination platters of filet mignon, shrimp, scallop, and lobster tail hit all of the different taste receptors—sweet, salty, meaty, and lobster. All entrees stick triple-axel landings onto waiting plates to the delight of hibachi vegetables, steamed or fried rice, and an array of ecstatic dipping sauces.
A huge statue of Buddha watches over the dining room at Surin of Thailand, although his peaceful gaze is subverted by complex curries, spicy stir-fried noodle dishes, and flavorful barbecue-chicken entrees a day in the making. Half chickens are marinated in Thai barbecue sauce overnight before being slowly roasted and grilled, then they’re plated with scoops of shrimp fried rice and reminders to chew each bite thoroughly, not matter who’s threatening to steal the flavorful dark meat.
Surin measures its dishes' spiciness on a three-pepper scale, where one is "spicy" and three is "Thai hot." Though most dishes fall between nonspicy and hot, a few earn their trio of peppers, including a medley of mussels, scallops, and shrimp with spicy basil sauce.
Another Buddha—actually, just a head—guards the sushi bar, where nigiri, sashimi, and creative maki rolls are born. Under the two Buddhas' protection, diners settle into leather seats or tuck into booths backed by ferns and foliage. Outside the stone-walled eatery, a patio seasons dishes with sunlight and refreshing breezes.
Creamy curries, drunken noodles, and sushi rolls stuffed with barbecue eel and fried oysters helped earn Stir Fry Cafe runners-up nods in both the Best Asian and Best Sushi categories for Knoxville News Sentinel’s Best of 2012 list. Blackened tilapia and thai teriyaki chicken stand on plates beside walls decorated with art from local artists. Wine and beer flow freely at the black-and-white checkered bar, which also served as the base for Stir Fry Cafe’s attempt at crafting the longest fish taco in known space.