Japanese and Thai cuisines share table space within the romantically-lit dining room of Aozora Restaurant. Plates of fresh sushi sporting bites of white tuna or giant clam sit next to steaming plates of pad thai or thai red curry. At one of the restaurant's hibachi tables, a large hibachi grill sizzles hunks of Angus steak or lobster tail. The space includes a large dining room and sushi bar, a separate hibachi room, and a separate private party room.
Galangal sweeps taste buds off on a sensory tour of Southeast Asia with an exquisitely aromatic menu of rich Thai specialties and fresh Japanese sushi platters. Patrons embark on exploratory dinners under the benevolent smile of a bronze-colored Buddha, savoring the Golden Bag ($6), crispy dumpling skins bear-hugging a tender mix of puréed yam and minced pork. Under the lush light of sconces twinkling from exposed-stone walls, the exotic Mango Basket rice crepe bowl ($15) glows as it pampers herbivorous palates with morsels of shredded mango frolicking harmoniously with baby corn and mushrooms. Eager forks reel spicy pad kee mao drunken noodles ($18) from an ocean teeming with mixed seafood, bell pepper, and eggplant. While diners linger at glossy black tables to the sound of the restaurant's babbling waterfall, skilled chefs behind the sushi bar nimbly twist up a rainbow's worth of bright specialty rolls, including spicy coils of mango and fresh lobster in soybean paper ($15) and a kaleidoscopic array of à la carte sushi bites ($3–$5). Luscious desserts including nirvanic bites of ice cream melting over fried bananas ($7) finally reward sweet teeth for patiently waiting through the night's savories.
Shiny golden spheres congregate by a cozy fireplace inside Arata Sushi's dining room. Though they're attached to the wall, they seem to drift across space like tiny suns or undersea bubbles. Perhaps they're an homage to the fish that comprise the restaurant's colorful sushi lineup, which the Courier-Journal has dubbed "highly imaginative." In the kitchen, chefs whorl fresh seafood with rice and veggies to form more than 45 types of maki. Several rolls, such as the Cardinal, showcase fruits such as kiwis and strawberries alongside savory ingredients such as fried shrimp and cream cheese. At the bar, diners can sip wine and sake while watching the chefs slice bright-orange salmon and tuna as red as a comet wearing a clown nose.
Set inside a small, charming brick building, Meridian Kitchen serves Asian and Italian fusion cuisine under the guidance of its chef, Gary Lanza. Lanza was introduced to the kitchen at a young age, when he stood on milk crates to fry calamari at his family's Italian restaurant in Greenvale.
His talents create an eclectic spread of dishes that include elaborate sushi rolls, pastas, and pizzas. Small sushi-bar plates, such as a spicy blackened-tuna taco, can preface peppercorn-encrusted skirt steaks or burgers laden with double-crème brie and sautéed onions.
Inside the 40-seat dining room, conversations bubble beneath circular chandeliers inlaid with faux candles that cast romantic soft light upon tables and food. Tall palms sprout at either end of the sushi bar, where patrons perch on high stools while watching the chefs perform their magic, pulling fish out of hats. For those who can't stay, Meridian to Go next door serves up entrees, paninis, and salads to be eaten elsewhere.
Chef Aron Li is picky about the fish that goes into his sushi, favoring the cuts of Scottish salmon and fresh tuna from local japanese markets. The skilled sushi chef folds lobster, Alaskan king crab, and caviar into a sweeping variety of both traditional and inventive rolls and tops them off with imaginative ingredients such as fresh mango and wasabi mayo. As Aron slices, chef Yu San captains the grills, where he sizzles up tender morsels of steak, chicken, and red snapper for the teriyaki and hibachi-style dinners lauded by reporters from Newsday. To craft his specialty black cod, the expert chef grills fresh cod and mixed vegetables in a savory miso sauce. Come lunchtime, he turns his attention to lighter dishes, adorning crispy mushroom salads in healthy dressing and tying hibachi steaks to helium balloons.
Guests perch at tabletops and in traditional Japanese booths in the sleek dining room and sip premium sake and fruity cocktails. Soft lights dangle from the ceiling, bathing the stone-tiled walls in a warm glow.