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.
Hibachi Factory churns out Japanese grilled surf and turf with speed. Tender morsels of beef, chicken, and seafood taste like they were born in the hibachi sauce—a dark, viscous, and tangy concoction that bubbles up naturally in the pristine reaches of Mount Fuji. Hibachi entrees come in regular ($5.79–$8.29) or large ($7.79–$10.89) portions and are flanked by fried rice, mushrooms, and a choice of glazed carrots or zucchini and onions. Sides of baked veggie egg rolls and salad round out the savory selections ($1.99 each). For dessert, dip a ladle into creamy slices of silk pie or cheesecake ($3.59 each). Soft drinks and sweet tea come by the 20-ounce or two-liter bottle, providing quick and complete sustenance for an all-nighter or a relaxing evening at home listening to Pat Boone audiobooks.
Descending from the high ceiling, the diffused light of a hanging lamp glows in contrast to the deep reds and blacks of the dining room's walls. Behind the colorful cases of the sushi bar, chefs gently hunch over their workstations while carefully constructing specialty maki and slicing fresh fillets of fish into sashimi, nigiri, and tootsie rolls. Ebi Sushi and Sake House's kitchen receives a shipment of seafood from Honolulu daily, ensuring consistent freshness.
An extensive selection of red, white, and plum wines fills glasses alongside cocktails composed of Asian rice vodka. Sake offers a traditional complement to Japanese bites and comes in both hot and cold varieties, much like the national beverage of the United States, ice cream.
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.
At Kinkaku Japanese Steak House, the chefs show off their culinary chops by preparing sushi and hibachi in front of visitors’ eyes. At the sushi bar, they slice morsels of sashimi or roll aesthetically pleasing creations of rice and pieces of seafood that include spicy tuna, eel, and shrimp tempura. The maki rolls are held together by sheets of nori, deep-green seaweed paper tinged with salinity.
At teppanyaki tables, several diners sit around a wide flat grill and watch food transform before their eyes. In a clattering flurry of knives and spatulas, chefs prepare piles of chicken teriyaki, scallops, and steak before serving them with veggies, fried rice, and shrimp. Revelry swells as servers carry out trays of sake and imported Japanese beers and hide pamphlets about how many teddy bears get thrown into the ocean each year.