Talk Springfield sushi and odds are, the name Haruno will come up.
We've been known to haunt the hip cocktail lounge, Haruno Next Door, connected to the main restaurant, Haruno Japanese Sushi Bar & Grill, by a hallway just narrow enough to allow a steady stream of customers past the small jazz band that plays on weekends. We tend to order sample after sample of their rolls, appetizers, and nigiri (thin slices of seafood over a bite-size oval of rice).
When we ventured into the main restaurant one Friday evening, we went for a different type of experience.
There are a lot of similarities; the menu (of course), the low hum of nearby conversations in a busy venue, a genuine, helpful service staff that doesn't rush or seem to mind if you linger too long over your decision on the next course. The contrasts are in the elements Haruno is quiet earth tones, wood floors, potted bamboo; Haruno Next Door is bustling, urban, metallic.
We also wanted a slower-paced, more organized progression from appetizer to entree to dessert; versus our typical, self-inflicted, random ordering, where a refreshing favorite like the cucumber and octopus salad ($4.50) may arrive somewhere close to the end of a meal. The main dining room seemed like the perfect place for such an experience.
We had to have two appetizers (though in reality, we wanted all of them, especially the gyoza, pan-seared pork dumplings, $4.50; goroke, breaded mashed potato patties, $3.50; and the beef sashimi, $6.50). We finally decided on the soft shell crab tempura ($6.50) and, for a sushi fix, the TNT Roll ($4.50).
I loved the light tempura batter and the soft crunch of the crab appetizer; my boyfriend preferred the extreme, almost overpowering, spiciness that came from the hot chili sauce topping on the green mussel and crab roll.
It was the last taste of Haruno's fantastic sushi we had that night, but past experiences have given us a long list of favorites. For rolls, we tend to skip the Sex and the City roll ($8.95), which was a preference a year or two ago but seems to have become a bit bland in recent trials, either from a change in preparation or, perhaps, it's simply a reflection of our own inclination to branch out. Still, the Dragon Ball ($4.50), a deep fried spicy tuna ball, remains a top choice, as does the nigiri the eel ($3.95), the yellowtail ($4.50), the toro, or fatty tuna (market price). Often, we leave the selection of six pieces of nigiri up to the chef, with the sushiman's choice ($11.50).
This time, we selected full entrees, which come with an extraordinary miso soup and a more standard house salad; both arrived at our table at the same time, shortly after we'd finished our appetizers.
My boyfriend's beef teriyaki ($14.95), served with rice, fried potatoes and mixed vegetables, was so nicely prepared, he claimed there was no need for the extra side of teriyaki sauce that came with it. I, too, had nothing but praise for the grilled, teriyaki-glazed eel and shrimp tempura combo ($19.50) I ordered.
The light, revitalizing, green tea ice cream ($3) we had for dessert was a perfect end to a filling meal. I'll make it a point to save room for this treat on future visits.
I think we'll also plan to spend more time in the main restaurant, and do a bit more exploring when it comes to the entrees (especially since we'd gotten a glimpse of a few planned additions, including garlic-infused sea bass, $20, and white tuna steak grilled with garlic and seven Japanese spices, $19).
And I know we'll continue to hit Haruno Next Door. Really, it's a great concept: two great environments, one fantastic menu.
Jennifer M. Muzinic is a foodie and freelance writer. Send comments or suggestions for reviews to breigel@News-Leader.com.