Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Daruma Japanese Steak & Seafood Restaurant Rocks!

I’ve been to Daruma at least 10 times over the past 15 years, and can’t believe I’ve not yet written a review on the Daruma experience! Until this visit, each time it’s been at the teppan tables, celebrating birthdays, and just fun occasions as friends get together and have a laugh and a great meal.
Usually when I visit, I sit with a group of friends at a teppan table to the right, or straight ahead. The view from the teppan room to the right overlooks the entrance and the koi pond.
The teppan-style chefs at their hot plate have amazing dexterity and showmanship, cooking up chicken, shrimp, scallops, NY strip, filet mignon and Chilean sea bass right in front of you! Prices range form $23.50 for shrimp and chicken up to $34 for lobster and filet mignon. Children’s entrees are $13 to $18. The meals are more than filling, as the price includes clear soup, green salad, shrimp flambé, stir fried vegetables, Japanese steamed rice and green tea. Some even get appetizers! This is ideal for a birthday or family get-together, as you can have 4 adults to perhaps as many as fourteen teens around a single festive table.
 The chef explains what he is doing, and is amazing how he tosses food, forks, knives and jokes in the air, and all comes down safe and sound! There’s a Birthday Club Bonus-sign up by email and get a $10 off any entrée on your big day.
This time, for the first time, may guest and I sat at a regular table in the dining room to the far right as you enter, quickly greeted and walked past and waving to a familiar cutlery tossing chef. Turns out, he’d been there since Mr. Chang started Daruma, over 20 years ago.
 One server later told me there’s little turnover among staff-a very good sign for diners. There’s a small fish tank on one side, ad the sushi bar on the other side. The softly playing Japanese music reminds me of being in a Japanese Noh or Kabuki theater- much preferable to Muzak.

The light level is quite low, and several flashlights are standard on each table-works just fine for me. Mr. Chang put careful thought into not just the food and attentive service, but the décor, creating a very harmonious relaxing atmosphere. I like to start with sharing a porcelain container of warm sake ($7) for two, or try one of the Ichiban or Asahi beers, or cold sake.

My guest liked her Ramsay Pinot Noir ($10.50 /glass.) there’s no shortage of mixed drinks that come in a souvenir container. Plum wine is good with dessert.

There’s a very wide choice of good sized appetizers ($7-11) that include gyoza, tempura shrimp, oysters and vegetables, escargot Nippon, soft shell crab, beef mu shu and lobster crab cakes. Are you a light eater? There’s about fifteen petite entrees, including duck breast, NY strip steak, salmon teriyaki and vegetarian dinners. These come with miso soup and a salad.

We started with the Lobster volcano ($12), Mr. Chang’s sextet of cleverly designed tastes and textures. The base is a crab roll slice, topped with an orange mound of chunks of lobster lightly marinated with garlic, onions and scallops, then baked.
The mounds are sprinkled with crunchy tobiko caviar and served. Each is two bites for a small mouth, or one bite for a larger mouth. The mound of warm lobster is a delight, with a surprising slight crunch to it from the onion and scallions, and a mild heat from perhaps a drop or two of sriracha sauce.
I didn’t expect much lobster, and was happily surprised to see the chunks. The crab roll base has its own texture ad different taste-the combination shows that someone put a lot of time into crafting this marriage of tastes, textures and light spices. Recommended! Oh, what’s with the volcano in the name?
When it arrives, you'll always remember this dish!
Our server suggested the attractively plated traditional Negamaki appetizer ($9) with eight diagonal cut, thinly sliced tender rolls of beef tenderloin rolled over a core of crisp scallions, marinated in a light teriyaki sauce, and sprinkled with sesame seeds. A purple and white orchid accompanies this dish, and other dishes too.
 I wouldn’t have chosen the Negamaki from the description alone, and I’m glad we went with the recommendation. Served warm, the beef is tender and the marinade makes you want to sop it up. Do so, with fork or chopsticks, using the center garden green salad to bind the marinade. As your tongue hits the scallions, you may smile as we did-it’s a welcome surprise to have the crisp crunch and light earthy taste of the scallions as a counterpart to the savory thin beef. Each bite has a light crisp texture that is much appreciated. The subtle nature of the  low-salt teriyaki sauce lets the beef’s taste shine. Recommended for beef eaters!

The Sushi and Sashimi combination ($35) is a plentiful portion for two or three people. Super fresh and presented in an elegantly simple way, it’s as tasty as if I’d been eating it at a top Tokyo spot. (Been there, enjoyed that, and have eaten super fresh seafood at the huge Tokyo Tsukiji Market too).
By the way, sushi is completely cooked seafood, and sashimi is raw fish, carefully examined at Daruma by chefs with years of experience.
Our large sushi-sashimi combo dinner had tuna, yellow tail, octopus, white tuna, salmon, shrimp, eel, and a tuna roll and California roll. The tobiko topped California roll has rice enclosing a core of nori- wrapped surimi-crab and avocado, with a hint of wasabi.
Avocado gives a delicious mouth feel! The tuna roll is good and fresh. The octopus and shrimp are lightly steamed. Though thoroughly cooked, they are tender and not rubbery. The salmon tastes as if it is from the fish’s belly, not the back-it is smooth, sexy and luscious.
My favorite sashimi is the oh-so-tender, almost buttery texture of white tuna, and I was Very happy with ours! The quality of the cooked eel and its sweet sauce is how I gauge a sushi/sashimi restaurant-if this is tender with a good sauce, then everything else will be very good too.
If the eel is fatty, stringy with excess skin, or the sauce isn’t right, I’ll pay and leave. Same thing goes if I can detect a fishy smell in any of the seafood. Simple as that. Many spots serve varying quality of sushi and sashimi- it’s at several Italian restaurants, Publix, and quite a few other non-Japanese locations. You get my drift. This combination of sushi and sashimi is recommended, and perfect for one who’s never had sushi or sashimi to start on. Later you may move my favorite uni- sea urchin eggs! A hint-let the sushi sit a little while and start on something else. Why? You can only  fully appreciate the delicate layers of taste and textures as is comes to room temperature from refrigerator temperature! This is not a wine that’s better when chilled. I prefer my sushi with just a hint of soy-it accents, and does not steal the show that way.
A Combo in a Take Home Box
To top it off, we ordered the $27 Filet mignon and shrimp tempura combination box. This, like all dinners, includes a delicate miso soup and fresh salad with a light dressing. The beautifully lacquered red and black bento box is an old Japanese serving tradition, a lunch box that dates back over 800 years. It has rice, fish or meat, and a pickled fruit or vegetable. I chose the shrimp tempura instead of the shrimp teriyaki to see how Daruma handled tempura. The box arrived well paced from our prior dish, and all was hot.
The shrimp tempura was my favorite part-the shrimp, with the lightest of panko batter, is surprisingly light with a very crisp panko crunch. We made fast work of those delights. The choice Black Angus filet mignon is so tender; we very much like its somewhat thicker teriyaki sauce. I asked for fried rice instead of white rice. That’s highly recommended, as the crunch of the kernels of corn, the savory cooked egg, onion green peas and carrots stir fried with a touch of soy sauce makes a rice that’s much tastier than the usual fried rice at other Asian spots. The veggies are lightly steamed, still crisp broccoli and cauliflower with Mr. Chang’s light lemony secret sauce. A treat is the Japanese cucumber, thinly sliced and marinated in vinegar and perhaps a little soy sauce and sesame oil. It’s more delicate than conventional pickles. If you prefer cooked familiar foods instead of sushi, the bento box combinations are for you. Select from Chilean sea bass, lobster, scallops, cod and chicken.

We didn’t have room for dessert. Truth be told, we waned to try a variety of things, and ordered knowing we’d take home much of our treats, as the portions are generous.

So there you have it. After eating many times at Daruma over fifteen years, just like eating at an old chef-friend’s home, I finally get around to the sushi and sashimi side instead of my tried and true teppan side, and write my experience. As I write this the day after, I’m savoring each and every morsel!

241 Center Street (just off Vanderbilt, almost across from the Ritz-Carlton’s street), Naples, 591-1200,

**Visit the new Daruma at Fort Myers' Bell Tower Shops by Saks and across from Bistro 41.
13499 S Cleveland Ave Ste 131, Fort Myers, 344-0037.


Anonymous said...

The Fort Myers Daruma is beautiful. Great sushi bar and we had a great time eating at the bar two weeks ago.

I always think of teppanaki places as a venue for children's birthdays, but there were several business dinners the night we were there.

It has a great location near Saks and Bistro 41 at Bell Tower. Just fyi, LilMsFoodie

Ivan Seligman said...


Glad to hear the new outpost is beautiful and food is great.

What's nice is it gives a "Vitamin B12" shot to Bell Tower shops, adding a draw to families, friends, and business meetings. I'm so glad it was Daruma moving in, and wasn't another Pizza spot in that slot, as has been happening to Naples 5th Ave South.

I like Gracie's Cup Cakes next door-she turns out the best ones in Naples.