Holy Moley! my go-to Thai spot has been their original restaurant, Fuji Sushi Bar & Asian Bistro (by the Hollywood Theaters at 6355 Naples Blvd., #7, 593-5550) for years. Now, new Araya Sushi Asian Grill is a touch more enjoyable, because of it's casual-elegant dining decor, larger size, and expanded menu. The food is super fresh, delicious, and each plate is pretty as a picture. From colorful appetizers to the amazing banana in fried wonton with green tea ice cream, this is one of SW Florida's top Asian restaurants. I will be back again!
Araya debuted in June, at the back right (southwest) corner of the Uptown Center just East of Sam's on Immokalee Road. It's next to CiCi's Pizza, where Dunkin donuts was. Chef Jon and On Augsondthung have kicked the setting up a notch from Fuji, keeping the food quality and service high.
The earth toned and orchid decorated interior has clean sleek lines. The sushi bar is on your left, wooden tables center, and tan demi booths to your right.
Oh, back up a second...Before you arrive, check their Facebook page to see what freebies or specials may be tonight's bonus baby. We enjoyed the order of two skewered yakitori meatballs dipped in freshly made Thai dipping sauce.
The slightly chewy balls were a good start. We wish we had more people with us to try more dishes during the night. There are happy hour drink and food specials from 3- 6 pm, with $2 yakitori, $5 small dishes and $7 selections, such as crispy calamari, salmon avocado roll and shrimp tempura rolls, with $3 16 oz draft beer, $5 wine and $7 large hot sake. Nice!
While we came for dinner, not lunch, we heard that lunch is a "steal" with the $8.95 specials served with an appetizer, and soup or salad, from 11 am to 3 pm daily. There's pad Thai, chicken cashew nuts, country basil chicken, and for a few dollars more, grilled salmon with teriyaki sauce, rice and vegetables.
I am very fond of authentic Thai cooking, and one of my companions, an amateur Thai cook, visits Thailand several times a year, trying traditional and cutting edge restaurants alike.
We started with a spicy Picante roll ($12) with tuna, scallions, tempura flakes, masago topped with avocado and a moderately hot spicy Sambal sauce, moderately hot jalapeno slices and Japanese pepper. It's an ample meal for one.
We were happy with the medium (high for some) level of spiciness that met the description of "picante." the menu lists a over 40 different rolls, from mango tango with shrimp, red devil with tuna and eel, hot lava and sex on the beach's tuna whitefish and asparagus, to spicy tuna loco, rainbow dragon's shrimp tempura with white fish and salmon, and blue crab with spicy mayo.
There's no shortage of sushi and sashimi alone or in a variety of bento boxes or boats. Check the website for the long list.
Tuna nachos are a new dish that's a play on Mexican food, with a generous portion of cubed tuna, diced avocado and crisp wakame atop freshly fried wontons.
Hamachi carpaccio ($13) is a generous portion of Japanese yellowtail fish, with jalapeno and cilantro on the side over string cut carrots, with a sweetly tart yuzu ponzu sauce.
Highly recommended for sashimi lovers.
The lychee duck curry ($22) was my evening's most filling and favorite entree.
A practically fat- free half duck is served with skin perfectly crisped, over a large portion of freshly plucked local lychees, heirloom tomatoes red and green bell peppers and basil leaves in a fragrant spiced curry. It's enough for two people! Highly recommended.
We were getting full and still wanted to order more.
Much like at the suchi bar, the chef offered to make a small tasting plate combining two shrimp dishes (the photos are of the much smaller tasting portions-a normal order comes with five or six shrimp).
One diner wanted the coconut shrimp- it features plump shrimp lightly battered with coconut, deep fried and served with a wonderful pineapple plum sauce.
I almost never order coconut shrimp as most restaurants serve small shrimp with a gooey thick floury batter. Not Araya's coconut shrimp! Highly recommended.
The other shrimp has the California roll type volcano mild spicy topping, with the shrimp perched atop a delicious piped sauce.
We rested for a while, chatted then were ready for the piece de resistance-the banana Rangoons ($6)!
Tricornered wontons are lightly filled with banana slices, lightly fried and honey dipped, served with a huge scoop of green tea ice cream, fresh fruit and a light sprinkle of cinnamon-confectioner's sugar. The banana wontons are crisp, sweet, and luscious! Highly recommended.
2650 Immokalee Road, Naples, 593-3344, www.arayanaples.com