Clockwise from left: assorted sashimi, seafood pancake and the deep fried toro tataki. Photo by Michael A. Foley/Rycus Assoc.
Tora is the newest entry in a burgeoning restaurant category: sushi-bar Japanese plus Korean plus Pan-Asian. Or, neo-Japanese, which is the best I can do for now. (Perhaps our readers can come up with a better moniker.)
There are at least a dozen such places in Columbus, most of them good. This one is better than good. The menu is lengthy, as it is at all these places because they cover a lot of culinary ground. Tora’s is especially long. In three visits (two dinner, one lunch), I could hardly make a dent.
This was partly because I had to have some items twice, such as the wonderful seafood pancake. The large, flat and crisply sautéed rice flour pancake was flavored with soy and scallions and stuffed with bits of tender octopus, scallop and shrimp. It also came with a tangy soy and rice vinegar dipping sauce. Delicious.
Fundamentally, however, Tora, just south of Morse Road on North Hamilton Road, across from Stoneridge Plaza, is a sushi bar, and a fine one at that. On each of my visits, I sampled sushi and sashimi and was never disappointed. Of course, there were myriad permutations of rolls—California, shrimp tempura, salmon skin, futo maki etc.—and the handful I sampled were good.
A better test of the quality of the place was sashimi—fish, or seafood, mostly in its raw state, where selection, freshness and care of handling are paramount. I sampled tuna, toro (fatty tuna), hamachi, charred tuna, saba (mackerel), shrimp and tako (briefly cooked octopus). I am happy to report that the sashimi here was first-rate. Ditto nigiri-sushi, in which a thumb of rice was topped with fish or seafood.
The rest of the menu was all over the place. Here are the categories: cold appetizers, hot appetizers, salads, soups, pastas, Japanese pastas, cold noodles, steaks, seafood, stone pots, boxes, vegetables, chops, chicken and desserts! Rather than try to describe it generally, here are the things (in addition to the seafood pancake) I either had, or wanted to have, more than once.
• Avocado salad was refreshing—slices of the fruit in a semicircle with a dollop of bright green seaweed salad in the middle.
• Toro tataki was slices of fatty tuna lightly coated and briefly deep fried, so that the interior retained its raw richness, enhanced by the crust and lightly cooked exterior. It came with a sweet, slightly spicy chili sauce, which was like A1 with good steak—unnecessary, but interesting every few bites.
• On the Korean side, the stone pot of beef bulgogi was very good, in its mildly spicy and salty sauce. The stone pot method of cooking kept the food hot, and the best part was the rice crisped on the sides of the bowl.
• There was a good strip steak, but if you’re OK with fat, better yet was the braised little chunk of barbecue pork belly in a butter teriyaki sauce. Rich for sure, but darn tasty.
• File this under “What’s This Doing on the Menu?”: a fettuccine alfredo. It was only fine (and I didn’t want it more than once).
• Desserts ranged from ice cream to banana fritters to a brownie with ice cream. In particular, the crème brûlée with fresh raspberries was quite good.
I can’t imagine the place maintaining a high quality in its preparation with a menu of this size—but so far, at least, so good. Tora’s website, by the way, is as first-rate as its sashimi. Check it out.
1330 N. Hamilton Rd.
Atmosphere: Open, clean and simple.
Recommended dishes: Seafood pancake, sushi, sashimi, rolls, avocado salad, toro tataki, beef bulgogi, strip steak, barbecue pork belly, crème brûlée.
Price range: Hard to calculate since there are so many variations available. Best guess for dinner is $15 to $30.
Hours: Monday through Friday lunch 11:30 am to 2:30 pm, Monday through Thursday dinner 5 to 10 pm, Friday dinner till 11 pm, Saturday noon to 11 pm, Sunday till 9 pm.
Rating: *** 1⁄2