Restaurant review: Ampersand Asian Supper Club

G.A. Benton
Tonkotsu ramen

As restaurant names go, Ampersand Asian Supper Club is a mouthful. And most of the mouthfuls served at this idiosyncratic Short North establishment are delicious.

Another eatery from owner Megan Ada, who apparently has an interest in semiotics — she launched delightful Asterisk Supper Club in Westerville a couple years ago — Ampersand doesn’t take its symbol-referencing name lightly. Because the “&” logogram is consistent with the “and something more” aesthetic of this newcomer specializing in unconventionally enhanced takes on Japanese classics.

A similar aesthetic informs the trendy interior. As you might expect in a Japanese-centric eatery, wood is prevalent, but here it’s offset by slate-gray tones and metal features.

Although lacking a sushi menu, Ampersand has a sushi-style bar that offers full service. A private room with tatami mats is available; the space is bordered by metal screens instead of the paper-lined shoji screens you’d see in more traditional places. Fast-casual service is the rule for most of the seating, which is at blond wooden tables and banquettes.

Bamboo plants and a soundtrack playing tunes in the key of “chill” lend the casual eatery a soothing atmosphere. A wall of windows streams in daytime natural light. The most notable wall holds a densely packed collection of framed photographs and paintings in a mash-up of styles that point to the “more is better” approach echoed in Ampersand’s cuisine.

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Dotting the small, interesting beverage menu are nouveaux cans of wine, a couple of Japanese and Ohio-brewed beers, good sake and creatively designed cocktails such as the creamy-yet-zippy Kyoto Warrior ($11), which conjures a martini and pisco sour hybrid. Floral green tea, both hot and cold, is a gracious free perk available to diners at the DIY water station.

If just seeking a snack, the slammable Nori Fries are a nice value: $5 for an ample supply of thin, crispy spuds livened by white pepper and crinkly seaweed sprinkles and accompanied by a spicy aioli dipping sauce.

Ampersand’s rich-and-concentrated Miso Soup ($4) is among the best around. In addition to an uncommonly intense flavor, it’s distinguished by tiny, fried-to-crisp (though eventually soup-softened) tofu cubes.

The Little Gem salad ($7) far outpaces those iceberg-lettuce-based afterthoughts popular in many local Japanese restaurants. The attractive ensemble includes julienned radishes and carrots, little gem lettuce, sesame seeds and a refreshing soy-lime-ginger dressing.

Ramen and rice-based bowls called donburi form the heart of the one-page menu. Calling the provocatively flavored ramen selection a group of souped-up Japanese soups might be punny, but it’s accurate — even though standard components show up, such as pickled ginger, nori, respectable ramen eggs and al dente noodles.

Dashi adds semi-funky oceanic undertones to the chili-spiked chicken broth of the Spicy Shoyu ramen ($15). Seared broccolini, shredded chicken confit and peperonata (Italian-style stewed peppers) add to the fun.

Ampersand’s rich Tonkotsu ramen ($16) is even better. The pork-bone base of its dark, nuanced broth has nontraditional, roasted and woodsy accents derived from local mushrooms and black garlic oil. The flavor-bomb soup also includes distinctly huge, extra-crispy bars of succulent pork belly. Takana — zippy pickled greens — supplies appreciated contrast.

Both the Salmon ($16) and the Katsudon ($15) donburi taste as good as they look. Which artfully presented, decked-out entree should you get? It depends if you’re in the mood for a rice bowl starring silky raw fish, glittering tobiko and a bright, citrusy dressing, or one featuring crispy pork-cutlet strips, corn, peperonata, plus thick-and-tangy tonkatsu sauce.

Ampersand’s dessert du jour ($7) is usually a variation on matcha (green tea) cheesecake. The slab I sampled was topped with on-target dark-chocolate ganache. Like most items here, it’s an example of fusion cuisine that might be controversial to many purists, but tastes darn good anyway.

940 N. High St., Short North

614-928-3333

ampersandasiansupperclub.com

Ampersand Asian Supper Club