Amura, the sushi restaurant on Church Street in downtown Orlando, is now Kaizen Izakaya, and it’s not the first time this restaurant has changed names under the same owner.
When it first opened, more than 20 years ago, it was called Samurai. But, not surprisingly, another restaurant in the state already had claim to that name. So, perhaps to save on signage costs, the owner dropped the first and last letters from the word Samurai and came up with Amura.
What prompted the latest change I can’t say. An izakaya is basically the Japanese equivalent of a pub or tavern where the focus is more on the drinking and mingling with friends – the word means stay sake shop – and the food consists of small bites and nibbles.
Kaizen’s menu is just as robust as before with a full array of sushi and sashimi as well as noodle and rice dishes and other kitchen foods. And the surroundings here don’t exactly inspire one to linger, but I’ll come back to that.
The sushi is first rate. My dining companion and I sat at the sushi bar where one of the chefs greeted us warmly, so we chatted him up about recommendations. We started with a sampler of five perfectly crafted nigiri. The chef’s selection included tuna, salmon, yellowtail and madai, a type of snapper. Each piece of fish was draped over a pad of vinegared rice and held fast to it when flipped over to dip in the dish of soy.
We followed that with the Red and Orange Roll. The menu descriptions of the rolls are broken down into Ins and Outs, which only took a second to figure out. Ins are the ingredients rolled inside and the outs are pressed on the outsides.
The Red and Orange’s ins were spicy tuna and cucumber and the outs included tuna, salmon, avocado and masago, the latter lending the majority of the orange. They also added a nice pop to the texture. As with the nigiri, the fish was buttery tender and the roll had a nice hint of spiciness.
We had also ordered Pork Belly Bao Buns, which we thought would be a starter but which was delivered when we were half finished with the roll. No matter. The steamed bao buns were soft and chewy and embraced the fatty belly meat inside. It also included cabbage slaw and a kimchi infusion that added a lot of flavor.
If I were to be kind, I’d describe the ambience as dank. It’s dark and unattractive; the wall behind the sushi chefs looks as though it's unfinished plater. And its location, in the back corner of the complex next to the parking garage, doesn’t help.
But it’s not like the atmosphere has changed much over the past couple of decades, so Kaizen/Amura/Samurai must have some allure.
Kaizen Izakaya is at 54 W. Church St., Orlando. It is open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-316-8500.