It’s no secret that I was not a big fan of Rangetsu, the big International Drive restaurant that always seemed to me to be more interested in the conventioneers and tourists than in the locals. It did attract a fair number of Central Floridians, perhaps because it was one of the first to introduce sushi and Japanese cuisine to the area when it opened in 1986. Regardless, I did not mourn when it closed at the end of March in 2010.
Nor did I get too excited when it was made known that Rangetsu would reemerge, though I’ll admit I raised an eyebrow when it was announced that the new incarnation would be not on International Drive but in Maitland, far away from the convention center and the tourist trade.
The new Rangetsu is so much better than the old one in so many ways. It is stylistically beautiful, with a hip and trendy vibe in its decor and lighting. And the food I sampled on my recent visit was very good, too.
The menu has expanded, most notably with the addition of a robata grill, using the Japanese method of cooking skewered meats, seafood and vegetables on charcoal. I sampled three selections: Kobe beef, Chilean seabass and asparagus. The fish was the clear winner. The cubes of seabass, with the skin intact, were impossibly white and moist, the mild flavor enhanced by the gentle grilling method. The other two were good, especially the asparagus with its slightly astringent notes, but I could have done a full course of the fish.
I also experienced the sukiyaki, thetableside do-it-yourself preparation of cooking thinly sliced beef, vegetables and noodles in simmering broth of soy, sugar and mirin. The broth sits in a shallow cast iron pot atop a portable gas burner and guests drop such things as enoki and shiitake mushrooms, bok choy, scallions, tofu cubes and soba noodles. The meat is Meyer, traditional for this type of preparation, and takes seconds to cook. The meat is then dunked into a raw egg before being eaten. In demonstrating, the server just dipped a piece of meat into the egg’s white, although really the egg should have been slightly beaten. This one is for people who still get a thrill out of places like the Melting Pot, but I’d rather leave the driving, uh, I mean cooking, to the professionals in the kitchen.
Or at the sushi bar, from which I sampled three expertly prepared rolls: the birthday, golden and curry shrimp. I couldn’t figure out why the birthday roll was so named. It featured a shrimp tempura roll as the base with tuna and eel on top. No candles.
The curry shrimp roll had shrimp and cream cheese rolled in rice and coated with tempura batter before frying. A fully cooked option, it was warm and flavorful without being greasy.
The curry shrimp roll was more golden than the golden roll, which featured akrab roll (decent of them to give the surimi spelling instead of trying to pass it off as true crab) with tuna, avocado and a spicy mayo, topped with crispy flakes.
It was nice to see a soup offering other than the tired miso that every Japanese restaurant serves. I had the conch chowder, which had a velvety broth not unlike a New England clam chowder, with finely diced carrots, potatoes and conch meat. The conch, of course, had a bit of a chew, but it was not unpleasant.
I finished my meal with a delightful creme brulee made with green tea.
I was impressed with the service and how the servers and assistants worked as a team. I won’t pretend to you that the restaurant didn’t know I was there, but I saw plenty of instances at other tables that told me the staff had been well trained -- and had initiative, too, which is sometimes just as important.
Color and light figure prominently into the design scheme. A rainbow wall of bubbles separated the host’s alcove from the bar and lounge on the other side. The dining room is a large, open space. One wall holds three large “windows” of light and panels that give an op-art sort of effect. Walls and corners have geometric patterns carved into them that emanate light from somewhere within.
The original concept of the new Rangetsu was that it would be a restaurant by day and early evening and then morph at night into a nightclub called Orchid. (Rangetsu means orchid moon.) The transition involves removing some tables altogether and lowering some to cocktail height, drawing a curtain around the sushi bar and kitchen window, and turning on disco lights that hang above and are controlled from the dj booth at the front of the restaurant. The owners of Rangetsu are revisiting whether such an ultra lounge venue is best for this location. Did I mention it’s in Maitland?
Even if people in this bedroom community like to get home to their bedrooms early, they surely enjoy a good restaurant. So do I. I’m happy to be among those who recommend the new Rangetsu.
Rangetsu is at 901 S. Orlando Ave., Maitland, across from Lake Lily. It is open for lunch Monday through Saturday and dinner daily. Dinner entrees mostly range from $12 to $28, though there are some options, such as the Kobe beef, that are much higher. Here’s a link to rangetsu.com. The phone number is 407-345-0044.