The two initials in the name RA Sushi don't seem to stand for anything. Instead, apparently, they're to be pronounced like the state of most of the fish that is served in sushi: raw. It's a stretch, but it's the only explanation I can come up with for the sushi bar and restaurant that opened recently at Pointe Orlando.
RA got its start in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 1997 and over the next few years added some more locations in the Phoenix area. Then, in 2002, Benihana Inc. snatched up the company and has since been slowly adding locations outside of the Valley of the Sun. The Orlando location is the fourth in Florida. I was invited recently along with a guest to sample some of RA's raw goods.
What struck us both about the various rolls that we sampled was that each was distinct. Too many times sushi bars prepare their rolls with interchangeable dressings and garnishes. They tend to look the same, even if the ingredients within the rolls are different. Each of RA's rolls was unique.
A signature item is the Viva Las Vegas roll (shown at top) — the name alone should give the sushi traditionalists a shudder. It featured kanikama crab (read: surimi) and cream cheese rolled in seaweed and rice then given a light tempura battering and frying, making the outside a wee bit crispy. Some spicy tuna and more kanikama salad on top plus a garnish of a thin, crisp lotus root for an unusual garnish. The roll was drizzled with eel sauce and sprinkled with bits of fried spinach. It just screams Las Vegas, right? Well, no. I don't quite get the name (but then I don't get RA as a name either) but it was a good roll, and there was lots of it. In fact, if there were to be a complaint it would be that the individual slices were impossible to eat in one bite, as sushi really should be eaten, and it became a bit messy.
The lobster salmon roll was much more manageable to eat and every bit as enjoyable, thanks to a hefty amount of lobster on top of and inside the vinegared rice. And eight pieces made it a filling feast.
I must hasten to point out that no monkeys were harmed to produce the Crazy Monkey Roll. Beneath the bright green slices of avocado that topped the roll was smoked salmon, mango and cream cheese. Bits of fried red beets and chopped cashews added a colorful and nutty garnish, and the mango and eel sauces that were drizzled over and around the rolls gave it a sweet note.
From the list of kitchen foods, we sampled the spicy udon and chicken dish, which featured fat, chewy noodles tossed with strips of chicken breast, red and green peppers and sprinkeld with toasted sesame seeds. I like udon noodles, but I think I'd stick with the sushi offerings for my entree choices on my next visit.
Our appetizers included lobster spring rolls with a creamy filling inside the crisply fried wonton wrappers. I enjoyed the creaminess of the texture, which made them similar to a crab Rangoon sort of device.
And a salad called Tuna Squared (as in mathematically), with ahi and albacore tunas served over mixed greens with avocado, jalapeno peppers and cilantro. Fried wontons and cashews were strewn about.
For dessert we sampled the banana split maki, RA's sushi as dessert. Fried bananas were topped with kiwi, mandarin oranges and strawberries and drizzled with chocolate sauce and poofed with whipped cream. Sweet, very sweet.
The restaurant, which has red as its dominant color, is bigger than your average sushi joint, with seating at a drinks bar (with outdoor seating on the other side), a sushi bar, where my friend and I chose to sit, and a dining room with conventional tables. There is also a small private room for meetings. Service was very good, though the sushi chef wasn't very chatty.
But then, he had his hands full making the very good rolls that we both enjoyed.
RA Sushi is at Pointe Orlando, 9101 International Drive. (Note: RA does not participate in the complimentary valet program.) It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-454-5600.