I must admit, when looking to eat out, Japanese tends to fall pretty low on my list.
That doesn't mean I have not had plenty of it. My girlfriend, also known as my "partner-in-food," always suggests sushi any time I ask for her suggestion on where to eat. "What are you in the mood for?"
"Sushi." Every time.
It's not that I don't like it, but sushi, and most other Japanese foods I have tried, have not really thrilled me.
Perhaps it's because I just haven't been to the right Japanese restaurants, or haven't tried the right Japanese foods. Perhaps it's because I never went to Nara.
Where's Nara? No one would blame you for not being sure.
Located on the side of the Midtown Shopping Center, you have to cross the stream of traffic in the Burger King "drive-thru" in order to get inside. But, you would be well-served in braving that line of hungry folks waiting for their Whoppers.
The interior is your standard Japanese restaurant–a few eclectic, ethnic decorations, a fish tank, a booth at the sushi counter and several tables.
On one of the icy, icy days recently, I joined Chatham Patch Editor Laura Silvius, who had a hankering for, yes, sushi. Is it a female thing? When Vincent Gragnani, one-half of the Morristown Munchies duo, had to back out for this review rotation because of the bad weather, I grabbed my camera and we headed to the Japanese restaurant that would be the easiest to park in.
Nara's menu offered a lot of the standard Japanese options, including copious sushi, sashimi, yakitori (chicken skewers) and shumai (dumplings). Laura eyeballed the sushi/sashimi platter ($17) and Oyoko Don ($9), a bowl of white rice covered in marinated chicken and sauteed onions.
These "Don" dishes were something I had not noticed at other Japanese restaurants before. Perhaps they are ubiquitous, but they were new to me. I ordered my own, the Gyou Don ($10), with marinated beef instead of chicken. For appetizers, I ordered the Tempura Squid ($8), squid deep fried in panko bread crumbs, and Wasabi Shumai ($6), pork dumplings coated in wasabi.
First came the squid, which was clearly a star of the entire meal. Crispy without being too heavy, it went perfect with the tender, chewy squid.
Soon came the Wasabi Shumai and sushi/sashimi platter, which Laura set to with vigor. Like I said, I like sushi but I don't love it, but this plate, even the California Rolls, were excellent–well-prepared, tight pieces of sushi, and fresh, succulent pieces of raw salmon, tuna and, I think, yellowtail.
The Wasabi Shumai was a uniquely firy treat. Steamed, it appeared they may have been pre-made, and had been steamed a little too long as the outer casing was falling apart between the chopsticks. Still, I enjoyed every bite, when I could pick them up.
Then came our main courses. The Gyou Don was a simple dish–a nice-sized bowl of rice and meat. The onions are the star of this dish, which is funny to say considering the generous amount of marinated beef. Yet, those onions, of which there also is a lot, completes this dish. The meat was tender and very flavorful, not quite teriyaki, which is fine since that's so overdone anyway.
All the while the waitress, who may have also been one of the owners, continued to refill our cups of green tea as we ran low. She was pleasant from beginning to end, and even knew a couple of repeat customers by name.
That is one of the strong points to make for a place like Nara–it's familial. It's also proved good enough that I plan on returning, even though I won't need to review it next time. Considering the number of restaurants in Morristown (and considering the number of Japanese restaurants here), that's high praise.
At $17, the sushi/sashimi platter was the expensive elephant in the room, bringing the total bill up to $53. Besides that, everything lived up to its price.
Next time you're in the Midtown Shopping Center, skip BK and Cluck-U and consider giving this simple little Japanese restaurant a try.