Japanese-food newbies and veterans alike are welcome at Wasabi Sushi Bar in Fairview Heights.
"We want to educate our customers, so we talk to them and determine what they know about Japanese food and what they've eaten," said Mira Choi, the operations regional manager. "What do they like: Salmon? Tuna? Crab? Yellowtail? Then we move on from there. With beginners, we steer them a bit towards cooked meat, some seared items. It's not just raw fish."
Assistant Manager Liz Cline and wait staff help guide diners. They know all the 50-plus choices on the menu created by head chef John Seo and his staff.
David Casper, 28, of O'Fallon, a veteran sushi eater, recently moved from Seattle to be with his fiancee, Karon Lightwater, 23.
"This is the first time I've taken her here," said David, who particularly enjoys eel and spicy tuna.
Karon wasn't sure she wanted to try raw fish. David turned her into a fan.
"Actually, I found a lot I could try. I ate the rolled rice with fried shrimp and avocado. It was delicious and had a little kick to it," she said of the Shrimp Tempura Roll that included cucumber and chili mayo ($6).
David said Karon also liked what the restaurant calls the "crunch" it puts on top of some rolls. She nodded.
"After I ate half of the crunchy stuff on his plate, then he told me they were tiny fish eggs (roe). I can't believe I ate them, but they were really good."
The Fairview Heights Wasabi Sushi Bar is the second in the metro-east. An Edwardsville location opened in 2008. They are part of a small chain of eight restaurants that began in St. Louis in 2003 and now has locations in Colorado, with future stores opening in Kansas and Tennessee.
Choi said they recently rolled out a new menu for 2013 with reduced prices. A happy hour menu cuts prices in half on a variety of menu items.
The big laminated menu -- the size of a placemat -- has color photos of each of the dishes, with the ingredients underneath. A beginner might order the Philadelphia Roll, made with smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber and avocado ($5.75 for five to eight pieces). The more adventurous could try the Dragon Roll, with teriyaki chicken, jalapeno, avocado, cucumber, cilantro and chili sauce ($5.75). Order Mr. Kim's Roll and you're eating a California Roll topped with seared spicy tuna and sprinkled with Crunch ($10).
Nigiri sushi fans (sliced raw seafood on top of rice) can order, among many others, bluefin tuna, squid and sea urchin ($4 to $6, two pieces).Sashimi, bite-size pieces of fresh fish, start at $12 for an entree that includes miso soup or salad. Hot or cold Japanese-style noodles are offered, too.
The restaurant offers 24 appetizers, such as edamame (fresh soybean pods, $4) and fried squid ($6). Bento box combos include teriyaki meat, steamed rice, stir-fried vegetables and a California Roll for $9-$10. Like tempura? You can order shimp, vegetables and soft-shell crab dipped in batter and deep-fried for $7 to $11. Create your own plate for $10. Desserts include mango pudding ($5) and Green Tea Cheeescake with fresh fruit on top ($7).
Choi said all Wasabi Sushi Bars get orders of fresh seafood three times a week. The fish is graded 1-plus, "which is the highest level," she said.
Wasabi Sushi Bar
Address: 6530 N. Illinois St., Fairview Heights (in The Shoppes at St. Clair)
Offers: Full sushi menu of more than 50 items. Takeout and catering available. Also check Grubhub.com for ordering online. Full bar, including in-house made fruit-flavored sake.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; noon to 7 p.m. Sundays. Happy hour menu: All day Mondays; 3-6 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 3-5 p.m. Fridays.
Handicapped accessible: Yes