Ah, Hanaroo Sushi Bar. The legendary downtown Little Rock sushi joint, where dutiful workers run for a quick Asian repast during their all-too-short lunch breaks.
I’d heard a lot over the years, mostly good. But one thing I’d heard repeatedly was something about cockroaches. Hmmm.
This week, I am working in the office quite a bit more than usual (I’m usually part-time, teaching out of town), burning some end-of-fiscal-year hours. My office is at the 700 Main DHS complex, a quick walk from Capitol and the handful of business-friendly joints in that area. Today, I ventured out in search of food and remembered Hanaroo.
Well, actually, I had already diddled too long looking for somewhere to eat, hovering near Subway (had that last week), Sufficient Grounds (hopped in, but no obvious reference on the menu to lunch food until the sidewalk, on my way back out the other side), and oh yes…Hanaroo. So be it.
I was a little wary about the fact that they likely wouldn’t have any gluten-free soy sauce available, but I decided to risk it anyway. I needed to eat and get back to the office. At approximately 12:09 p.m., I was seated at the sushi bar, an appropriate place for loner diners like myself. Well, actually, I seated myself since nobody came to my aid and I didn’t know the protocol. They could use one of those “please wait for hostess” signs.
By 12:15, I had placed my order, and shortly after that I was presented my miso soup.
I love miso soup, y’all. It’s one of my favorite things. I know it’s glutinous and all that (likely containing wheat-laden soy), but I’m willing to take the fall now and then. Hanaroo’s miso soup was a little different, with a heavier texture (meaning they used more miso paste, which is good) and the addition of tiny little tofu cubes. The green onion slices were fresh and pungent, maybe even a little too strong and plentiful for my liking, but that’s just me.
The server came back to me. There are quite a few orders in front of you, she warned. It may be a little while. I nodded a faux agreement. What am I going to say at that point? Hope they’re not looking for me back at the office.
After a full 30 minutes of playing on Facebook and Twitter, my meal finally arrived. I had ordered the sushi bento lunch special, with a salmon roll and five pieces of nigiri. The diner chooses from five simple sushi rolls for this special, but the nigiri is take-it-or-leave-it: one each of tuna, salmon, crab, shrimp and snapper. At $8.95, including the soup or a salad, this is a heck of a deal.
My first bite into the salmon roll prompted one of those omigoshthisisawesome eye-roll-sigh things, where you look around and see if anyone saw you do it. What struck me was the texture of both the salmon and the rice. The salmon was silky and supple; the rice was distinctively fluffy, more tender and gently rolled than you usually get in these parts. Having watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi (which I highly recommend on Netflix), I wondered what special technique they used in cooking it. The sushi was dressed lightly with more of the green onions, which were more palatable here, for some reason.
I can’t say I had the same fantasmic experience eating the nigiri, but that has more to do with my lack of experience with some of the choices. I loved the tuna and salmon; the shrimp and snapper, meh. The crab was particularly troublesome because I’m pretty sure it was imitation. Imitation crab is made with wheat. Did you know that?
As not to be rude (and because my lack of experience with seafood was such that I wasn’t 100% sure it was fake), I ate the crab. I went back to work a blotchy hot mess, so I’m pretty sure my inkling was correct.
Overall, I must say that Hanaroo was a win, but don’t go in a hurry, or at least during the lunch rush. A quick review of online, er, reviews show a similar theme. It’s great, but don’t expect to be impressed with the facilities or the speed of service.
Oh, yes, the facilities! Walking up on the outside, one might question whether this is a restaurant or a seedy nightclub. Inside was just okay, not offensive but not sparkling, either.
At least I didn’t see any of the legendary cockroaches. Maybe next time.
Hanaroo Sushi Bar
205 W Capitol Ave
Little Rock, AR 72201