Kemuri, Jerry Barakat’s latest venture in the Little Rock restaurant world has now been open for several weeks, and, as such, I felt it was time to pay one of Hillcrest’s new establishments a visit.
The scene: Kemuri serves up Japanese cuisine in a hip, yet inviting atmosphere. The menu is quite elaborate, broken up into several sections, including robota (grilled options), cold plates, entrees, sushi and desserts. At Kemuri, you can get anything from roasted game hen to crispy calamari to pork loin in a soy sake glaze to a fresh piece of raw, white tuna. Expansive menus typically spell disaster, but this is not the case at Kemuri. And chefs Greg Wallis and Alex Guzman’s mastery proved quite evident during our meal.
The service: It’s not a stretch to say this was some of the best restaurant service I’ve received during my time in Little Rock. Our large group of 16+ people resided in the private party room and were treated to attentive, yet not overbearing service throughout the entire evening. This was no small feat. Our head server was knowledgeable of the menu, patient, and exuded an overall calm demeanor, characteristics found only in folks at the top of their profession.
The food: It’s very hard for me to walk into a place like Kemuri and not order sushi. So, I ordered sushi … and lots of it. Plus, I was fortunate enough to sample some of my tablemate’s selections. Everything, and I mean everything, was delicious. My wife ordered the yellowtail appetizer (jalapeno, sriracha and yuzu soy), a simply presented dish which yielded a fresh, yet spicy bites of fish. I also snuck bites of the Dynamite Roll (fried yellowtail, jalapeno, and spicy crab-$14) and the Louisiana Roll (spicy crawfish, blue crab, cucumber, bruleed shrimp, eel sauce and wasabi aioli-$12), which were delightful. My foil-wrapped, light-on-fire Crazy Monkey Roll (tempura shrimp, spicy crab, avocado and masago aioli-$15), both awed the masses and my taste buds, as did fresh pieces of salmon (2/$4) and white tuna (2/$6). Heck, even entrees of game hen, as well as drunken noodles with chicken, met with favorable results.
The price: Kemuri doesn’t feel at all pretentious, but, make no mistake, this is fine dining, and the high prices reflect it. That said, given all of the elements, I found the cost to be fair.
The verdict: What’s not to love? Hillcrest now has a high-end sushi restaurant fit for a king. Let’s just hope quality and consistency reign supreme over the long haul. Given Barakat’s history, I’d say the odds are pretty good.
2601 Kavanaugh Blvd.
Hours: Monday-Thursday (4:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m.); Friday-Saturday (4:30 p.m.-11:00 p.m.); Sunday (4:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m.) Reservations accepted.