The scene: We were wowed the moment we stepped into Wasabi Tao, which opened late January in the former Cuatro space inside the Kirkwood Hotel. We were seated at our table for two and took in the cool surroundings: black and red walls, dark pebble and stone accents, a sleek bar with leather seats and a giant gold Buddha statue highlighted by slowly shifting colored lights. Several parties were dining that evening, including a few groups huddled in oversized red booths on the west side. Sophisticated lighting from different sources and heights, like the candle on our table, was just perfect. The music was a cool mix of ambient and jazz. The vibe — from the decor to the lighting and the music — was zen, modern and big city.
The menu: There’s a page full of starters, plus a large sushi selection, including sushi bar combos and signature rolls. Kitchen entrees like grilled New York strip with a balsamic teriyaki sauce and red wine reduction ($18), or pan-seared jumbo shrimp glazed in a kimchee miso butter ($17), looked appetizing. The restaurant serves wine, beer, sake and a number of cocktails like the Des Moines Love (cucumber vodka, St. Germaine elderflower liqueur, lime juice and pineapple juice) and the Stranger in the Night (Absolut Citron, lychee juice, peach schnapps and house-made lemonade).
What we ate: My dining partner and I split the fuji yama roll ($13), which ranks among some of the best sushi I’ve had. Snuggled in a soybean nori wrapper, contents like cucumber, avocado, mango and kani (crab) are topped with crispy tempura rock shrimp and a sweet chili sauce. The eight pieces had a great combination of smoky, fresh and tropical flavors. The artful momiji and honey wasabi sauces on the side were strong complements, too. For my main entree, I ordered the chicken yaki soba ($12), a delicious noodle dish with a grilled, nutty taste and tossed with hearty pieces of chicken and vegetables. My dining partner enjoyed the flavors in his Thai mango chicken ($13), coated in a sweet and tangy glaze.
The wrap-up: I’m looking forward to returning to Wasabi Tao. A minor snafu on our bill was quickly corrected and resulted in a 10 percent discount. Our service was great, the food was excellent and we felt like we vacationed in a swanky, exotic restaurant/ lounge, even if it was just for an hour or so.
Fuji yama roll ... $13
Chicken yaki soba ... $12
Thai mango chicken ... $13
Total, with tax, tip, plus a 10 percent discount .... $43.48
Find it: 400 Walnut St., No. 101
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday, noon-11 p.m. Saturday