Evansville’s Kanpai is a Must Try – Ryan’s Review
(Editor’s Note: Before we get too deep into this review, you should know that “Kanpai” is pronounced CAN-PIE. Now re-read the headline again and you’ll see that I made a little rhyme (clever, huh?). Alright, let’s get to it…)
My wife and I both really enjoy Asian cuisine whether it’s Thai, Szchewan, or one of the many great Chinese buffets we have in the Evansville area. So last Saturday night we sent the kids to Grandma’s house for the night and decided to grab dinner at Kanpai on Washington Ave. across from Schnucks. Our first trip was back in February for Valentine’s Day dinner and we loved it.
We arrived around 6pm which I know for most people is early for dinner, but that’s generally the time we eat dinner at home plus I hadn’t eaten anything all day so I was starving. It turned out to be a great time to go as we didn’t have to wait on a table and were greeted by our server shortly after being seated.
The first thing you’ll notice about Kanpai is that it’s not a big place. The dining area is literally one room comprised about about 10-12 tables and the sushi bar. I find this to be a welcome change from the various chain restaurants and their mazes of dining space where you can get lost trying to find your way to the bathroom and back. Or even worse, getting seated in a back corner where you’re forgotten about by the wait staff. At Kanpai, every table and patron is in full view of the waiters and waitresses no matter where they stand.
The decor inside is also not typical of other Asian themed establishments in the area. There’s not 12 foot by 12 foot picture of Tiananmen Square or a back-lit picture of a waterfall that takes up an entire wall (Look! the light makes it look like water is actually flowing! Uhh…awesome?). Also missing (thankfully) are ceramic statuettes of fat, bald guys and cats hugging bamboo plants. As you can see from the picture above, the interior has a nice, clean look to it. Not to get too “artsy”, but there’s a simple elegance to the feel of dining area where you would feel comfortable wearing jeans and a t-shirt or dress pants and a button down.
Before I get into what we ordered, you need to know that every Saturday & Sunday, Kanpai offers $1.00 longnecks! So even if the food sucked (which it doesn’t), the place is already a winner-winner-sweet-and-sour-chicken-dinner in my book.
As I said before, I hadn’t eaten all day so everything on the menu sounded great. My wife on the other hand had eaten at the wedding of a friend’s daughter earlier in the day while I was on a live broadcast so she wasn’t “withering away” like my stomach thought it would if I didn’t eat immediately.
One of the things that makes Kanpai unique is the way owner Jayson Munoz adds his own special twists to traditional Asian fare. For example, we started ordered Gyoza from the appetizer menu. Basically Kanpai’s version of pot-stickers, these pork filled dumplings are deep fried opposed to the traditional steaming method which adds a nice crunch to the dish instead of the almost mushy texture you get with traditional pot-stickers. The filling is a simple ground pork seasoned just right. For $4.95 you get 6 good sized pieces of food (easily two bites each to consume) and small bowl of spicy sauce for dipping. They were a great start to the meal.
As I mentioned earlier, my wife wasn’t as hungry as I was so she decided to stick with a roll of sushi as her meal. I also opted to order some sushi as well, because again, in my mind I was starving to death. My wife ordered a California Cruch roll for $6.00. This is your basic California Roll comprised of imitation crab meat, cucumber, and cream cheese, but with the added Kanpai twist of panko bread crumbs for added texture.
I went with the Kanpai Sushi Pizza, another item on the menu unique to Kanpai. This form of sushi is served flat instead of rolled like tradional sushi and features a creamy and slightly spicy Japanese mayo with shredded crab and shrimp topped with sliced avacado. The menu refers to the orange stuff on top as “crunch”. From what I could tell, it’s sole purpose is to provide an additional layer of texture. It didn’t seem to affect the flavor at all. One other aspect of this sushi that separates it from other forms of sushi is that it’s served warm whereas most sushi rolls are served cold. This is going to sound corny and cliched, but this stuff literally felt like it melted in my mouth. My wife thought they were a little heavy on the Japanese mayo, but I thought it was perfect. I could definitely see myself going back and just ordering this; just thinking about it while I type is making my mouth water. It’s a little more expensive than a typical sushi roll at $9.00, but totally worth it.
For the main course I ordered the Thai Sweet and Sour Chicken which turned out to be another home run for Kanpai. For $11.95, I received a plate piled high with big, juicy chunks of chicken and broccoli smothered in a sweet and tangy sauce topped with fresh cilantro with a side of white rice also topped with fresh cilantro. And let me tell you, if you’ve never had fresh cilantro, you are missing out. It’s difficult to explain, but it adds a whole new dimension of flavor that you won’t get using the dried stuff.
About half-way through my entree the “starving” feeling I had was long gone and had been replaced a feeling of doubt regarding whether or not I’d even be able to finish the meal. Being the trooper I am (or complete idiot depending on your viewpoint), I pushed on and wiped the plate clean with the last bite tasting every bit as good as the first.
I didn’t catch our waitresses name, however she did a great job of checking on us to make sure we had enough to drink, more napkins, etc. without being intrusive on our meal. Keep in mind that we were there pretty early for a Saturday night so it was pretty easy for her to keep track of us. Even when we went the first time back on Valentine’s Day when it was packed, the service was great.
Owner Jayson Munoz is also a constant presence in the dining area whether it’s helping out the wait staff by delivering food to the table or chatting with diners about the quality of their meal. A young guy probably somewhere in his early-30’s, you can tell by the way he carries himself that he’s proud of the Kanpai product and does everything he can to ensure his guests enjoy a unique dining experience that will have them coming back for more. I know my wife and I will definitely be making a return trip. Hopefully sooner rather than later.