Sometimes, getting there is part of the fun.
But when getting there involves one of Baton Rouge’s busiest streets at high noon, fun isn’t the first word that comes to mind.
Good thing that Omi’s food is worth the traffic. Hard against I-10 on One Calais Avenue, off Essen Lane, Omi is many things to many people. Part hibachi, part sushi bar and part Chinese restaurant, the menu is, at first blush, overwhelming. Especially when menu items have intimidating names like “Ants Climbing Trees.”
The first time, familiar seemed safer. A vegetable tempura appetizer ($5.95) was most generous and included the usual lineup of squash, onions and veggies lightly fried in a tempura batter. A fried ring of bell pepper added a pop of color and was unexpectedly refreshing. The beef teriyaki ($13.95) was a perfectly cooked, generous portion served with a savory sauce, crisp-tender vegetables and rice with just the right degree of stickiness. The Nabei Udon ($9.95) was a two-meal portion of a comforting seafood soup, presented with a velvety poached egg perched on top. Shrimp, clams and fish, done to buttery without being rubbery, swam in a broth with silky noodles and vegetables. Both entrees were served with miso soup and a surprisingly complex salad topped with ginger dressing.
A second visit and a dose of bravado lead to sushi and Chinese. The sushi was served in quite large portions — the tuna lover roll ($13.95) included a spicy tuna and blue crab filling and came topped with slabs of fresh raw tuna. Orders of sashimi — expertly cut pieces of raw fish — were equally large. Delicious, but a mouthful. The waitress recommended the garlic shrimp ($14.95) and it was outstanding. Spicy, savory and slightly sweet sauce smothered the tender shrimp and lightly sauteéd crescents of zucchini. Not a single piece remained on the plate. Orders of steamed pork Gyoza ($3.75), egg drop soup ($2.50 for the not-so-small) and seaweed salad ($5.25) rounded out the table nicely. The standout was the egg drop soup, a thick, chickeny broth with satiny ribbons of egg and small — and also surprising — pieces of tomato placed it miles ahead of your usual Chinese take-away.
Service in the comfortably appointed restaurant was prompt; it was not unlike being served in someone’s home. Expect a bit of a language barrier, but that’s a badge of honor, not a problem, and it’s more easily overcome than Essen Lane’s gridlock. Don’t let either one stop you from a meal at Omi.