Can we have our desserts first, please?

 

H2O Restaurant is synonymous with sushi ... but oh those desserts!

Let’s start this review at the end. Because, in truth, the most compelling reason to dine at H2O Restaurant and Sushi Bar these days is its desserts. At H2O you don’t just get a spare scoop of green tea ice cream. To the contrary, the pastry chef, Nicole Anderson, who with husband Chef Eli Anderson is now co-proprietor of this chic Broad Ripple original, is concocting some of the city’s most creative and luscious finales, playful while at the same time sophisticated and expertly executed.

Take the humble oatmeal cookie ($6.50). In Anderson’s hands, this after-school staple is transformed into a complex yet airy confection, packed with coconut and pecans, warm from the oven. A wooden sake box of luscious espresso cream adds the perfect hint of sweetness and aroma to cookies with a restrained measure of sugar. You can pretend they’re grown-up food. Or you can smack your lips and lick the cream off your fingers.

Perhaps even more innovative are the ice creams ($6), a trio of which promised flavors we could only speculate about. Most curious was the bay leaf version. Far from the bitter, cigar box twang these leaves often leach into the stockpot, here the subtle aroma fell somewhere between nutmeg and rosemary, transforming the utterly smooth, creamy ice cream into something ethereal. Similarly, balsamic vinegar ice cream had us thinking in metaphors. “Grape Kool-Aid but so much better,” someone at the table said. “The mustiness of the vinegar makes me think chocolate,” another swooned. Raspberry ice cream was more familiar but no less delicious or balanced. Definitely an ending to remember.

Meanwhile, back at the beginning of the meal, things were fine, if not as transporting. Tuna tartare ($11) arrived with a generous pile of fish roe and artful, perfectly greaseless wonton chips. Seasonings of ginger, lemon and cilantro might have been more prominent, but the pure flavor of the fresh, raw tuna definitely came through. Bits of radish and the roe added a slight crunch. A seaweed salad ($5.50) also had a subtle bite to it with cucumber, radish and scallions. A bit more acid could have perked this salad up, but it was a soothing start, especially when followed by a couple of stellar sakes. Rihaku nigori (unfiltered) sake, subtitled “Dreamy Clouds,” had a wonderful viscosity and earthiness from lingering rice solids. But the Zipang sparkling sake ($11) with its perfect bubble and whisper of fruit definitely made the meal more fun.

Unfortunately, this place is called H2O Restaurant and Sushi, not H2O Oatmeal Cookies and Balsamic Ice Cream or even H2O Tuna Tartare and Sparkling Sake. In the early days, the edge this place had on the other sushi bars around town had to do with style and freshness of seafood. The place still oozes a soothing style with its concrete floors, putty-colored walls and bursts of color from well-chosen art bathed in candlelight. And while the seafood was, indeed, fresh — our soft-spoken waiter listed what had swum in just that day — our sushi, the mainstay of this place, failed to dazzle, especially considering its somewhat dear prices.

Nigiri octopus ($5) and scallops ($8) were of obvious good quality, but underseasoned, even somewhat mushy rice failed to complete the full experience of each bite. While the seafood is obviously important, the best sushi draws on all of the textural qualities of its constituent ingredients. This rice did little to excite. Sashimi fluke ($6.50), which the waiter recommended, was a little raggedly cut and nearly drenched in a piquant chili sauce that made it almost impossible to taste the fish, even after scraping it off. When we pointed this out, the waiter removed the fluke from our bill.

Sushi rolls were equally lackluster, particularly the “crunch” roll ($9.50). To be fair, many similar rolls around town are a little over the top, drenched in sauce, covered in fried crumbs. But this skinny roll with more of that soft rice had almost no crunch, save for a bit of cucumber in the middle. Spicy goat cheese lent little flavor to the shrimp and crab, and promised crispy wontons seemed almost absent. Only a notch better was the speedy-sounding 331.61 M.P.H. roll ($10.50). This one benefited from a roll of salmon around the outside, as well as thin shavings of lemon, but it too had only the subtlest of flavors and textures. Off a chalkboard of more Western offerings, a roasted red-pepper soup ($7) was perhaps the meal’s low point, bitter and almost burnt tasting. Creamy Point Reyes bleu cheese and pine nuts couldn’t save a soup with such a watery broth and caustic aftertaste.

Thankfully, there’s little a truly great dessert can’t forgive, and we strolled out pondering the beguiling flavors of bay and balsamic vinegar.

H20 Sushi

1912 Broad Ripple Ave.

317-254-0677

HOURS

Tues-Thurs: 5:30-9:30 p.m.

Fri-Sat: 5:30-10:30 p.m.

Food: Three stars

Atmosphere: Four stars

Service: Four stars

Non-smoking, Handicapped accessible

Recommended dishes: any desserts, tuna tartare, seaweed salad

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