Hana, in Fishers, is jolly decentI often hear people complain about the lack of fresh fish in this town, and how superior the sushi is in almost any given part of the country. Ten years ago, I would have agreed, but now I just roll my eyes and jump to the conclusion that 1) these people don't get out much and 2) they don't know a lot about fish. Here in the heart of the Midwest, we are approximately 600 miles closer to the Pacific Ocean than is Washington, D.C., yet there are those who still insist that you can get better tuna fish on the East Coast than you can here. Once again, maybe that was true 10 years ago, but with today"s flash-freezing techniques, overnight transportation and specialty wholesalers, not to mention the fact that the tuna is a Pacific fish, and we"re closer to the Pacific, I firmly believe that the quality of such species is as good here as it is almost anywhere else in the country.
Having recently seen (for the first time in this country, I might add) whole, live scallops, coral and shells intact, quietly breathing their last under a sushi bar countertop (this was at Five Spice CafÈ), I am driven to conclude that the most assiduous restaurateurs in this town really know what they are doing, and should be justly celebrated for their attention to detail and freshness, and to hell with the expense.
Until very recently (in fact, until less than a year ago), live, in-shell scallops were quite unheard of here. Their delicacy and tenuous connection with life prevented their transportation. Now, they are bordering on the commonplace, to the extent that the finest restaurants will procure them from time to time for the pleasure of the town's piscatorial hedonists, of which there are quite a few. As an aside, I am still distressed to see most chefs throw away the best bit of the whole (often diver-caught) scallop, the spongy roe sack, or coral, for whatever reason. Sad, really. I was always taught to relish and savor this part of the shellfish. Doubtless this practice will change for the better with time.
In the meantime, our supply of fancy ashtrays continues to grow. Hurrah for that. Which brings me, less than neatly, I'll admit, to the subject of this week's review: Indy's umpteenth Japanese restaurant. With metropolitan Indianapolis sprawling like Jabba the Hut after a heavy lunch, we certainly need more restaurants to serve our ailing fellow humans in the city's Outer Reaches. It was just last week that I was speaking with a couple in Noblesville who considered 86th Street to be "pretty far south" and downtown to be about a day's drive. It sounded like old covered wagon times, when a trip to the post office could take all day, and you bought provisions to last a month. I asked them what they did if they wanted to eat out. They replied that they were hoping that a restaurant would open nearby soon, because they were starting to get, in their words, "real hungry." Failing that, it was Hamburger Helper, Mistah Softee white bread rolls and Cheez Whiz for the forseeable future. And we live in the age of SUVs and interstates?
Fortunately for them, a jolly decent Japanese restaurant has opened less than a day"s hard ride away in nearby Fishers. Hana is sound, unprepossessing and, not to overstate the case, sound. The menu here is extensive, listing over 142 dishes before getting into the alpha-numeric items that are proceeded by an "H" (which stands for Hibachi). So, roughly 159 items in all, which is quite a lot, and certainly far too many to sample in one sitting, even though, on the occasion of my recent visit, there were two of us.
The dÈcor at Hana is, simply put, bland. There's a cavernous feel to the place that isn"t exactly comfortable. Some booths and a water feature in the main dining room might help a little, but I understand that this is still early days. There"s an interesting wine rack on one wall, which is used to display a selection of surprisingly complementary wines. I say surprisingly, because most Japanese restaurant wine lists are not very impressive. In spite of this, however, Hana could certainly benefit from half a dozen or so top-notch cold sakes.
Of the eight or so sushi items I ordered, only four were available. It was interesting to note that the items I ordered that were not available were for the most part the most perishable, such as toro (the fatty belly of the tuna) and the Uni (sea urchin roe). These have to be very fresh, which means they require a certain turnover to guarantee a healthy supply. The Spanish mackerel was also absent, probably for the same reason: lack of demand. The sushi items that I did receive were fine, but unchallenging, and although on a par with many sushi bars in town, by no means superior.
My friend SK and I decided to try a couple of hot dishes, including a very decent tempura appetizer plate ($6.50), that was, in retrospect, the star of the evening. Perfectly battered and cooked, the shrimp, eggplant and zucchini were delightfully crisp and fresh. The other appetizer, beef negi maki, was quite disappointing. The quality of the (supposedly filet) beef was average, verging on the tough. A couple of bowls of miso soup were very good, although SK's mushroom soup ($5) was delicate to the point of blandness. Although there were a couple of slivers of shitake mushroom present, domestic mushrooms prevailed, and the soup had a mild, earthy, mass-produced quality that failed to inspire.
After a brief salad interlude, we launched into our main courses, a very decent chicken udon dish ($11.95) and a less than stellar unagi donburi ($13.95). The udon dish was replete with perfectly seasoned chicken and vegetables, including plenty of shitake mushrooms. The noodles, al dente and firm, were excellent. My dish, essentially smoked eel on top of a bed of sushi rice, would have been fine, except that the eel needed a bit more smoke flavor and the rice, although nicely vinegary, lacked sufficient gluten to form a sticky mass. I had the same complaint about the rice used for the sushi.
Although Hana isn't exactly stellar, it isn't too bad either. If a covered wagon drive from Fishers to one of the city's better establishments isn't your thing, then you could certainly do a lot worse.
Hana Fishers Landing Shopping Center 842-8680 Lunch Monday-Saturday 11:30-3 Dinner Sunday-Thursday 5-10 Friday-Saturday 5-10:30 Food : 3 stars
Atmosphere : 2 stars
Service : 3 stars