It’s all about the neighborhood.
When Jimi D’s Food & Spirits opened four years ago, owner Jimi DiPrima didn’t have big culinary dreams or a snooty design scheme. He just wanted to make it thee neighborhood spot.
Four years and a lot of pints of draft beer later – Jimi D’s pours the most Stella Artois in Nebraska – DiPrima’s first restaurant has become a neighborhood favorite, filled with familiar faces on any given day or night.
It was the passion for all things sushi that led DiPrima to open his second restaurant, Ponzu Sushi & Grill, earlier this year. With work experience at Blue Sushi in the Old Market, he wanted to bring the cuisine to Aksarben.
Though the name comes from a citrus-infused soy sauce, they don’t strive for Asian fusion, or any other label, for that matter. With a full kitchen menu commanded by former Jimi D’s Chef Brandon Riesgaard, those wary of raw fish can indulge in a Kobe burger or portabella sandwich.
Lauren DiPrima, General Manager and sister of Jimi, says the mostly black-and-white décor was intended to be crisp and clean to match the cuisine, but with a relaxed feel. I dined on the sizable patio and noticed the comfortable, come-as-you-are atmosphere, which was underlined by the informal yet efficient service.
On our first trip we focused on the “grill” side of the menu, but we couldn’t resist starting with the Aksarben roll ($14) off the sushi list. Just a tad kitschy, this homage to the neighborhood was fun, flavorful, and well executed, with intricately seared beef tenderloin – still pink – and a tempura scallion crunch in the center.
On the juicy Grilled Swordfish Sandwich ($15), much of the red cabbage jicama slaw slid off the toasted bun in piles. With a fried tempura pickle on the side, the firm, buttery fish may well have been my favorite part of dinner; next time I’ll ask for the slaw on the side.
Crispy pork belly ($15) is a trend right now, but perhaps an unfitting one for Ponzu, as the generous seven ounces of meat wasn’t particularly crispy on the outside. On the side, the goat cheese polenta – essentially cheesy grits in stick form – were a hit. This dish was a good value, and it will satisfy the meat lover in your party.
A few days later we returned to attack the sushi menu.
Any good landlocked Midwesterner will wonder where the fish comes from. Sushi Chef Saul Lopez has much of it flown in from Japan to Chicago, and then delivered to Ponzu.
While they do offer a list of traditional and house rolls, we were drawn to the somewhat more interesting specialty rolls.
The Hot Mess ($13) was just that – spicy tuna and crab coated in a nondescript red “spicy sauce,” and jalapeños on top. With a burst of intense heat that dissipated quickly so as to not dominate the other rolls, this may have been my favorite.
The Cocoloco ($10) was surprisingly tame on the coconut flavor with just a dusting of coconut flakes, but the drizzle of mango sauce brightened it up.
A tongue-coating dose of cream cheese rounded out the crunchy veggies in the aptly named Crunchy Veggie ($7).
The flavors of tuna and the even milder yellowtail on the Cancun ($14) were still present, despite the abundance of chopped avocado on top.
From the “Ponzu Signature Specialties” list we tried the Baked Escolar ($7). Two buttery pieces of white fish were served perched atop puffs of spicy crab, finished with lemon ponzu and jalapeño slices. It was simple but luscious; overall, this dish represented the menu best. I look forward to returning to sample more of the fruit-inspired dishes from this list.
For dessert, the Poached Pear ($6) had two whole pears with fluffy mascarpone cheese and a layer of chardonnay broth. This was delightfully light and complimented the sushi nicely, even though to eat it we had to resort to cutting it up into pieces with a knife and fork.
For those who wander in after a film at Aksarben Cinema next door, the broad range of offerings ensures there is something for everyone. While a few dishes such as the pork belly could use a little more attention, the ambitious menu is worth a trip of its own.
Here’s to the new neighborhood sushi spot.
Ponzu Sushi & Grill is located in Aksarben Village at 2110 S. 67th St. Hours are Mon – Thurs 11a.m. – 10p.m., Fri – Sat 11a.m. – midnight and Sun noon – 9p.m. Call 402.614.7757 or visit ponzusushiandgrill.com for more information. Jimi D’s is located at 6303 Center St. Kitchen hours are Mon – Thurs 11a.m. – 10p.m., Fri & Sat 11a.m. -11p.m., Sun noon – 9p.m. Call 402.391.2011 or visit jimids.com.