Farwell Avenue’s Rice N Roll cycles smoothly through tempura, sashimi, pad thai and other Japanese-Thai specialties.
A plate – shaped like four small connected saucers – appears at our table. We do a double-take; even the pedestrian ambling past the windows next to our table rubber-necks through the glass. On the plate, four golden, deep-fried globes are set a few inches apart; a mountain of vanilla ice cream, capped with a maraschino cherry, is plopped in the center. “Crunchy banana balls,” this sweet beast is called. Our spoons waste no time. The thick, coconut-laced batter encases warm chunks of banana.
This is how Farwell Avenue’s new Japanese-Thai place, Rice N Roll, rolls at dessert time. The neighborhood is a blooming lotus flower of Asian restaurants – not an easy place for a newcomer to stand out.
But it does, for more reasons than fried balls of banana.
Aesthetically, the space has leaped from functional strip-mall burger joint (the onetime Sobelman’s Tallgrass Grill) to an attractive, light-filled, blond-wood-endowed little destination for sushi and its Japanese compatriots, as well as covering Thai territory like curries and noodle dishes. Adroit care is taken in shaping and slicing, from the round, delicately curved crab Rangoon ($6.95) to the maki-roll like cuts of the virgin spring rolls ($3.95-$4.95) – fresh rolls stuffed with herbs, bean sprouts, carrots, rice noodles and shrimp, if you like. Both of the Thai soups, tom kha and tom yum, are knockouts ($3.95-$4.95 each). The former, coconut milk-based, galangal root-seasoned broth is creamy and ethereally sweet; the latter, spicy-sour broth hints of lime leaves and lemongrass.
Some delights of the maki roll persuasion include the more pedestrian spicy tuna roll ($6) to the (yes, this is really the name) Clumsy Bueno roll ($14.95) of shrimp tempura and avocado wrapped in soy paper and topped with spicy crab.
The menu – the antithesis of abbreviated – makes some noise with its entrées. Like Born to Kill ($16), a rice cracker shell filled with scallops, bell pepper and numerous green beans in Thai brown sauce. The seemingly bottomless bowl of tempura udon ($9.95) in a light fish broth is bobbing with fish cakes, seaweed, napa cabbage and tempura shrimp. The thick, chewy noodles, swollen from soaking in the warm broth, are ideal for slurping. Just don’t try the same tactic with the crunchy banana balls.
[mark]Rice N Roll[/mark]
1952 N. Farwell Ave., 414-220-9944. Hours: Mon-Thurs 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; 4:30-9:30 p.m. Fri 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; 4:30-10 p.m. Sat 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun 4-9:30 p.m. Prices: Apps $3.95-$8.95; soups, salads $2.95-$12.95; maki, sushi, sashimi $4-$24.95; desserts $3.50-$5.95. Service: Trying. Dress: Casual. Credit cards: M V A DS. Handicap access: No. Reservations: No.