I am something of a comic book nerd so it is not difficult to believe that I LOVED Captain America. I was a little concerned that perhaps the movie would be too period-centric to appeal widely, but I was wrong. The cinematography was beautiful, the direction was focused and blended the 40’s with a modern sensibility and feel, and the story itself was well-written. I was on the edge of my seat the whole movie until the end. I did think there was some over-the-top cheese factor towards the end, but all-in-all, completely worth the ridiculous $10 per movie ticket price. Plus, Tommy Lee Jones has still got it!
It is hard to imagine a follow-up to Captain America, but we did in Ben Gui. A friend of ours turned us on to this hidden gem a couple of years ago and we have been converts since. My family moved here from a coastal Florida city that had a plethora of fresh seafood options. We had a favorite Sushi house whose fish seemed to have just jumped from the ocean on to our plates, but Ben Gui is better. Hard to believe but true.
Knowing the drill, we made reservations and asked for “Miss Jane.” She is the best server at Ben Gui and worth the request. It was bustling when we arrived, but they had our table (the last empty one in the place) set and waiting for us. The restaurant itself is very homey and inviting. Ben and his wife are the sushi chefs and they reside right in the open dining room making their magic. They greet customers by name as they come in the door. If you are early you can get a seat at the low bar and watch them make your food mere inches from your face. It is always warm and friendly at this strip mall restaurant.
We started with our usual order of shumai. These are steamed shrimp dumplings served over shredded carrots with a dollop of eel sauce on top. Our kids love them and they are a tasty way to start your foray into the Ben Gui experience. The shumai, as usual, are tender and tasty.
We were sad this time that the servers no longer wear the traditional kimonos that they have always worn, but it has gotten so busy at the restaurant that kimonos are not very practical, at least that is our hypothesis for the change. Miss Jane is still adept and deft in her plate clearing and drink refilling. She is friendly and remembers the little things- like my aversion to chopsticks and hot towels. Like I said, she is worth the call table. As a wine drinker, my one miss at this place is their “wine by the glass” selection. There are only a couple of choices if you don’t want to order a whole bottle. Their Japanese beer and sake selection though, is quite extensive; I’m just not always up for that. Sometimes I just want a nice New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to go with the fresh fish. Just be warned wine drinkers out there.
The dinner menu is quite extensive at Ben Gui. There are no hibachi selections, but there is a teriyaki menu, udon menu and items palatable for those in your party that do not cotton to the raw fish. The raw fish here though, is what you should come for. My family likes the sashimi, or sliced fish served on its own without rice. We order a selection of red snapper, salmon, tuna, and yellowtail. Our son has a penchant for unagi (eel), and our daughter loves the octopus which both come as nigiri, or with rice and seaweed wrapper, preparations, so we order some of that also. We round out our order with some of Ben’s amazing maki, or roll, selections. He has a new one on the special board tonight called the “Trust Me” roll, but we have our hearts set on some of our favorites. We order the “Angry Lover,” “Hokie,” and “Nama Mama.” This gives us one spicy roll, one tempura crunchy roll, and one mild with lots of different fish adorning it.
We always let Miss Jane know to bring it out as Ben finishes it so that we don’t have a sushi pile up at the bar. Everything is made by hand to order and this takes time so if you ask for it to come out as they finish it, it gets your food to the table faster and fresher. They have regular soy sauce on the table, but if you ask, they have low sodium in the back. I am personally addicted to the pickled white ginger that comes on the plate. I think I could eat a jar by myself and Miss Jane always brings me a little extra to gobble up on my own.
As usual, the sashimi is delightful- extremely fresh, delicate and the perfect knife skills evident on the cuts. The nigiri is well-received with its generous octopus tentacles and barbequed eel. The maki does not disappoint either. Each roll is neat and tidy, nothing falling out, the ingredients are fresh and bursting with flavor. My favorite is the “Angry Lover.” I like it spicy and this one delivers. Everything delivered to us was artfully presented on unique and eclectic servingware.
As dinner plates are cleared, Miss Jane asks about dessert. Unfortunately, we are too full tonight, but normally we get the tempura bananas and servings of green tea and red bean ice cream. All are made in-house and are delicious. The green tea ice cream with a couple of tempura banana pieces is just the right finish for me.
Prices at this Roanoke gem are moderate. Rolls are between $9- $15, appetizers are under $10, and sashimi is somewhere in the realm of $8 for 2 pieces. It is not the least expensive, nor the most expensive sushi restaurant I have been in, but it is one of the best, and certainly the best in Roanoke (yes, I have tried all of the others). My advice: Make a reservation, ask for Miss Jane- as Ben says “Trust me!”