Dramatic dining

Centerville’s Kabuki aces sushi

By: Brandy King

Photo: Ka bai – braised short ribs – at Kabuki in Centerville

I tire of hearing that Dayton is lacking in good ethnic eateries. We may be short on solid Italian and Puerto Rican offerings, but for everything else you just have to look – not downtown, not near the mall, but off the beaten path.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from eating my way through the Midwest, it’s not to judge a restaurant by its outward appearance. This part of Centerville has been building up over the past few years and frankly, I have no idea when Kabuki arrived. It was just there one day, flanking the bake-your-own pizza joint on Far Hills near Spring Valley. I’d only ever heard one person talk about this place and she raved about it. So, I took it on as my duty to sample their wares myself and bring the news to my eaters.

I’m not much of a sushi eater myself, but it’s not hard to buy sushi for a friend in return for their feedback. I left the sushi ordering to my gal pal who’s lived and eaten in enough places to know her rolls, and I went for the Korean menu. I landed on Kal Bi, which is a dish of braised short ribs, marinated in a similar – if not the same – mixture as bulgogi. Short ribs, when done well, can be one of the most tender meats you’ve ever encountered. They will damn near melt in your mouth. Unfortunately, Kabuki’s didn’t quite hit the mark. The flavor and cooking of the short ribs were little short of perfection, but the cut itself was awful. Short ribs are meant to have a decent amount of fat and a little connective tissue, which is what makes them so tender during the cooking process. The cow these came from, however, was in a bad way. You’re only given chopsticks, which left me to eat a wet-marinated meat with my hands like a cave-girl. To boot, I actually found myself so repulsed by the amount of fat that I couldn’t bear to keep chewing some of the bites. To whoever bussed our table, sorry about what you encountered in my wadded up napkin. You can thank your butcher. Considering this is one of the priciest items on their menu, I was expecting much better quality.

Kabuki has an extensive sushi menu, rolling up everything from eel to tempura red snapper with more than 40 offerings, not including the vegetarian and riceless rolls. If you’ve always wanted to try sushi but you’re hinky about raw fish, this is a good place to start. The Centerville Roll, while not traditional sushi, was a big hit. The roll was filled with cooked salmon, shrimp tempura, avocado and cream cheese, then deep-fried and topped with chef’s sauce and almonds. I’m guessing this is a top seller. My assumption is that the name comes from the almost unnecessary decadence of the roll. The Crunch Munch Roll – with crab and tempura chips and spicy mayo – was tasty, but nothing special.  It wasn’t bad but it didn’t really stand up to the Centerville Roll, which we’d never seen anything like on another menu. While every roll may not be an award-winner, it’s safe to say that this is one of Dayton’s top spots for good, inventive sushi.

The most impressive parts of our visit weren’t really the parts I was expecting. The plating was phenomenal. We had a table with a lot of evening sun and shadows, so I didn’t get the stunning photos I would have liked, but presentation is clearly a well-developed skill of someone in their kitchen. Even the short ribs presented just as nicely as the sushi. Other favorites were the vegetable gyoza dumplings and the miso soup we ordered for starters. The gyoza were light, crisp and super tasty. The miso was some of the better I’d had – good enough for me to finish the bowl, which I don’t think I’ve done before.

The service was hit or miss, and could use some improvement. When I arrived alone, a server sat me by a window, but another female employee was following around shaking her head at his choice, which made me a little uncomfortable. We ended up with another server, but I didn’t feel like we had his full attention and he kept forgetting to bring the drinks we ordered. It probably didn’t help that we were seated next to a table of Center-bros who talked loudly to one another and on their cell phones most of the time, which prevented us from getting our servers attention because you couldn’t hear a thing over the neighboring table.

It’s also important to note that this is not a good choice for those on a budget. If you can get away with only ordering one or two rolls, you could maybe get out under $20 after tax and tip. A small appetizer, one entrée, two rolls and three glasses of wine tallied up nearly $100 before tip.

If you’re looking for interesting sushi you might not find elsewhere, Kabuki is definitely worth the trip.

Kabuki is located at 848 S. Main St. in Centerville. For more information, call 937.435.9500 or visit eatatkabuki.com.

 Reach DCP freelance writer Brandy King at BrandyKing@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit her blog, foodvsface.com. Caricature by Jay King.

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