Some people may call Asian Paradise an oxymoron. I can't believe it, but there are real, living and breathing people out there who don't care for Asian food, including anything that resembles sushi.
I call Asian Paradise the best sushi restaurant I've found in Cincinnati, so far. Before calling any restaurant "the best", I have to try it at least twice. Sometimes a restaurant can have a great night by accident, and sometimes it can have a lousy night the same way. This is based on my second meal there, which was just as delightful as the first.
Asian Paradise is owned and operated by an individual who is clearly dedicated to excellence in the level of food they offer. They call their product "New York-inspired Asian Fusion", which sounds like an odd combo - don't you think the influence for Asian food should come from Asia? Whatever, and whereever he finds his inspiration, it works!
Located in little Loveland, Ohio (a suburb of sprawling Cincinnati), it resides in a corner of an unassuming strip mall, a Sassy Moments gym is its western neighbor, and a Lighting Specialist is its other neighbor. Unassuming might be too big of a word to describe the strip mall. Indistinguishable from any other strip mall might be a better description. It is really quite ordinary.
But then, you walk through the doors of Asian Paradise, and leave contemporary suburbia behind. You are greeted by a cute little host or hostess, and given the obligatory smile and swish to a seat. But the rest of the night goes beyond ordinary. The restaurant interior is dark: dark walls, dark woods and minimal lighting. Most of the light comes from the small candles on each table, candle-like sconces on the walls and the bright light from the kitchen. There are gold Asian letters on the walls, resembling the tattoos so prevalent in the neighborhood malls. Fortunately, there are no red hanging lanterns or goldfish in aquariums. The reference to New York inspiration becomes more clear. This restaurant looks like it belongs in a more cosmopolitan city than little ole Loveland.
We started with a glass of sake. The waiter recommended I try the chilled version (since it was over 90 degrees outside). It was my first since my return from China, and probably my last til I travel to Japan. I must report with some sadness, sake and I are not on speaking terms anymore. Sake is Japan's most famous alcoholic beverage, brewed from a combination of rice and water, then fermented to perfection, or according to my taste buds, some godawful combination of liquified peteroleum gas and ice. I quickly returned to my typical adult beverage of choice, a lovely red.
On to the real star of the evening - the food. I had tried steam dumplings for the first time, just a few weeks earlier in Shanghai. I convinced my guest we should start with the Tuna Dumpling. He agreed. Unfortunately, my experience with the sake blurred my vision and I did not read the description of the appetizer very well. I was expecting some type of pork product, wrapped within a moist rice wrap. Fortunately, we were pleasantly surprised when our waitress brought us the beautiful Tuna Dumpling appetizer. It was two dumplings, composed of a spicy tuna, shrimp and kani filling, around which was wrapped the finest, most tender tuna known to mankind, then formed into a typical Asian dumpling shape. The presentation included a swirl of dipping sauces: sweet soy, wasaabi and spicy mayo. Our eyes glistened and lips smacked in unchecked anticipation. But wait, how to eat such large pieces of food, armed only with our wooden chopsticks?
Not to worry! I easily picked up my dumpling with my chopsticks, dipped it in the delightful sauce, and began nibbling at a little edge of the wrap. (I had seen much more difficult dishes attacked in China, so I was fearless regarding how I might look to the rest of the restaurant crowd.) It worked just fine, until there was less wrap and more filling left. At that point, I surrendered my dumpling to my plate, and (because the tuna was so tender and so thinly sliced) was able to pick more appropriately sized pieces to fit my mouth. My, we were off to a delicious start to the evening. Could they top this appetizer?
Oh Spicy Girl, you called me next. A delightful combo of crunchy spicy tuna and spicy yellowtail, topped with a schmear of crunchy spicy salmon, roe and spicy mayo. Spicy Girl - go on!