Last week my ethnic eating club went to Sekisui, the new Japanese place on S. Grand, where Once Upon a Vine used to be. The atmosphere is very nice (if little changed), with a wall of water as you walk in and ragged walls of different hues throughout. The art here is unique - nothing as "hokey" as the traditional Japanese look. Everything is modern and sleek, without being scary. The noise level at the tables is very low, making conversation easy. There is a big sushi bar with three chefs, drinking beer and cursing each other good-naturedly. Patrons are of every age, ethnicity and fashion. There are a variety of sakes, wines and beers. The feel is that of a bistro - just what the name purports.
Everything seemed to be starting off well. We were pleasantly and promptly greeted at the door and seated immediately. A server came by with damp, hot towels to freshen us up. But the green tea was weak! And the server either had no idea what he was doing or he just didn't care. He actually tried to leave the table before taking everyone's orders. The busgirl, on the other hand, did a great job. She took our concerns seriously and kept up with quickly-drained water glasses.
The menu at Sekisui is very eclectic and exciting. There are many appetizers, grilled foods, soups, tempura (including tempura by piece, i.e. you can pick your eggplant or shrimp), and samplers that would make this restaurant a great place to go for beginner sushi eaters. The sushi menu is particularly good with notations for cooked foods and vegetarian selections. This is definitely not your average Japanese restaurant.
When the food came, it all came at once. Our dingleberry of a server did not know who got what, and was interested only in dumping his plates and getting away as quickly as possible. Fortunately, this did not ruin our tastebuds. Tempura was excellent - a crispier than usual coating and just ever so slightly greasy. However, none of the pieces were overcooked and I wished I had ordered more. A note - the appetizer serving of this is much less pricey and has almost as many pieces. Potstickers, or chinese pork dumplings, were likewise excellent, with thin coverings and finely minced insides. These were also perfectly cooked, if a bit floury in taste. Kushiaki was two skewers, one chicken, one shrimp, interlaced with onions, mushrooms and green peppers. The sauce on these was great - like a terriaki or other soy-based sweet glaze. Sushi got rave reviews. The tuna roll was spicy, a joy, a revelation. Also the snow crab was GREAT - tender, sweet, big chunks of crab.
All in all the food was excellent. We ended up tipping less than our usual 20% because service was so horrible (avoid the young bald guy with the horn-rimmed glasses and the weak chin), but everyone enjoyed their food. The bustle was very pleasant here and I look forward to going back. Oh, the bathrooms were clean and the bar area, which I believe permits smoking, was very cozy. Children would be welcome - we saw a lady on a date with her kid tagging along. He was sitting at the sushi bar and the chefs were having a grand time with him.