December 14, 2007 John Kernaghan

The Hamilton Spectator

"Cheers to Kampai Japanese takeout"

Kampai Japanese restaurant staff members, from left, Rose Yi, Susan Lee, Tom Lee, and Robert Moon in the dining room.

Kampai Japanese Cuisine

236 King St. W., Hamilton

905-777-8744

The look: Small and appealing

The feel: Warm and welcoming

What you'll pay: The lunch menu opens at $9 with spicy chicken karage, teriyaki beef and chicken. The bento boxes are $13 with a salmon teriyaki centrepiece and $12 for chicken and beef elements.

Dinner entrees include tempura udon, thick noodles with shrimp and vegetable tempura for $13, Korean barbecue ribs marinated in garlic and sweet soy are $18, and seafood items run from tempura udon with two jumbo prawn for $12 to teriyaki salmon for $15. Sushi bar dinners open at $8 for five pieces of the chef's choice to $20 for the 17-piece sushi and sashimi dinner. Maki entrees include the Lion King roll with salmon over California maki baked in a sweet garlic cream sauce.

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday and holidays. The restaurant is wheelchair accessible.

Always at your service, we're offering some takeout dining options this week and next as the holiday season crowds folks for time.

Kampai Japanese Cuisine was a chance for some different tastes in the season of heavy and hearty favourites.

The King Street West restaurant is a comfy oasis not far from Hess Village. It has a wide enough menu that one needn't be too daring when ordering.

There's a wide offering of sushi and sashimi there at a seafood counter and plenty of options that will stand up as family fare, too.

I sat at the sushi bar and had an ika opener and Sapporo beer while my take-home order was made and packaged. The tempura-coated octopus pieces ($7) were a good stopgap measure before the main meal landed at home, putting one in mind of a pile of fries with a golden tint.

But the comparison ended with the soft batter lightly crisped by deep frying and the slightly rubbery seafood underneath. It was a winning competition between sips of the crisp beer.

I made a mental note to come back and eat in at the colourful restaurant. They've created a nice comfort zone with easy-on-the-eyes decor.

Kampai, by the way, means cheers in Japanese, and staff was certainly cheerful, sending me out into a rainy night with help to the sidewalk.

The takeout order survived 30 minutes in transit well, save for the donkasu, breaded pork ($14), which was cut into thin segments. It was tepid on arrival.

But the customary miso soup was hot and the best value in the order, chicken yaki-stick ($6), also needed no microwave help.

The two generous skewers of moist chicken chunks alternated with onions and peppers needed no sauce or condiment. The other appetizer, veggie croquettes ($6), was a soft counterpart, putting one in mind of a fat potato pancake. Except for an odd orange colour, they were quite good and came with a thick vegetable-fruit sauce that was overpowering.

The yaki udon ($12) with seafood ($4) was a mixed blessing. The thick noodles and vegetables came in a mildly spicy sauce, a Far East comfort food, but the seafood component was mostly squid with a few shrimp thrown in and a bit of a disappointment.

Finally, the pork cutlet, though not hot, was a good-sized portion with more of that powerful sauce, though hammered thin between layers of breading.

Service was eager to please and prices, save for the noodle and seafood combination, were competitive.

jkernaghan@thespec.com

905-526-3422