Kanpai, 408 E. Chicago St., arrived on the scene in August 2012 and quickly established itself as a cutting edge and quality-oriented Asian fusion restaurant with an emphasis on Japanese dining.
For its first anniversary, Kanpai offered an evening of "nude sushi" featuring a model adorned solely with seaweed, raw fish and flowers.
"It was very tasteful," says Peter Hur, general manager.
Now, Kanpai is introducing another new concept called kaiten sushi, which means "rotating sushi" in Japanese and can be thought of as Asian small plate dining.
In other cities, the small plate items are placed on a conveyor belt and diners grab what they want. Kanpai will not have the conveyor belt, but will offer a similar concept. Instead, diners will receive a paper menu featuring dozens of Japanese small plate items ranging in price from $2.95 to $5.95 and will check off what they want on the menu.
Kaiten sushi is sometimes referred to as "Japanese fast food," which can be misleading because the kaiten portions are smaller and it does take less time for the chef to fulfill orders. But, because everything is made to order, it’s not fast food in the American sense of the term.
When a conveyor belt is used, the dining experience is more fast food-oriented but Hur says it compromises freshness.
"Items on the conveyor belt sometimes rotate for hours, but our items are always made fresh," he says. "Freshness and quality of our ingredients has always been one of the things that sets us apart from other restaurants. Especially when you are eating something raw, you don’t want to skimp on ingredients."
The kaiten concept is very popular in Japan and other large cities in the United States with a lot of people living fast-paced lives.
Hur, who was born in Korea and moved to the United States when he was 12, grew up eating a lot of Japanese food. Prior to opening Kanpai, he worked as a software engineer in Chicago where he regularly ate at a kaiten sushi restaurant with a conveyor belt.
During our recent kaiten sushi lunch, we did marvel at the freshness of the 10-plus items we sampled. Particularly the take (octopus), which was soft and pleasingly odorless, unlike other octopus experiences elsewhere in the past. The spicy pork and wakame (seaweed salad) also tasted extremely fresh.
Equally as satisfying to us was the artistic and colorful presentation. It was particularly appreciated during the arduous winter.
In fact, The tobiko (flying fish roe) was almost too pretty to eat and the dragon rolls were some of the most attractive pieces we’d ever seen. We also tried some new items, including short ribs and a Japanese version of jalapeno poppers, tempura rolls which are a cross between tempura and maki rolls.
Kanpai is owned by Brian Park, who also owns Wasabi in Brookfield and the recently opened Stone Bowl Grill, 1958 N. Farwell Ave.
The kaiten menu is available from Sunday through Tuesday for lunch or dinner. The prices are the same all day.
"We had been talking about offering kaiten sushi at Kanpai for a long time. We are always looking to bring new concepts to Milwaukee that might be fun for our customers," says Hur.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.