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Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012

Gut Reaction for Dec. 27, 2012

Intimate Asian bistro serves made-to-order delights

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Sobaya Japanese Bistro is at 3590 St. James Ave. in Myrtle Beach, in the Shops at St. James Square off Robert M. Grissom Parkway about half a block south of 38th Avenue North. It’s open from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5-9:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from noon to 9:30 p.m. Saturdays. The number is 839-4899.

Setting the Table

Once upon a time there was a teeny-tiny restaurant in a teeny-tiny neighborhood that served Asian food with big bold flavors.

This reality tale has an extremely happy ending: Sobaya Japanese Bistro is serving savory recipes from a few different Asian cultures for a legion of diners who became instant fans after chef/owner Takashi Miyazaki opened it in September.

With almost two dozen seats, the restaurant is at St. James Plaza, a sort of micro-mini Market Common spanning three small blocks of apartments, some with shops on the street level. The restaurant was originally opened in 2009 by North Myrtle Beach restaurateur Benny Rappa as Giada’s, then was sold, remained Giada’s for a while, then for three months was Nico’s Pizzeria & Trattoria before it became Saffron’s for a brief time.

Giada’s was the only successful eatery in that spot until Miyazaki, a former chef and manager at Yamato’s, opened Sobaya. He can be seen in the minuscule and orderly exposition kitchen, wearing a skull cap, calmly cooking to order the dishes listed on tickets created by his sweet and smiling server, Mikyong Kim, who is also his wife.

Food is served in and on a variety of pretty Asian ceramics.

Down the Hatch

I’ve had two lunches at Sobaya; once right after it opened with my older son, who will sample almost any food, and recently with my younger son, who is extremely picky. All three of us love it.

During the two visits we tried three excellent appetizers.

Dragon Wings are chicken wing “mini leg” joints pounded out and stuffed with a vegetable mixture, coated in crunchy panko, deep-fried and served with a drizzle of sweet and spicy sauce. Gyoza are dumplings filled with vegetables, ground beef and pork that are pan-sautéed and served with a soy dipping sauce; and meaty pork Asian Barbecue Ribs are smoked in tea and hickory before they’re bathed in hoisin sauce.

A few more appetizers ($3.25-$5.25) are Kappa, Kappa (crawfish salad wrapped in cucumber), Shrimp and Vegetable Tempura, and Agedashi Tofu, which is deep-fried and served with nameko mushrooms in tempura sauce.

Salads range from a $4.75 house salad to $11 for spicy Thai Seafood Salad with shrimp, scallops, rice noodles, bean sprouts, red onions, greens and sciracha dressing.

A petite house salad and stir-fried zucchini/onions are included in lunchtime Bento Boxes ($9-$11) when there’s a choice of protein (teriyaki chicken, shrimp, bulgogi, panko pork), rice (steamed, fried, brown), soup (miso or chicken broth) and salad dressing (ginger, yuzu, Ranch).

One of my sons tried the Teriyaki Chicken, not in the Bento Box but in a $7 Kiji Bowl, and he was extremely happy with the chicken’s smoky flavor. I did have a Bento Box, with Bulgogi (Korean barbecue beef), and thought its slightly curdled sauce was too sweet.

But Bulgogi is the only dish at Sobaya we didn’t absolutely love. We recommend Jabchae, which has transparent sweet potato noodles under a stir-fry of julienne vegetables, umami-rich shiitake mushrooms and thinly sliced beef that is wonderfully tender and richly flavorful; the best Miso Soup I’ve ever had, with a deeply flavored broth that lingers on the palate; and Ahi Tuna Salad with grilled asparagus and citrusy Yuzu dressing.

Noodle dishes are $7.50-$12, with choices including Duck Broth, which is grilled duck breast and a duck meatball with either soba or udon noodles; Kyushu Tonkotsu Ramen with pork, sprouts, mushrooms, fish cake and boiled egg; and Tom Yum Bouillabaisse with rice noodles, clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops, mushrooms, sprouts and cilantro in hot and sour broth.

Rice bowls range from Vegetable Fried Rice for $5.50 to $12 for Bibimbap with vegetables, beef, egg and chili paste served in a hot stone bowl.

Check, please

Japanese beverages are available, such as Ichiban, Sapporo, Asahi and Kirin Light beers, a light-tasting Japanese soda called Ramune in a pretty bottle, and hot and chilled sakes. There’s also an assortment of other drinks, including domestic beers and several wines.

A children’s choice is Chicken Fingers with fries for $4, and the only dessert option is a $5 bowl of Green Tea Ice Cream.

Becky Billingsley serves up fresh news daily at
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