Ashland's Kobe arguably has been serving the town's most inventive, artistic sushi for going on four years.

Across the plaza, newcomer Taroko stands to give Kobe a run for its money.

In the decade-long digs of Kat Wok and the short-lived Motif restaurant, Taroko takes full advantage of the space's pre-existing sushi bar and chic, modern vibe. Co-owner Vicky Keller is no stranger to sushi, serving Japanese cuisine, including teppanyaki, at restaurants in Redding and Eureka, Calif. Originally from Taiwan, Keller also owns Hunan Garden, G Street Bistro and Black Forest Family Restaurant in Grants Pass. She named her latest venture for a national park in her native country.

Open for a month, the "pan-Pacific bistro" still is formulating a diverse array of Asian-influenced dishes, some entirely new to Ashland's food landscape, says Keller's daughter, co-owner and co-manager Christie Ching. This week, the restaurant added a Thai-style curry, Mongolian-style beef and Korean-style barbecue to the menu, says Ching.

"There are Chinese influences and Thai, Vietnamese, obviously Japanese and Korean."

A proficient cook, Keller collaborated with chef Chuck Wu on the menu. Inspired by a traditional Taiwanese dish, they created the "Taroko fried rice" with cucumber, strawberry, mango, kiwi, apple and pineapple. Spinning the fruity theme in several directions, Wu constructed the "Taroko maki," which rolls up tuna, shrimp and asparagus with fruit. The "seafood martini" layers sashimi with fruit, and the "crystal seafood" ($17) pairs sauteed shrimp and scallops with the aforementioned fruits, plus honeydew and banana in a yuzu sauce.

Everyone in our party of five was skeptical of the combination but felt compelled to try something so unusual. Craving a little of everything, we also ordered three sushi rolls, "golden dragon" ($13), "spicy girl" ($14) and "fusion" ($14); pad Thai and Singapore noodles with tofu (each $12), a sashimi salad ($13) and an appetizer of shrimp dumplings ($6). Two of us claimed scallop hand rolls ($5 apiece) for ourselves.

First to the table, the dumplings were nice mouthfuls that could be had in any dim sum parlor. Since asking Ching about their provenance, I would choose the pork dumplings and tofu-shiitake dumplings — both made in house and served in broth — on my next visit, certainly for the same price as the shrimp.

Attractively presented with a confetti of colorful fish eggs, including a dollop of salmon roe on top, the salad incorporated thin slices of white tuna, salmon, yellowtail, shrimp and scallop on a bed of mixed greens. I appreciated the fish's freshness and only wished the greens had been as impeccable. Our group praised the light, citrusy dressing, but I thought more tang would have solidified the salad's concept.

Similarly, the pad Thai lacked acid and the complexity usually imparted from fish sauce, and the curry-spiced Singapore noodles conveyed solely that note. Both were passable but paled in comparison with the sushi's explosive flavors and textures.

The hand rolls contained generous portions of sweet and tender scallops atop a bit of rice, wrapped in a cone of seaweed. My friend said she hoped ordering hers without the spice wouldn't sacrifice the mayonnaise and that she missed flying-fish roe on top. I thought my spicy version — roe or no — was sublime.

Drizzled with sauces and garnished with filaments of daikon, carrot and beet, presentation — and portions — of each roll elicited "oohs" and "aahs." Paper-thin lemon slices perfectly accented the golden dragon's silky salmon while the spicy girl's crawfish and tuna benefitted from tricolored toppings of tobiko.

Sliced the size of silver dollars, the deep-fried fusion seemed (true to its name) like "two rolls in one," said my sister-in-law. Yet it struck a perfect balance with two types of tuna, yellowtail, snow crab, salmon and shrimp without relying on additional rice. Its clean, vibrant flavor belied a deep-fried finish.

After several courses, the crystal seafood with its predominant sweetness almost passed for dessert. We all enjoyed sampling the unique recipe, particularly its topping of candied walnuts, but agreed the flavors may become overpowering in an entree portion.

In the future, I'd get my fill of fruit from the Taroko roll or seafood martini and order udon, pho or Thai-style curry for a main course. On Ching's advice, I'll also be looking for seasonal ingredients, like green beans, to make the menu.

— Sarah Lemon

Share This Story