Japanese cuisine for the savoring

By Maria Pedone

Among the already countless attractions existing in downtown Amherst, including the sensational Monkey Bar and reliable CVS, I was lucky enough to stumble upon another one last weekend. Arigato, a quaint Japanese restaurant and sushi bar, was the perfect prescription for my Berkshire Dining Commons blues. Located at 11 North Pleasant Street, Arigato caters to a wide audience. Whether you are modest to the concept of sushi and adhere strictly to California rolls, or you aspire to find the fishiest entree on the menu, Arigato’s selection is sure to satisfy.

Though Arigato’s size is not grandiose, the array of window-shaped mirrors established an open and comfortable atmosphere. This is a perfect setting to bring a date or a few close friends as a getaway from hectic campus life. As I started on the edamame appetizer on my table, I opened up the menu to order Dinner Box Special A. At a reasonable $16.50, this dinner special consists of miso soup, salad, a California roll, chicken teriyaki, a selection of tempura and rice.  This box is an affordable way to fulfill your every craving for raw, grilled or fried food.

The miso soup and salad set the stage for the rest of my Japanese meal. Mushrooms added a bit of bitterness to the miso soup, but the flavor was still an enjoyable segue into my main dishes. As the actual dinner box was carefully placed in front of me, I instantly picked up my chopsticks and first targeted the chicken teriyaki. The meat was tender, with just the correct amount of teriyaki sauce dribbled on top of it. My slices of chicken were not drowning in sauce, nor were they burdened by a teriyaki drought.

Afterwards, my chopsticks wandered toward the California roll. The sushi chef was clearly generous with this collection of cucumber, crab and avocado. Each of the six pieces appeared as well-constructed cylinders surrounded by enough rice to keep their contents intact.  When topped with a slab of white ginger and dipped in a mixture of soy sauce and wasabi, these rolls will turn even the shyest of sushi newbies into confident foodies. With two rolls left in my dinner box, I took a deep breath and decided to save the rest of my appetite for the neighboring tempura.

Tempura is a Japanese method of deep-frying and battering. The batter is a light combination of water and wheat flour, and causes the texture of the fried food to become crispy and flaky. The shrimp tempura proved to be succulent and paired well with the more subtle taste of Arigato’s vegetable tempura. Both were an enjoyable break from the distinct flavors of the chicken teriyaki and California roll. While the tempura excelled in an airy texture, it is not an item to order by itself. The tofu tempura, also an item in Dinner Box A, caught my attention for a bite or two, but the blandness of the soft, unseasoned tofu and its crispy shell led me to deter from it.

Just as I was about to end my meal with a wad of brown rice, our waitress walked toward our table with a large platter in hand. With the same cordial smile that welcomed me as I walked into Arigato, she said, “This is new from our chef! It is called ‘OMG Roll.’”  This was indeed the highlight of my dinner. My friends and I, chopsticks in hand, dug into the sushi chef’s latest recipe. Just as the salmon, spicy mayo and fried rice hit our taste buds, it was almost instinctive for all five of us to mutter “Oh-my-god.” The amalgamation of the faintly spicy sauce and the element of crunchiness tucked away in the roll excited my tongue to a new degree. I suggest this delicious maki roll to any level of sushi eater, from the apprehensive to the experienced. A trip to Arigato requires the inquiry of this modernly exquisite dish.

Arigato surpasses the array of restaurants in downtown Amherst with its welcoming service, soothing atmosphere and phenomenal assortment of Japanese cuisine. It allows college students in the area a relief and reward from a long week of midterms. Fifteen dollars is a small price to pay when accompanied by such convivial staff and savory food, so I suggest that everyone from the University of Massachusetts and beyond take the time to experience what awaits at Arigato.  

Maria Pedone can be reached at [email protected].