Let's get this right out of the way: Katana (845 S. Montford Ave.,  522-7100, katanabaltimore.com) is Americanized sushi. But it's pretty good Americanized sushi. No, the fish isn't flown in daily from Tokyo, and no, there isn't an extensive list of trendy Japanese whiskeys. But if you're looking for somewhere for a first date (or Tinder hookup), or just a solid, reasonable place for sushi, then Katana is one of the better spots in the city.
Located at the corner of Montford Avenue and Boston Street—a notoriously difficult location, previously home to Hollywood Burger Bistro, Tangiers, and Red Fish—Canton's newest Japanese restaurant has been completely redone. We were instantly greeted by an exceedingly friendly staff and a long, sleek, black marble bar that's also home to a sushi bar at the far end. Futuristic orbs of light hang above the bar, which is where we recommend you take up shop, as the back dining room, though nicely adorned with Japanese paintings and dark booths, felt a bit lonely and closed off from the real action.
The menu is instantly overwhelming, with dozens of rolls, various sushi combos, appetizers, entrees, ramen, and more—we counted 164 items in total. Frankly, it's too big. Had it been smaller, then maybe some of our minor gripes about the execution and attention to detail on some dishes could have been better honed. But otherwise, we enjoyed most of what we tried, despite the occasional trip-up.
There are two different appetizer menus, one with traditional Japanese items such as dumplings and tempura and one with sushi—though Katana seems to be playing fast and loose with the definition of sushi. The Sexy Jalapeño ($10) is absurdly listed as a sushi app, despite it being from another solar system than sushi, but it's a good seafood take on jalapeño poppers. Cream cheese and spicy tuna were folded into zesty halves of fresh jalapeño peppers, deep fried, zigzagged with sweet and spicy squirts of a honey wasabi mayo and eel sauce, and dotted with bright orange tobiko (flying fish) roe. The sweetness was slightly over-the-top, but that didn't keep us from finishing the entire thing.
The real winning starter though was a daily special of raw scallops ($11.99) that arrived at our table on a bed of ice that was literally aglow with throbbing red, blue, green, and yellow lights with a massive circular shell jammed into the ice as a dramatic backdrop. It was as if the spaceship from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" was delivering our scallops.
As hokey as the presentation seemed, when we discovered the scallops were fresh, slightly sweet, and with a perfect hint of acid—thanks to the thin slices of lemon layered throughout—we decided the bright display was justified, and pretty damn fun.
The sushi we had was equally fun and satisfying. During a lunch visit, where we noticed they have some pretty good deals, we tried the sashimi lunch ($11.95) and the sushi lunch ($9.95). Both were served with your typical-but-satisfying miso soup and a side salad with ginger dressing, with the sushi lunch including four fresh pieces of nigiri (salmon, tuna, yellowtail, and mackerel—though the fish selection changes based on availability) and a California roll, while the sashimi was delivered with seven artfully fanned-out slices of beet-red tuna, bright peach-hued salmon with lovely striations of white fat, and delicately cut yellowtail topped with a small pool of red chili sauce.
The sashimi was cut so thick it was almost a challenge to fit in our mouths (a positive), but it was refreshing and presented beautifully, with the yellowtail taking the cake with its surprisingly tangy pop from the sauce. The nigiri was equally fresh in terms of the fish, but, as we found be the case with all of their rolls and nigiri, the rice was a bit dry, and each grain was so small we wondered if they were even using sushi rice. In traditional Japanese sushi, the rice is the most important part, so we found that to be a bit of a let-down, but that's definitely us putting on our sushi-snob cap.
The best way to go, if you like a variety of sushi and are in a group of two or more, are the combos hidden in the sushi entree section. There are a variety of price options for their combos and sushi boats (ranging from $41-$100) but we went with the Sushi For Two ($41) for a recent dinner, which amounted to a well-rounded mix of 16 pieces of nigiri, one specialty roll, and one standard roll—enough for the two of us and then some. We were happy with all of the fish, but the two pieces of nigiri that were home to two seemingly-just-off-the-boat slices of striped bass were the best thing we had all night and definitely had us rethinking just what the Chesapeake favorite could be used for.
There's a slew of specialty rolls—or as we call them, rolls for people who'd rather not be reminded they're eating raw fish—and of the ones we tried, the yummy yum roll ($16) was the standout. It came wrapped in a pink soybean paper in lieu of the traditional nori and although the paper itself didn't seem to have an definable taste, the contents inside more than made up for it. Spicy salmon, slices of avocado, mango, and crabstick were all wrapped in rice and the soybean paper and doused with a heavy amount of spicy mayo, honey wasabi, and eel sauce. It definitely didn't highlight the fish, as is the case with more traditional sushi, but the flavors were bold and the roll was so big it could have been a meal in itself.
It wasn't until the second time we heard Beyoncé's 'Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)' that we realized just how loud the music at the bar was, but after sharing a bottle of cold sake ($16)—a rarity among typical sushi joints and definitely worth some major bonus points—we quickly gave into Queen Bey, snapped up the last couple of pieces of Spanish mackerel, and basked in the knowledge that it doesn't always have to be authentic to be good.
Katana is open Monday-Thursday 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m., and Sunday noon-9:30 p.m.