Restaurant review: Freshstreet

By Columbus Alive
From the July 26, 2012 edition

Well, my happiness just doubled. See, now I can access a twofer of daily delight by eating Freshstreet’s inspired cuisine for both dinner and, as of recently, lunch. Bonuses: beverages like bubble or smoky iced barley tea, espresso or Thunderkiss coffee and, except for key proteins and sauces, little overlap between daytime and evening menus.

You know Freshstreet, don’t you? They’re (primarily) Misako Ohba and Kenny Kim, the Japanese/Korean couple who became media and food-cart darlings when Freshstreet began making beautiful and creative Japanese crepes a couple of years ago. Never content to sit still, Freshstreet deep-sixed the crepe cart and subsequently attempted to hook Columbus on fried octopus balls (aka takoyaki — not the easiest sell) while operating out of the Short North shack housing the original Mikey’s Late Night Slice.

Freshstreet Chapter Three premiered last year when the restless duo moved indoors into the super-hip/Asian kitsch/drenched-in-red digs of the Double Happiness bar and music club in the Brewery District. There the Freshstreeters caught fire with yakitori — terrific little skewers of grilled meaty bits seared over high-heat-burning, special Japanese bincho charcoal. While the evening-only yakitori are still available, the crepes and takoyaki presently are relegated to pop-ups and specials.

This brings us to Freshstreet’s newest project: a lunchtime-only, daily changing menu of (mostly) rice-anchored and sandwich-like things. My thumbnail assessment: Not only has Freshstreet lightning struck again, but it might’ve hit on a recipe for commercial success — because this selection is comprehensively nice-priced, and several items are more filling and accessible to everyday palates than Freshstreet’s previous fare.

For instance, I defy any fan of the American diner classic tuna melt and fries not to be wowed by Freshstreet’s new and improved take on it ($6). Instead of dubious stuff plopped from a can, Freshstreet chops much higher quality fish into a meaty, almost slaw-like salad with onion, crunchy diced carrots and a fairly restrained hand on the Japanese mayo. Sealing the deal are good melted cheese and thin Japanese bread grill-toasted so it snaps when bitten.

And those fries! They’re long and thick, skin-on jobbies fried to a crisp and ungreasy golden brown ($3 a la carte). Try ’em with sriracha mayo or the giggly-named “Korean mom sauce” (mostly gojuchang, i.e. Korean chili paste).

Speaking of sauces, you’ll probably be asked to pick one and a protein to go with your selections from the three categories that comprise the heart of Freshstreet’s small yet big flavored menu: rice bowls, onigiri and Chinese bun sandwiches.

Those Chinese buns (aka bao; they’re snowy white and expertly steamed) are puffy and pillowy things of true beauty — and better than many I’ve eaten in big-city Chinatown restaurants. In snacky sandwich form ($5), they eat like sublime soft tacos and tasted great layered with crunchy battered shrimp katsu (atop a sort of egg salad and slathered in viscous curry sauce); tender, salty and fatty pork belly; or bratwurst-y, hot dog-sized, casing-popping grilled Japanese sausages.

Also snacky was the Onigiri with scallop I tried ($4). Like a single piece of huge sushi, it was a nori-wrapped fist-sized mass of rice with a succulent scallop concealed in its center.

Considerably more substantial are the simple rice bowls ($5). Generously topped with terrific seared tuna or killer bulgogi, they’re satisfying, full meals.

Moral: A double dose of Double Happiness will happily hold you over until Freshstreet’s next intriguing project: a fall-scheduled, yakitori/taco collaboration with Commonwealth Sandwich Bar.