Flavorful, Japanese-style dishes often arrive with unconventional flourishes in this strong-performing newcomer
As restaurant names go, Ampersand Asian Supper Club is a mouthful. And most of the mouthfuls served at this idiosyncratic Short North establishment are delicious.
Another eatery from owner Megan Ada, who apparently has an interest in semiotics — she launched delightful Asterisk Supper Club in Westerville a couple years ago — Ampersand doesn’t take its symbol-referencing name lightly. Because the “&” logogram is consistent with the “and something more” aesthetic of this newcomer specializing in unconventionally enhanced takes on Japanese classics.
A similar aesthetic informs the trendy interior. As you might expect in a Japanese-centric eatery, wood is prevalent, but here it’s offset by slate-gray tones and metal features.
Although lacking a sushi menu, Ampersand has a sushi-style bar that offers full service. A private room with tatami mats is available; the space is bordered by metal screens instead of the paper-lined shoji screens you’d see in more traditional places. Fast-casual service is the rule for most of the seating, which is at blond wooden tables and banquettes.
Bamboo plants and a soundtrack playing tunes in the key of “chill” lend the casual eatery a soothing atmosphere. A wall of windows streams in daytime natural light. The most notable wall holds a densely packed collection of framed photographs and paintings in a mash-up of styles that point to the “more is better” approach echoed in Ampersand’s cuisine.Stay up to date on the city's always changing dining scene: Sign up for our daily newsletter
Dotting the small, interesting beverage menu are nouveaux cans of wine, a couple of Japanese and Ohio-brewed beers, good sake and creatively designed cocktails such as the creamy-yet-zippy Kyoto Warrior ($11), which conjures a martini and pisco sour hybrid. Floral green tea, both hot and cold, is a gracious free perk available to diners at the DIY water station.
If just seeking a snack, the slammable Nori Fries are a nice value: $5 for an ample supply of thin, crispy spuds livened by white pepper and crinkly seaweed sprinkles and accompanied by a spicy aioli dipping sauce.
Ampersand’s rich-and-concentrated Miso Soup ($4) is among the best around. In addition to an uncommonly intense flavor, it’s distinguished by tiny, fried-to-crisp (though eventually soup-softened) tofu cubes.
The Little Gem salad ($7) far outpaces those iceberg-lettuce-based afterthoughts popular in many local Japanese restaurants. The attractive ensemble includes julienned radishes and carrots, little gem lettuce, sesame seeds and a refreshing soy-lime-ginger dressing.
Ramen and rice-based bowls called donburi form the heart of the one-page menu. Calling the provocatively flavored ramen selection a group of souped-up Japanese soups might be punny, but it’s accurate — even though standard components show up, such as pickled ginger, nori, respectable ramen eggs and al dente noodles.
Dashi adds semi-funky oceanic undertones to the chili-spiked chicken broth of the Spicy Shoyu ramen ($15). Seared broccolini, shredded chicken confit and peperonata (Italian-style stewed peppers) add to the fun.
Ampersand’s rich Tonkotsu ramen ($16) is even better. The pork-bone base of its dark, nuanced broth has nontraditional, roasted and woodsy accents derived from local mushrooms and black garlic oil. The flavor-bomb soup also includes distinctly huge, extra-crispy bars of succulent pork belly. Takana — zippy pickled greens — supplies appreciated contrast.
Both the Salmon ($16) and the Katsudon ($15) donburi taste as good as they look. Which artfully presented, decked-out entree should you get? It depends if you’re in the mood for a rice bowl starring silky raw fish, glittering tobiko and a bright, citrusy dressing, or one featuring crispy pork-cutlet strips, corn, peperonata, plus thick-and-tangy tonkatsu sauce.
Ampersand’s dessert du jour ($7) is usually a variation on matcha (green tea) cheesecake. The slab I sampled was topped with on-target dark-chocolate ganache. Like most items here, it’s an example of fusion cuisine that might be controversial to many purists, but tastes darn good anyway.