Recently, while in Springfield, MO doing a training session for my dealer down there, I wanted to take them out for dinner after the meeting. Actually, there's a number of good places to go for dinner in Springfield - but we decided to go out and have some sushi at Haruno Sushi Bar and Grill.
Haruno is located in a small strip mall not far from my dealer's store (see map). Now, I used to be death on restaurants located in a strip mall; and I also used to run away screaming from a sushi place that is more than 500 miles from an ocean. I'm glad I don't have those standards in place any longer or I wouldn't have eaten at Haruno that evening.
Haruno, which opened in 1999, is owned and run by the stylish Young Jung (right). Dressed in a leather mini-skirt, fishnet hose and boots, she looked like she would be more at home in Los Angeles or New York rather than Springfield, MO.
Local residents took a while to warm up to the hip little Japanese restaurant that served what many in these parts refer to as "bait". However, Haruno garnered a reputation for being edgy, having good martini's and good live jazz, and the clientele began to grow. A couple of years ago they expanded into a space next to the original restaurant and called it Haruno's Next Door. There, you'll find an extension of the restaurant with a regular sushi bar that seats six.
We had a small wait to get a table for five around 7:30 the night we were there. They had a small two-piece jazz combo playing in the bar area (the old original space) and it was pretty packed in there with people of all ages. But there did seem to be a larger presence of younger people who were definitely styling for the night.
Ms. Jung seated us in the new section and we immediately ordered a round of Asahi beers. One of the guys had never had sushi before and we were sort of wondering what kind of reaction he'd have. He's a good ol' Missouri boy, one of those who joked about the "bait" he was getting ready to eat. But he was up for the challenge.
Our waiter was certainly indicative of the style of Haruno - he had an edge, but was very hip and cool. He suggested we start off with their house specialty which was sort of a Japanese carpaccio - thinly sliced rare beef which was marinated in a soy mixture. It was very, very good.
We went hog wild with the sushi - ordering tons of sushi rolls and nigiri sushi. One of the guys said, "We've got to order this roll they call 'Oh, My God!' "
I asked, "Is it spicy?"
He said, "Well, not really, but there are so many great taste sensations that after the first bite you're saying, 'Oh, my God!' "
We definitely went with one of those. And I had to have a spicy tuna roll, as well as a couple others that sounded sort of funky. The names for the sushi rolls they had - such as a Philly roll, a Miami roll, a TNT roll - were as interesting as the place itself.
We began to get our sushi and I had to try the "Oh, My God!" It was a piece of white fish wrapped in a number of things including a spicy mayonnaise. I didn't exactly say, "Oh, My God!" when I took the first bite. But it was good. However, I wasn't too big on the mayo on the sushi.
But the spicy tuna roll - WOW!! I have to say it was one of the best - if not THE best - spicy tuna roll I'd ever had. The taste sensation was out of this world. In fact, all the sushi choices we had were very good.
I was bummed that they were out of the chutoro - the very flavorful fatty tuna sushi. The guys had never had it before (it's sort of expensive - about $8.00 for two pieces), so I thought I'd give them a taste of it. That's OK, though - we had more than enough of some very good sushi to eat.
The guy in the group who had never had sushi before was equally impressed. He said, "I've always wanted to try sushi, but I know my wife wouldn't like it; and there's no way I could bring her and the kids to a place like this."
Our bill came to just over $200 bucks - which I thought was pretty reasonable for the amount of sushi we ate and beer we drank. One of the interesting things was that he put an 18% tip on the bill, a little under $37 bucks, but didn't add it into the total. I sort of wondered about this and I had to flag him down to find out what that was all about.
I asked, "Is this a mandatory tip?"
He said, "No, this is just a suggestion. We do that so people can figure out how much 18% is. You can put down anything you want."
He walked away and I said, "The guy is leaving money on the table doing that. I was going to give him a 20% tip." And I did.
But as one of the guys explained to me, "This IS Springfield and people are used to having a big meal and leaving a couple bucks on the table for a tip. It's the world's largest small town."
Actually, since then, I've seen a couple other restaurants that have tip amount suggestions of 15, 18 or 20 percent printed on the credit card voucher. I usually over tip, especially if the service is good; or when I'm eating alone and the person waiting on me has been overly attentive. The guy definitely earned his 20% that evening.
The bottom line - Haruno was one of the very best sushi restaurants I've ever eaten at. I was pleasantly surprised at how good the sushi was for as land-locked that Springfield is. The service was very good, and the atmosphere was as interesting and hip as any restaurant I've been to in places like L.A. or Chicago. I'm hoping my dealer in Springfield does very well so I can keep going back to Haruno when I go to see them.