Fort Atkinson restaurant does appetizers, soup well

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By Joan Neeno, Special to The Gazette
Thursday, March 6, 2014

FORT ATKINSON—Last Friday night seemed to be one of those evenings when nothing goes quite right. A deer running in front of the car. A crazy driver on the Interstate. And when we arrived at the restaurant we had planned to review, it was closed because of a small fire in an adjacent building.

By then it was getting late, and I was more than a little hungry and cranky. Richard, being the calm problem-solver that he is, suggested we drive to Fort Atkinson and try the Japanese place on Main Street.

My idea of fish on a Friday night involves a deep fryer, but at that point, hunger was making me less fussy. I half-heartedly agreed to some raw fish instead.

KitCho doesn't look like much from the outside, and the inside is your typical Asian décor, leaning more toward Chinese than Japanese. The staff is very friendly, though. We were greeted warmly at the door, and business was surprisingly brisk.

I indulged my wish for a drink the color of Kool-Aid with an umbrella in it. The Mai Tai ($5) is your typical fancy drink at a small-town Asian restaurant. But at that moment, it tasted fantastic.

We indulged in our favorite appetizer, crab rangoons ($3.95 for six pieces). The wrappers were thinner and lighter than usual, nicely fried, and the insides oozed warm cream cheese and crab. They were delicious, but it was the Yaki Gozoa ($3.95 for six pieces) that really turned my head. The pan-fried dumplings were filled with a flavorful pork mixture.

Those two appetizers are classics, and KitCho does them exceptionally well.

The kitchen also makes a good hot and sour soup ($1.95). I got a cup with my entrée, and while it was more on the hot side than the sour, the broth was richly nuanced. It wasn't heavily thickened with cornstarch, so the flavors really came through.

We shared a Pink Dragon Roll ($10.95), which was quite large. It featured shrimp tempura, avocado, masago and mayo and was topped with spicy salmon and eel sauce. It's a fairly typical “special roll” at most sushi places. KitCho did a nice job with it.

Sushi rolls typically have a lot going on, which can provide cover for fish that's not as fresh as it should be. That is not true of Chirashi ($16.95), which features an unadorned assortment of sashimi (raw meat or fish), seaweed salad and rice. It's one of Richard's favorite Japanese dishes and a good way to assess the quality of the ingredients.

KitCho's version placed the sashimi over the seaweed and the rice on the side, which made it awkward to eat. The real problem was the fish, which lacked variety and tasted a bit old.

I chose the chicken, shrimp and scallop hibachi dish ($16.95) that had sautéed zucchini and onions and fried rice. The sauce was bolder and thicker than usual, more Chinese than Japanese, but it was tasty. The chicken and seafood were nicely cooked. Most of it went home with us in a to-go box as we had stuffed ourselves silly with appetizers and a special roll.

Compared with the food, which was excellent at best and passable at worst, the service was amateurish and uneven. Everyone was nice, but Richard's Chirashi sat on the counter for a long time before being served. We sat and waited an additional 10 minutes for my entrée to be served.

The low point occurred when I looked at the water I had been sipping and saw the insert from a fortune cookie floating in my glass. We hadn't cracked open our cookies yet, so this was someone else's future swirling around my straw.

Overall, though, it was a pleasant evening salvaged from a less than auspicious start. The soup and appetizers were definitely above average. The roll and entrees were pretty average and fairly spendy.

KitCho also has Chinese and Thai food on the menu. Some of the entrees that went by our table looked and smelled delicious. KitCho has salt and pepper shrimp among its Chinese entrees, which is one of my favorites and not easy to find.

If you're in the neighborhood, I probably would choose takeout over dining in. However, KitCho would probably be on my speed dial if I lived near Fort Atkinson.

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