Fighting Ferns with Raw Fish--Years ago, a friend taught me a new word for those ubiquitous, family-oriented chain restaurants that proliferate near freeway exits. You know the type. Places that are decorated by The Big Metal Turn-of-the-Century Reproduction Sign Company. Places that pour foot-high, neon cocktails with embarrassing names like the "Chattanooga Chocolate Twister." Places where the food is reassuringly bland, Americanized and uncomplicated. She called these places "fern bars."
Fern bars, because most have big, potted plants scattered throughout their annoying faux-Irish/sports bar areas. They're mediocre, but consistently so, and that's enough to keep them turning a profit. And on the Westside, they're spreading like impetigo.
But Westsiders can't really be faulted for giving them business. They don't have much of a choice. See, there's just not a lot variety out there, fern bar or not, and if you narrow your scope to locally owned businesses only, there's far less. But it's getting better all the time. I actually drive across town to eat at local places like Deli Mart West, which has been sticking it out on the Westside for close to 30 years. Bombay Grill opened the first Westside Indian restaurant two years ago, which was quickly followed by India Palace Westside. Le Café Miche Bistro (no fiscal relation to Le Café Miche on Wyoming) brought continental French to our own left bank a little more than one year ago.
And this Tuesday, Neko Sushi opened its doors at 9421 Coors NW. That's in the old TIPS coffee shop building next to Kelly Liquor--right in the heart of fern bar territory. Owner Cathy Punya is aware of her competition, and she's prepared to fight the ferns. She already owns three other Eastside restaurants: Sushi King, Bangkok Café and the belated Asian Noodle Bar due Downtown sometime next month. She says Neko Sushi is similar to Sushi King, with a mix of noodle dishes and Japanese food off a menu, in addition to rolls, nigiri and sashimi from a sushi bar. (For you nipponphiles, "Neko" means "cat" in Japanese. Cat, as in Cathy.) It should be open from 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, and until 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Sushi south of Cottonwood Mall? Yessir, the Westside's getting better all the time.