OSAKA
BRENDA MANOOKIN / Daily Herald Salmon Teriyaki at Osaka in Provo, Utah, Thursday, August 3, 2006.

Mmmm ... Miso Soup.

Center Street's Osaka Japanese Restaurant is everything you want in a dining experience -- relaxing (a small fountain soothes nerves), but also adventurous (try the nigiri sushi) and most of all delicious. (Did I mention the Miso Soup is fabulous?)

Street noise and the stress of the day are immediately muffled when you enter Osaka. A photo wall of celebrity visitors of Provo fame (i.e. Steve Young) greets you before the hostess does.

Paper lanterns hanging over cozy booths create an intimate ambiance. And here's a little secret for lovebirds: In the back of the restaurant are two enclosed rooms for private dining. In true Asian style, guests eat sitting on the floor and servers open the paper sliding door to serve sushi. Take your spouse here and say "sayonara" to the doghouse.

My Japanese cuisine experience started with the Miso Soup, a traditional Japanese dish that Osaka serves with tofu. Then came a simple iceberg lettuce salad with an irresistible peanut dressing.

The Yasai Tempura was an interesting appetizer -- carrots, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, zucchini and broccoli, all lightly fried for a crispy but healthy starter.

Demae, another Japanese restaurant a few doors down, competes with many more sushi options.

Nevertheless, I tried the Tuna Roll and the Spicy Roll and enjoyed their light, flavor-packed texture. Even better, each only cost $6, a steal compared to some other Oriental dining options.

Osaka's servers are as courteous as they come. My water glass never reached half-empty, literally.

For a main entree, I recommend the Salmon Teriyaki. The ginger in the teriyaki sauce was the perfect complement to the fresh, flaky filet of salmon.

Udon noodles, like ramen on steroids, were great as well. The Nabeyaki Udon adds chicken, vegetables and shrimp to the noodles and broth for a simple but hearty dish. If you like your shrimp out of the shell like I do, don't order the Nabeyaki.

Although Asian food is characteristic for small portions, Osaka's entrees are an exception to the rule. If you order a dinner plate, ask for the sushi to go.

If you appreciate good food design, Osaka is a great place to visit. Its delicate dinnerware with intricate blue designs is a brief respite from the ubiquitous all-white table settings. Sushi is practically an art form with the tray of rolls and tiny soy sauce dishes.

At Osaka, the experience nearly outplays the delicious cuisine, offering Utah Valley diners a break from loud, crowded chain restaurants.