By Candace Miller-Janidlo for CityBeat
"Don't judge a book by its cover." I'm sure we've all heard that phrase applied to any number of situations, but I had to say it to myself when I learned I was to review a new restaurant named Naked Tchopstix. The name is just a bit twee and made me wonder how the food would be. I needn't have worried — the food is absolutely amazing.
Naked Tchopstix got its start in 2003 in Indianapolis, when owners Maggie and David Lee wanted to bring the food of their native Asian backgrounds to the Midwest. They loved the pan-Asian dining options in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago and felt the time was right for Naked Tchopstix. The Lees have expanded to other cities in Indiana, Florida and here in Newport.
The restaurant faces the former Southgate House and thereby feels tucked away from the bustle of the Levee. The interior is quite contemporary, with blond wood, dark tiled floors, scarlet walls and (rather surprisingly, in a good way) alternative music on the sound system. You have your choice of a large dining room, the sushi bar or a couple of smaller dining rooms to choose from. Naked Tchopstix had been open only a month when we visited and hadn't yet had a wait list, according to the friendly hostess. The atmosphere was calm and laid back, even when the dining room started to fill up.
The menu includes sushi and Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Southeast Asian cuisine. There are sections for bento boxes, sushi sets and even suggestions for the undecided and vegetarian diners. We started out with vegetable egg rolls ($3.99 for two) and I knew if the rest of the meal was half as good as the egg rolls, we'd be happy.
They were perfectly crisp without being greasy and were served with Thai sweet chili sauce. All four of us chose sushi: Sake (three pieces with salmon nigiri; $4.59), Crunch Munch Roll (crab, tempura chips, cooked shrimp, unagi sauce; $10.99), Playboy Roll (shrimp, asparagus, spicy tuna mix, three specialty sauces; $14.99) and California Roll (crab, cucumber, avocado; $5.49). The Sake nigiri was delightful and fresh and left us wanting more. The California Roll was typical of the type, nothing special but also good. The Crunch Munch roll had a spicy kick that intensified near the middle of the roll and had us fighting over the last piece. The Playboy Roll is a Naked Tchopstix favorite. It's wrapped loosely in aluminum foil, set in a stainless steel dish and lit on fire thanks to Everclear and water. The flaming alcohol "cooks" the roll in the foil and gives a lovely and unexpected grilled flavor to the sushi. It's also fun to watch!
After the sushi, our server suggested two main dishes that we agreed we needed to try. The first was Udon with tempura shrimp ($12.99). The broth was light and intensely flavored, made of dashi (Japanese cooking stock), soy and mirin (a sake-like rice wine). Carrots, baby corn, bean sprouts, auburaage (deep fried and sliced tofu) and half-moon slices of kamaboko (a type of Japanese sirimi, or processed white fish) accompanied the fat udon noodles. Several pieces of shrimp tempura were served alongside the soup and were perfectly fried. The other suggestion for our main dish was Dolsot Bibimbap ($14.99). A volcano-hot stone bowl is filled with rice, assorted vegetables, beef (though it can be made vegetarian) and an egg (traditionally raw but Naked Tchopstix fries the egg first) and then brought to the table for the diner to mix together. The dish sizzles as you mix the ingredients and you drizzle on gochujang (slightly spicy, smoky sauce) to add a bit of kick. It was wonderful. There was enough for two adults to share and still have to take home leftovers.
There is only one type of dessert at Naked Tchopstix: mochi ice cream. Mochi is a Japanese rice cake made of glutinous (but not gluten) rice pounded thin and, in this case, wrapped around balls of ice cream. Naked Tchopstix offers four flavors: mango, green tea, strawberry and red bean (two scoops for $3.99). We expected to like the mango and strawberry best but it turns out that green tea was the winning flavor. The mochi layer is an interesting addition to the ice cream but it doesn't seem to add or take anything away from the flavor of the ice cream.
Naked Tchopstix is a wonderful addition to Newport on the Levee. When word gets out, I think they'll have to bring out the as-yet-unused waitlist.
GO: 1 Levee Way, Suite 1104, Newport
HOURS: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Thursday, 11-midnight Friday-Saturday.
ACCESSIBILITY: Fully accessible
MEAT ALTERNATIVES: Vegetarian and vegan options
Read the full review on CityBeat's website here.