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Kasa Sushi's "Christmas roll"

The newest restaurant to light up Sarasota's North Trail? Kasa Sushi, a Japanese joint that opened inside the space that housed the Ethiopian eatery Queen of Sheba till it closed for good on Sept. 1. The building has in fact been home to any number of restaurants over the years. Once upon a time it was a dim sum restaurant; even farther back, a KFC. Does Kasa have what it takes to outlast those earlier incarnations? I invited Justin, friend and well-known scooter zealot, to meet up and find out.

The space has some swank now. About a dozen four-tops are spread around the dining room, each stocked with tall leather chairs. The soundtrack leans toward adult contemporary, with mellow throwbacks from Boyz II Men and Seal in the mix. There's a sushi bar with a few seats opposite the windows that present U.S. 41 vistas. It's quiet. The restaurant opened just three weeks ago, and word is clearly still getting out.

Perhaps people just don't know that you can get a dish served "with real fire." That's the red-fonted claim that stands out on the restaurant's page of specialty rolls, attached to the "fire in the house" roll ($14.95). Neither Justin nor I can resist food served adjacent to flames, so we'll take one of those. "Fire it up," Justin says.

The incendiary element of the plate isn't as impressive as one would hope—really just a small blaze in a salad dressing pourer. The pile of fish on the other end of the plate is a much greater attraction. Served in a ring, the dish includes rolls with crab, shrimp, cucumber and "crunch" (WTH?), and comes topped with avocado, conch, fish and spiced-up crab. It's dense and delicious.

On the lighter tip, stroll down the list of specialty rolls to the "Christmas roll" ($12.95). It's beautifully constructed—the slices shingled on the plate, topped with white tuna, fish eggs, seaweed powder and thin rounds of surprisingly mellow jalapeño. Also a delight: the "Manhattan roll" ($13.95). The star ingredient is the small nuggets of tuna crusted with black pepper and then seared, but left raw in the middle. The fish is balanced by more cucumber and fried crab, and comes draped with a variety of raw species.

The "honey sandwich" is dubbed a roll, but looks more like a series of tea sandwiches—medium-sized triangles with both tuna and salmon, avocado, tamago, roe and scallions, all sweetened by a delicate honey sauce. Impressive, no doubt, even if it's served fire-less.

In addition to its specialty rolls, Kasa offers a bevy of lunch deals, hibachi dishes, bentos and the like. You'll find something to enjoy, I'm confident.

Kasa fills a niche—good Japanese north of downtown—and is well positioned to lure in students and profs from the neighborhood's higher ed hotspots. This one might just stick.

Kasa Sushi is located at 4195 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, and is open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon-10 p.m. Sunday. Call (941) 355-4001 for more info.

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