what: tempura udon soup
where: Camon Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar, 1332 Assembly St., 803-254-5400
If you ask me, sushi is comfort food, especially when it comes from Camon. When is a meal there not exactly what you wanted? Maybe sushi is a warm-weather comfort food. Now that it’s at least a little bit chilly, tempura udon soup is exactly what I want. There are several textures at play: wide, soft udon noodles; warm broth; vegetables and shrimp breaded in a light tempura batter. Need a little heat? Add a couple shakes of shichimi, a Japanese blend of seven ingredients, including Japanese and chili peppers, citrus peel, white and black sesame seeds, ginger, and seaweed. The result is a gosh darn delight.
When they opened in 1985, and for years after, Camon felt like a secret. The larger room wasn’t part of the restaurant yet and, other than the sushi bar, tables were separated by screens. To get to the washroom, you walked into the kitchen, right in the middle of the action. There was a man who worked there — Mr. Lee — who was usually sitting on an overturned bucket, peeling or preparing something. I never looked too closely because I didn’t want to be rude. (Also, I was on the way to the bathroom, remember? And in high school, and very shy.) But the downtown sushi bar still feels like a secret, even when all the tables are full.
By the time the restaurant opens at 5 p.m., most of the businesses nearby are closed. The unassuming glass door doesn’t look fancy. It could be the door to the post office. Please do let it close before you open the sliding paper screen in front of it, so the cold from outside doesn’t come in. (And if it’s summer, please leave that heat on the sidewalk where it belongs.) Beyond that screen, the only constant is Chef Kobayashi, who’s been in charge since his restaurant opened. And there’s always something you haven’t tried, but you’re safe to go ahead and order it, because everything is good. If you’re lucky, Kobayashi may even send out something he thinks you should try. (He is right.)
And you can be sure you won’t leave hungry, and your mood will be better than when you arrived.
Camon is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday, 5 to 9:15 p.m.