Sushi in the Desert: Kampai

I knew when I moved to the desert of Israel not to hope for good sushi. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised by Kampai.

This swank restaurant is a long escalator ride above the Aroma coffee shop at the Big with sweeping views of…well, the mall. What can I say, you don’t come to Be’er Sheva for the views. But the restaurant is elegantly appointed with dark wood, flowing, gauzy curtains, and a bar with a dizzying selection (Hendrick’s gin, Campari, Aperol, yuzu juice…it went on). We didn’t have reservations so were seated at the bar (Saturday night post-shabbat is a big going out night around here). We felt under-dressed so it was just as well.

The waitstaff spoke English, graciously handed us English menus, and attempted to banter with us in English. It’s always an added bonus. And when ordering raw fish, it’s a plus to be able to do it in your native language. Kampai is not on the list of certified Kosher restaurants (only half of the restaurants in Be’er Sheva are) and I believe they are open on Shabbat but their sushi is still limited to tuna, salmon, sea bream, and yellowtail. But they manage to do a lot with their selection of four fish, offering about 50 varieties of rolls, handrolls, sashimi, and more unusual things like “tempura sandwiches.”

There is a large selection of vegetable rolls like sweet pickled pumpkin, mushroom, or asparagus. We didn’t try the Crunchy Fotomaki, but it appears to be an entire sushi roll dipped in tempura batter and then fried. And with fillings like mozzarella, salmon, avocado, asparagus, and green onion they seem like a total abomination but a potentially interesting choice.

I had the Spicy Crunchy Tuna Uramaki (inside out roll), which came stuffed with tuna, avocado, and green onion with crunchy green sesame and tempura chips crumbled on top. It was more of a crunchy tuna roll than a spicy one, but it was very good and the tuna was fresh and fatty (in a good way). Next I tried one of the Kampai special rolls, the Rainbow roll, a colorful combination of tempura sweet potato wrapped in rice, tuna, salmon, yellowtail, and avocado. It was a large roll with lots of texture and flavor; the various fish and avocado layered together gave the dish a luxurious mouthfeel.

Evan started with a simple tuna roll without the flourishes. It delivered exactly what it was supposed to. For a main he went the noodle route (they have an extensive grill and noodle menu that even includes a hamburger). The Orange One was a dish of egg noodles and salmon cubes sauteed with cabbage, carrots, sprouts, coriander, spinach, and green onion in coconut curry sauce with peanut chips and sweet potato curls. At first bite it seemed like a lackluster, greasy lo mein. But after mixing up the noodles with the sauce it was quickly improved and actually quite delicious. The salmon was tender and luscious with a lovely, meaty flavor.

The verdict? I would come back again in a heartbeat. Did I feel the earth move under my feet? No. But it was a pleasant atmosphere with a friendly waitstaff, quick service, and good food. It has the feel of a special occasion restaurant. Kampai is pricey by Be’er Sheva standards, but we felt it was worth the 168 shekels for two (about $45 total without drinks or appetizers). Even before ordering I could tell the sushi fish was fresh from looking at it and it tasted good. Kampai also has an outdoor bar that looks like a great place to hang out and take advantage of their well-stocked bar.

At the end of the day it was good quality sushi in the Israeli desert! If that isn’t the ultimate sign of globalization I don’t know what is.

Kampai, 1 Hel hhandasa (above Aroma in The Big), Be’er Sheva 08-6655999