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TRUE BLU
OSAKA HAS EXPANDED ITS SPACE AND ITS MENU

The Japanese restaurant Osaka Sushi Bar and Grille has just expanded into the building next door, opening a dark, sultry sake bar/lounge called Blu. Now, a customer can enjoy a drink or an entire meal (except for sushi) in this new and tiny space or walk through the connecting archway into the handsome restaurant itself.

The restaurant is smoke free; the bar is not. Your decision.

Along with the opening of the lounge area, which offers such delights as Sake Bloody Marys and Sake Gibsons as well as the hot or cold straight sake, the management has extended the menu to include udon ("oo-DON") dishes, brothy things based on the thickish wheat noodle much loved in Japan. There's a good variety of udon dishes, with prices ranging from $9 to $18, and we couldn't wait to try them.

We ordered two. Udon Lobster ($18) was made from lobster stock with plenty of big seafood chunks of lobster tail. It was a dish with special appeal to people who like spicy food because it was highly seasoned with cilantro and Thai chiles.

The Udon Hoisin BBQ ($9) could not have been a greater contrast, being a much milder combination of white meat of chicken, peppers and onion with just a hint of the half sweet/half spicy hoisin sauce the menu promised.

There are plenty of other variations on the udon menu, too - some with some interesting, strictly non-Asian adaptations. You can order these noodles with scampi, curried chicken, salmon (in an orange fennel broth), baby rack of lamb (crusted with green tea with additional olives, feta and spinach on the side). Or even Udon Apple/Duck Sausage (with red cabbage and garlic.)

Osaka features an extensive sushi menu as well, so how could we resist. (Sushi can be ordered at the counter where you can watch it being made or at the dining tables.) Maki (rolls) run from $4 up, each featuring six pieces. We tried the Yellowtail, Salmon and of course the ever present California roll made with avocado, crabmeat and rice on the outside. All of them, served with the traditional wasabi horseradish and soy sauce, were delicious.

We also tried Unagi Sushi, broiled eel atop rice (each piece $1.95) and liked it best of all because of the teasing sweet taste. A companion calls Unagi "dessert sushi" - which is, come to think of it, not a bad description.

Other accoutrements to the meal included edamame, the green soybean that makes a salty beginning to the meal. There's a small bowl of them on the table as soon as you sit down. One sad note: the Sake, which we ordered served warm to begin our meal, was unfortunately late in appearing.

More mainstream menu items at Osaka include Yakitori, the skewered grilled chicken usually served with teriyaki sauce, teriyaki chicken (with a side of Asian vegetables and rice, $15) and Osaka New York Strip (served with garlic teriyaki sauce, $17.)

Green Tea Ice Cream is quirky and soothing for dessert. Bento Boxes (meal combinations of a main course, soup, salad, rice, tempura and sushi) begin at $14.

OSAKA SUSHI BAR AND GRILLE ***

WHERE: 3112 Main St. (831-0443). A long established Japanese restaurant that has opened an adjoining new sake lounge/bar and extended its menu to include udon (or noodles) selections to accompany sushi and other favorites. Credit cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa

FAVORITE DISH: The sushi, especially unagi or broiled eel

NEEDS WORK: Food is of good quality

PRICE RANGE: Sushi from $1.50 per piece; udon from $9; entrees from $15 with a side of rice

SERVICE: Good

HOURS: Lunch, Tuesday through Friday; dinner, Monday through Thursday, 5 to 10; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 1

HEALTHY CHOICES: Many fish, seafood or noodle dishes

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: One step

PARKING: On the street

KID APPEAL: Adventurous kids

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