Kurofune debuted in the same year as "Hill Street Blues," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and "Dreamgirls." For at least the last two decades, it has been notable for . . . longevity.
So, when "under new management" signs appear, the possibility of improvement comes along with them. And, yes, the current version of Kurofune is a lot better than its predecessor. But don't expect a magical transformation.
The restaurant certainly looks renovated and more polished, from the dining room to the sushi bar. And the staff definitely is earnest, getting most of your order right. While the updated menu has its disappointments, there are a few very pleasant surprises, too. Order carefully, and you'll have a good meal.
Try the house's namesake steamed buns, which have some similarities with the Chinese variety. They are packed with cuts of tender, fatty pork and served with a modestly spicy, mayo-based sauce. Wasabi brings a little heat to the pork shumai, which are tasty and ready for a dip in vinegar-soy sauce. Kurofune's very good seaweed salad harvests three varieties and finishes the dish with a rice vinegar dressing.
Soba soup also is recommended, with buckwheat noodles and vegetables in a flavorful bonito-boosted stock. Asari soup stars Manila clams, vegetables and white miso for a warming alternative. The straightforward white miso soup, with seaweed and scallions, lifts the usual stuff.
But Kurofune's tempura needs more crunch. Both the vegetable and shrimp-and-vegetable renditions are limp. Likewise, the potato korokke, a deep-fried, panko-coated croquette, which seems a curiosity in the traditional repertoire. It arrives with shredded cabbage and sweet, thick tonkatsu sauce.
Equally unusual here are Cajun-spiced tuna and salmon. They're peppery, pan-seared fillets, diverting but not much more than that. Jalapeño tuna packs more heat, enough to overwhelm the fish. The kitchen's chicken wings are meaty, crisp alternatives to the standard-issue yakitori. Oysters yaki: routine.
Instead, sample the fluke usuzukuri, translucent and fanned out, accented with grated daikon. And the basic nigirizushi, with raw fish on ovals of vinegared rice, is satisfactory. Standouts include the yellowtail and the fatty tuna.
The more exotic sushi rolls, however, generally lead Kurofune astray. The "out of control" roll is among the better ones, with tuna or yellowtail wrapped around cucumber, avocado and roe, as is the familiar rainbow roll. But the lobster-salad roll defines bad concept, down to the topping of crab salad and eel sauce.
Desserts are irrelevant. At least one waiter agreed, bringing the check before any question could be asked. That happened in the 1980s, too.