The art of Japanese food is alive (& affordable)

Author: By Mary Zak
Posted: Friday, June 26, 2009
The unassuing storefront opened into a twilit room. A small sushi bar stood just a few paces to the right of the door. To my left, the space opened to a long rectangular room with a high ceiling. Dark wood flooring contrasted beige walls with black calligraphy covering the entirety of the largest.

Though the dining area was 3/4 full, we were offered our choice of the remaining tables for two. Service was quick, attentive and accommodating as they realized we were talking too much to make speedy work of choosing our food.

Since the restaurant’s liquor license is pending (customers are welcome to bring their own bottle), Shannon opted for hot green tea and I for water. Our server didn’t bat an eye when I asked for it at room temperature with no ice

This small restaurant has a BIG menu – 6 pages of Japanese and Chinese cuisine! Shannon chose a Bento Box so she could sample tempura and a teriyaki entree on one plate. I began with miso soup and the Chirashi salad.

My miso soup arrived golden and clear; I stirred it to even cloudiness and savored its just-salty-enough warmth accented with tiny bits of seaweed and tofu. Shannon was pleased to note that the ginger dressing on her little salad was thick and flavorful.  Her Bento box was served with my chirashi salad as soon as we put our utensils to rest. The Bento box was a BIG rectangle displaying five items, each in its own little well: salmon teriyaki, vegetable tempura, a ball of whitest rice, steamed broccoli, and a California roll.  

I’d pictured chirashi salad as a plate of greens with sliced fish atop. What arrived was a multicolored pyramid on a pristine square white plate. Raw salmon, tuna & whitefish cut into smaller-than-bite-size triangles were interlaced with short emerald-green strands of slippery yet crunchy seaweed like garland. Tiny, ruby-red roe stood out in clusters from top to bottom. Hidden at the base of the pyramid was a small bed of white cabbage shreds in a pool of light and sweet soy sauce. The fish was perfectly fresh and of excellent quality. The dish was a simple masterpiece.

I could have stopped there, but “soup and salad”, wasn’t sufficient, in my mind, for a complete review. 
Shannon was only halfway through her Bento box when my selection from the list of donburi, described as “sweet or savory stews over rice”, arrived. The tendon (sounds like, ten-DON, not TEN-don) was described as “tempura shrimp & vegetables” on the menu.

My doubts about how tempura and stew could work together vanished as soon as the deep, medium-sized bowl arrived. My chef planted two tempura shrimp, lightly battered so I could glimpse the pink beneath, atop the entree.

Shannon noted that the fresh ginger supplied with her meal to cleanse the palate between items was not dyed. Her steamed broccoli was crisp and the vegetable tempura was battered so lightly that the color of each piece shone through. The California roll was fresh, crisp and colorful. She gave her meal a “10”.

My tempura shrimp were tender, just cooked through, and had been flattened, which made them so much easier to eat gracefully than if they’d been left curled. At first I fumbled at the rice with my chopsticks because it barely clung together, nothing like the sticky stuff I get from my usual Chinese takeout place. I did fine when I shifted my goal from  mouthfuls to little tastes. 

This dish was nothing like my American notion of stew, which is watery with great chunks of meat and veggies. It was a delicate golden-brown sauce, which one moment tasted a little sweet and then in the next bite, a little savory.

I found bits of mushroom and delightful soft clouds of egg white atop the rice; just enough of the sticky sauce slipped through to enhance the flavor to the bottom of the bowl. I imagined the rice simmering on a grandmother’s stove for hours, a secret family recipe to lift the spirit. Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve found a new comfort food!

And a restaurant that doesn’t bust my budget. Dessert items are available but we simply had no room! We ate our fill for less than $35.
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