Mr. Tokyo Japanese Restaurant
I’m in the middle of eating tempura, gnawing on my new favorite piece of fried veggie matter—a yummy shredded onion and carrot patty, golden-fried to crispy perfection--when I experience what movie buffs call a "flashback." Suddenly it’s 1986, the day after Thanksgiving, and my grammy is in the kitchen finding creative ways to use up leftovers. I walked over to the stove (in my Underoos and rainbow Mork from Ork suspenders—I have photos) and peered into the shallow frying pan on the stove.
“Watcha makin’?” I asked.
“It’s the latest thing,” replied Grammy. “Potato poopies.”
She had taken leftover mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole and heaven knows what else, mixed them together, formed them into patties, and was frying them into a whole new entrée. Where do grammies learn this stuff? There must be a class.
Fast forward to Mr. Tokyo. This particular tempura didn't include “poopie” in the title (a wise business decision on the part of the owners), but it was of the same essence as my grammy's cooking: homemade and delicious.
Mr. Tokyo has existed under the current owner, Cheeta Chaleunphonh, since 1994. I've probably driven by its home strip mall at Montgomery and Juan Tabo a dozen times but, as I noticed when I actually tried to find it, there are two obtrusive trees that partially block the sign.
I was met at the door by an adorable 4-year-old pixie named Shyana, who industriously grabbed silverware and a menu, and took me to a table. She then proceeded to wipe off the fronts of the other tables, as she wasn’t quite tall enough yet to reach the backs. My server, John, brought me a glass of tea, and I scanned the short lunch menu. There was a painfully small amount of sushi to choose from--a surprising number of them vegetarian choices like cucumber and radish rolls--which included tuna rolls, cooked salmon rolls and California rolls, and tuna and beef sashimi. I was disenchanted when I discovered there is no á la carte sushi and no order form to fill out, but I ordered the beef sashimi ($5.95) and the tuna roll (six slices for $4.50) to start and settled in to get a good look at the place.
The dining room is diminutive but classy. Its black and white walls are accented by a few select pieces of Asian artwork and full-sized paper screens on the windows. Big white paper lanterns hang from the ceiling.
My appetizers came in excellent time. The beef was positively succulent, with thin strips of lightly seared steak laid atop a bed of shredded raw garnish, the flavor subtly intensified by slivers of white onion. Serving raw beef speaks volumes about the quality of the meat itself. This cut was lightly marbled with fat and extraordinarily tender, with a flavor that was too good to be masked by its side of dipping sauce. The raw tuna was also of good quality and, although the roll was a little heavy on the wasabi, the filling had that melt-in-your-mouth consistency common to really good fish.
I ordered vegetable tempura ($4.95) next, and while I freely admit I can usually take or leave tempura, I was hoping for an entrée befitting the eminence of the food I’d already eaten. The lunch portion (about nine decent-sized pieces) was a satisfying, colorful variety of green bell peppers, carrot slices, zucchini, regular and sweet potatoes, and, of course, the onion-carrot patty. The carrots were impressive in their own right--it’s not easy to get them to behave and be soft, especially when breaded and fried.
The dinner menu is also small, comparatively speaking, but there are a few more raw options (spicy scallop rolls chief among them). The large family seated next to me had ordered a case study of the entire menu--they received several plates piled high with chicken and beef teriyaki, shrimp tempura and fried rice. Grilled hibachi dishes are served with stir-fried vegetables and a choice of grilled red snapper, scallops, New York steak or salmon. If rice isn’t cutting it, there are grilled udon noodle dishes with meat or seafood, or the chef’s special soups comprised of thick udon noodles, fish cakes, black mushrooms and shrimp tempura.
I inquired about little helper Shyana. Apparently, she's the owner’s daughter and one smart cookie--the kind of kid that doesn't get in trouble for wearing Wonder Woman Underoos to school. My grammy was the only person who thought that was funny, which is one of the many reasons why I’d always eat her cooking, no matter what she called it.