It wasnt long ago when Japanese food meant an expensive special occasion, an outing. Now many of us can find it in our neighborhoods, or at least in our offices neighborhoods. Some folks are as likely to pop out for a weekday lunch of sashimi as for a sandwich at Così.
And prices have fallen. Chanpheng Sayanthone, owner of the four-store Tokyo Sushi chain in the northern suburbs, says two lunchers will share his $9.95 boat special and exclaim over how much food it is.
As sushi becomes as integrated into American eating habits as pad thai (before that, tacos; way before, spaghetti), its inevitable that some of the ceremony would be lost. Tokyo Sushi manages to prepare authentic Japanese food with nods to American tastes, of course in an unassuming environment.
Sayanthone is handling chef duties at his newest store, in Royal Oak, while various relatives hold down the other three forts. Born in Laos, he describes himself as a wannabe Japanese; his wife is from Hiroshima and his Laotian friends call him Mr. Tokyo.
His polite servers (no one calls customers you guys here) are patient as the diner pores over five different menus. If we added correctly, Mr. Tokyo is offering 119 items just in the rolls category. These include the Toyota Roll, the Mazda and the Honda, as well as the Audi, the BMW and the Benz.
The choices are vast because Sayanthone is constantly adding ideas as his in-laws fax menus from Japan. The rivalry there is cutthroat; when a new sushi restaurant opens, Sayanthone says, the chef tries to impress customers with novel combinations.
So competition, the lifeblood of capitalism, brings about such innovations as the $10 Dragon Roll. Its long, high, wide and bright, with different fillings, toppings and colored sauces as you eat your way from head to tail. Crab tempura, cucumber, avocado, eel, eel sauce, bright orange smelt roe and octopus each play a part in surprising and delighting the diner from one bite to the next.
In my view, eel alone is enough reason to go for sushi whod suspect such a rich, tangy flavor from such a lowly life form? Tokyo Sushi serves plenty of eel combos, such as eel California and eel spinach rolls. Although not native to Japan, avocado also appears frequently perhaps chosen for its cool, smooth, slippery similarity to raw fish.
For those who fear the raw, Sayanthone serves plenty of tempura items in his rolls, or the whole roll can be deep fried, creating a crisp outside while leaving the inside in its original state no mean trick.
Hot appetizers are also done well. The Spider is delectable soft-shell crab tempura with ponzu sauce, and the gyoza pan-fried pork and vegetable dumplings are rich. There is no culture no person that doesnt love a dumpling.
As you sit down, youre immediately brought a bowl of edamame, unfortunately cold, and a small iceberg-carrot salad. The thick ginger dressing, strong and delicious, is available for sale.
From 13 noodle dishes, I chose nabeyaki soup. It sounds confused, and could have done without chicken, but it looks beautiful: red-orange shrimp tempura, deep green seaweed, stark white udon noodles, fish cake, napa, scallions, shiitakes and a perfect orb of egg yolk to break and turn the whole thing golden.
The udon noodles are very long, and you must slurp them whole; its considered bad form in Japan to break a noodle. A Web site on Japanese customs advises: Lead them with the chopsticks step by step into your mouth. Keep the distance between the bowl and your mouth small, and dont worry about making slurping noises as you eat it.
In order to get a good sample of his fare, Sayanthone recommends either his boat lunch three different sashimi, shrimp tempura, a spicy tuna or California roll, chicken teriyaki, potato salad and dessert or a bento box, which might include dumplings, fish, rice, three sashimi, shrimp tempura and crab. The latter is good for those whove been to Japan, he says; the boat is for Americans.
Other Tokyo Sushis: 225 E. Maple, Birmingham; 248-258-2601. 30 W. Square Lake, Troy; 248-828-0090. 2560 N. Squirrel Rd., Auburn Hills; 248-373-7201. All are open seven days except Troy, which closes on Sundays. Students receive a 10 percent discount.
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.