by Todd Abrams
The old Coffee Beanery space in the strip at the northwest corner of Nine Mile Road and Woodward Avenue now houses Ferndale's new pan-Asian restaurant, Inyo. Though opened with little fanfare just a few weeks ago, their wide-ranging menu, striking presentations and quality cocktails are starting to generate buzz among the dining crowd.
Apparently at saturation level with coffeehouses, the question we hear everyone asking is if Ferndale really needs another sushi place. The answer is a resounding yes, primarily because Inyo serves much more than just sushi. Executive Chef Kenny Wee has crafted a superb menu that leaps from coastal islands to mainland China, with an obvious emphasis on fresh and quality ingredients.
Take the cold appetizer maguro yookwhe: Strips of raw, lean tuna are deepened by a quail-egg topping and served with crunchy sliced Asian pear and a spicy dipping sauce. Its many textures and flavors harmonize beautifully in the serving dish, and it whets the appetite without filling the stomach — a concept many restaurants seem to have lost track of as their appetizers begin to look more like entrées minus a side of fries.
Browsing descriptions of the other cold appetizers, you'll find such fascinating additions as spicy avocado mousse, a yuzu drizzle, apple-cucumber puree and tobiko caviar. The hot side of the appetizer menu has everything from unagi (freshwater eel) and avocado rolled in a French crepe to Hong Kong-style spare ribs. The spicy tuna pizza came recommended to us by the waitstaff. A sort of deconstructed roll, its spicy tuna and avocado rest on a slender, cracker-like crust and are topped with mozzarella and a thin slice of jalapeño pepper. Here again texture plays a significant role, complementing the pleasant heat and delicate flavors of the dish.
Served with your choice of steamed white or brown rice, entrées include Inyo's version of kung pao chicken, which has all the elements that you'll find in your local carryout version but prepared without excessive corn-starch thickening and in a way that allows its clean, sweet and gently spicy flavors to pop. There's more good texture in crispy noodles topped with shrimp, scallops and vegetables like whole baby bok choy, all in a savory gravy that's subtle and alluring. The pepper steak is startling in its simplicity. Presented well-seared, sliced and sizzling on a hot iron skillet with a side of meaty, garlic-sautéed mushrooms and pepper-infused gravy for dipping it is satisfying comfort food. Based on another diner's experience, the presentation of the whole, boneless Szechuan fish is a sight to behold.
One page of the sushi menu is the standard makimono (rolls), sashimi and nigiri. The spicy tuna roll we ordered was good if perfectly ordinary. It's the other page of specialty makimono that gets a mouth watering. For example, the Inyo roll is a marriage of king crab, strawberry, Japanese cucumber and mango sauce all topped with caviar. Or go with the "chef's choice" and allow for a little innovation on your plate.
The two dessert options were tiramisu and a mango crème with tapioca. Naturally, we passed on the Italian thing and went for the refreshingly fruity and creamy mango number that was just sweet enough.
Oversized, wraparound booths line the olive-green north wall beneath a black-on-crimson wall of patterns. The soundtrack is a mix of mostly easygoing nu-disco and downbeat lounge tunes. Facing Woodward Avenue is the lounge section of Inyo. A granite horseshoe bar below two big-screen televisions is surrounded by dark-wood high-top tables. Behind the bar you might find Rico mixing up one of his tasty Vegas-style, double-strained dirty martinis made with muddled olives. Ask him for a ginger-stuffed olive.
Or try one of the specialty cocktails. We particularly liked the invigorating combination of gin, lemongrass syrup and cucumber of the Bonsai. Just as nice was the sugar-rimmed Mantra, a simple fusion of fresh, whole grapefruit pieces and the very smooth distillate Shochu.
The waitstaff performed adequately, given the fact that there is clearly much to learn about the menu and Inyo had only been open less than two weeks before we dined there. Once they have all the logistical kinks worked out, they plan to offer Beijing duck and hot-pot-style beef shabu-shabu. Two more options on an already stellar menu. It was difficult to find anything to criticize, really. Perhaps the blond hostess in a kimono was a bit kitschy, given the upscale factor here, but even that can be chalked up to taste.
Todd Abrams dines for Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.