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Tokyo Japanese Steakhouse: delightful, affordable, and delicious; the superlative Japanese cuisine experience

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On a recent visit to Fall River, I was pleasantly surprised. Having not been to the city in some time, I made the mistake of assuming that not much has changed. It most certainly has – there is a sense of revitalization, revival, new life. Like New Bedford, Fall River has its share of cynics and people eager to downplay the positive or say something negative every chance they get – instead of focusing on what good is going on and the sense of the city’s direction.

After spending most of the day in the city, I got a big sense that the direction is a positive one and that the residents and business owners are responding. You can not just see it and hear it, you can feel it. There is a buzz.

Symbolic of this buzz is the new restaurant Tokyo Japanese Steakhouse at 101 Front Street in Fall River which is conveniently located right off of exit 6-7 from I-195 W. The rather large stand-alone welcoming and vibrant looking 2-story black and red building is lined with golden silhouettes of Buddhas. There is ample parking, but it is adjacent to the building – literally 15 feet away – because the lot is shared with a fast food location. Hey, all good things come to those who work, this won’t even cause a bead of sweat to accumulate on your chopstick fingers and after a meal there you’ll say to yourself “I’d walk from New Bedford to do this again!”

Well, not really, but you are a smart lot and get the idea.

There are not a lot of Japanese Restaurants in this area – most of them have either “passed away,” are a side note on a fusion menu, or specialize in sushi. This is a legitimate, full-scale, real-deal Japanese restaurant with the full experience. What is that full experience? Well, you will find a variety of regional dishes, Japanese specialties that we’ve all come to love, sushi and sashimi to your heart’s content, the full-frontal Hibachi experience, world-famous Japanese steak, and quite a few offerings that I have never seen before.

While the restaurant itself is not even 6 months old, it is run, managed and staffed by experienced veterans. This is something quickly evident after talking with manager Jaimie Thomas, meeting the very affable owner Danny Ye, interacting with our waitress and attentively observing the staff in action.

Over the years of interacting with businesses, I’ve learned a lot about how crucial every element of a business is, how leaving out any element no matter how small can really hurt. With restaurants, that fine line is even finer and there really is no wiggle room for leaving out details because the risks are massive.

The obvious elements of mouth-watering food, appropriately priced menu, experience, marketing, perfect portions, friendly attentive staff, and listening to feedback and making adjustments are mandatory, but to me, the guiding light for a restaurant is an intangible: passion. You can have great food, good prices, friendly staff and all that jazz, but if your love, passion and life don’t come through the dining experience and the plate, it will all fall flat.

Most of all, it better be real. At Tokyo it’s absolutely real…and it’s effortless.

While the exterior of the building is nice, the interior was amazing. As it turns out what I thought was a two-story building based on the tiers of windows, is, in fact, a one-story building with very high ceilings. It’s apparent from inside that the building size wasn’t about sq. ft. and stuffing people in, but about atmosphere and dining areas that breathe. You get your own space without someone being inches away or a table close enough that you have to hear that conversation whether you want to or not. I’m not a big fan of that, but I tolerate it because I know many restaurants have to turn over as many tables as possible. But there’s no sense of that here – it’s about the dining experience and the atmosphere.

The soft lighting, the breathing space, the flow of the layout, the modern Asian look, and the varieties of dining areas range from a Hibachi area, a large bar, table and booth seating, and a sushi bar where you can sit inches away from the masters all display the decades of experience that went into crafting the eatery. One of those masters at the sushi bar is the owner, Danny Ye himself.

Is there Feng Shui or whatever the Japanese equivalent is at work here? Just instinct or experience? Perhaps, but I do know that the lighting, layout, types of wood, colors, table clothes, and extras can work wonders for crafting an ambiance and atmosphere and that is what is at work here.

We were greeted by a smiling, sincere and warm older Asian gentlemen who made small talk as walked us to our table and made sure it was to our liking. Nice guy and a great way to begin our experience.

We didn’t opt for the Hibachi dining this time, but if you have never done it, it is a fun, entertaining experience characterized by jokes, cutting and cooking utensil acrobats, and lots of flames. Contrary to belief you aren’t forced to eat the same as everyone else and can even mention to the chef the way you like certain things. Since everyone is focused on the tricks, the fire, the aromas, the light-hearted chat from the chef you will quickly feel like you are seated at a table of new friends.

Within seconds a sweet, smiling Asian girl came to our table, welcomed us and took drink orders allowing us to check out the menu. Whoa. This is not a generic Japanese menu where you think “Yeah, I’ve seen it all before. I’ll just get what I usually get.” There were quite a few things that were new for me which got me excited as I love trying new things.

I was also a bit concerned that since it had “steakhouse” in the name and I became a Communist, er…I mean, a vegetarian, about a year and a half ago, that I would probably be limited to very few choices. I’m glad I was wrong. While a look at the menu in the gallery at the bottom will demonstrate the full range of meat and non-meat dishes with an emphasis on the chicken, beef, and seafood there are plenty of vegetarian options.

Hi, my name is Joe Silvia, and I am a Shiitake Mushroom addict. The first thing that caught my eye when looking at the appetizers was the Mushroom Soup – Shiitake mushroom based soup with onions, scallions, and sliced button mushrooms. I have a serious problem when it comes to Shiitake Mushrooms and there is no such thing as eating too many. So I was excited to find out there was a soup with a Shiitake stock. Shiitake is like eating a steak in terms of texture and flover. It is umami to infinity. I thoroughly enjoyed this bowl of nectar but thought it would have been odd to order 18 more of them.

I thought that maybe the price was a misprint or that I had put my reading glasses on backward because I saw $2.50.” I had read elsewhere that Tokyo’s prices were steep for the area, so this caught me off-guard.

Quickly looking through the menu to see what the rest of the prices were, it was obvious that the prices reflected the area perfectly. In fact, there were similar items on the menu that were typically more expensive back in New Bedford. For example, a cup of soup for $2.50? You can’t even get egg drop soup for $2.50 at the local Chinese restaurant that seats 3, focuses on deliveries and is sandwiched between a tire shop and a Dunkin’ Donuts. At Tokyo the high-end only comes to play in terms of what the building looks like inside and out, the customer service, and in the food you are served in no way does that extend to the prices. Regardless, it is a classy Japanese restaurant, not a pizza parlor.

In downtown New Bedford you can buy a burrito for $7 or walk two blocks and order a Portuguese Style Surf & Turf for $25. Two blocks apart, both high-quality but the prices are light years apart. Both places are always packed.

Mike and I both are huge fans of Gyoza or dumplings, so we eyeballed that right away. For those who have never had Gyoza, think of a lighter, smaller version of the Chinese dumpling/Peking Ravioli but with a thinner, lightly fried, golden brown wrapper. They are made small and light enough to be picked up with the chopsticks, dipped in sauce and devoured.

Since I’m a Communist I convinced Mike to opt for the vegetable version instead of the pork. These were hands-down the best Gyoza I ever had and the sauce was perfect, perfect, perfect. More on the sauces later. If you weren’t told it was vegetable you wouldn’t know – Umami all over the place.

For you fellow Communists there are choices like Seaweed Salad w/ marinated sesame seeds, Avacado Salad w/ sesame seeds, mixed greens, and a balsamic vinaigrette, Edamame Salad, House Salad with ginger dressing, Haru Maki, crispy Japanese vegetable spring rolls, and the Japanese standards Miso Soup. For the seafood, pork and beef lovers there things like the Seafood Soup with shrimp, scallop & crabmeat, the famous Kani Salad – Crabmeat, cucumber, tobiko, spicy mayo, topped with tempura crunch and Sashimi Salad of diced tuna, salmon, atop mixed greens, avocado, & mango with chef’s special sauce that every Japanese restaurant is known for.

They offer Beef or Chicken Yakitori which anyone who has ever watched a food or travel knows is grilled chicken or beef on skewers with teriyaki sauce. Other popular choices are the Beef Negimaki, scallions rolled in thinly sliced sirloin steak, broiled, topped with teriyaki sauce & sesame seeds and the Coconut Shrimp, Tokyo style deep fried jumbo shrimp with coconut chili sauce.

Between the soups, salads, appetizers, and sushi appetizers there are 30 offerings all between $2.50 and $11.00 with the vast majority averaging $4-$6.

Every variation of sushi under the sun – pardon the pun – was represented on the menu. Every standard and classic from Pepper Tune, Spicy Salmon Roll, and California Roll to Spicy Crab Roll, Philadelphia Roll and Alaskan Roll. The house roll is “Tokyo’s Fried Roll” of crabmeat, avocado, cream cheese, eel sauce and spicy mayo. All rolls are between $4.00-$7.50 with the exception being the Lobster Tempura Roll which is $10.

Sushi itself comes in 1 piece orders for $3-$5.50 ea. or 2 piece orders $4.50-$6.00ea. and the sashimi comes in pieces of three, which is also $4.50-$6.00ea.

Then you can order from 11 different Sushi Bar Entrees that come with miso soup and a house salad or from the Special Roll (Raw and Cooked) section with fun and interesting names like the Sexy Girl, Out Of Control, Spider Roll, Ninka Ruit Roll, Yum Yum Roll, Sex on the Beach, Cow Boy Roll, etc.

For entrees, Mike knew which rolls he wanted since this wasn’t his first time to Tokyo – he ordered the Spicy Crab Roll, Shrimp Tempura Roll (shrimp, cucumber, lettuce, avocado, tobiko) and the Philadelphia Roll (smoked salmon, cream cheese, avocado). For my entree, I requested the Tofu & Vegetables from the Teriyaki section, served with Miso Soup, House Salad, & Rice. All arrived in Japanese style plates, creative garnishes, and looking like paintings. I felt bad for ruining the works of foodie crafted art. For about a 1,000th of a second.

All the dishes had delightful sauces without my pet peeve: the obnoxious use of salt. That is used to hide a lack of confidence in the chef’s ability, poor quality ingredients, or just plain lack of experience. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that the chef is under the false belief that eaters are just mindless punters who think that salty equates to delicious and will make them addicted numbskulls.

Unfortunately, it is all too common and I’ve had a fair share of meals ruined by the addition of an obnoxious amount of salt to what would have been an amazing meal.

So, when a chef puts the appropriate amount of salt into the meal he is boldly saying “I know what I am doing and I am confident in what I am doing. The ingredients, my care and skill going into crafting this dish will be enough.”

That exactly sums up the entire Tokyo Steakhouse eating experience. Bold, confident, carefully crafted dishes served by someone who is not only passionate but cares a tremendous amount about every dish that leaves the kitchen.

I didn’t personally meet the chef, but my takeaway after over a dozen appetizers, soups, and entrees is that he is either seasoned and experienced or a prodigy. It’s not often you can “see” the chef in the food you are served and want to shake his or her hand. So that speaks volumes.

This was a superlative dining experience, affordably priced, and for me, in this visit, I could not find a single criticism. OK, they didn’t double the portions or offer shoulder rubs and a place to nap. I’m very offended.

This is a restaurant that is clearly inspired by an experienced staff from bottom to top and we, the people, reap the benefits. Whether for lunch, dinner, special occasion, or any occasion it is a way to have one of the South Coast’s best dining experiences at an affordable price.

Manager Jaimie Thomas summed up the spirit of Tokyo well “There is no greater feeling than providing an experience of having been completely satisfied by a meal, premium beverages, combined with outstanding service, beautiful atmosphere and building, and a connection with my guest – guests that I know by name and am ecstatic to see their faces again because that means we’ve done our job. It’s a high to me. My heart feels full doing what I do and I’ve always felt that way. My mom was a waitress, my grandmother was a waitress, my late great-grandmother had her own restaurant in Halifax called Elana’s. I guess you could say it’s in my blood.”

In fact, it’s also in her belly, because she eats at Tokyo twice a week – not a manager who takes a break for a meal, but as a customer and by choice.

The full menu goes beyond what I’ve shared here and there are also sections for Chef’s Specials, Fried Rice, Yaki Soba, Yaki Udon, Tempura, Teriyaki, Hibachi and Hibachi Side Orders. Specials include a “Dinner-For-Two” Wednesday with a bottle of wine or two cocktails with Hibachi at the bar and a Happy Hour special “drink and apps” between 3:00pm-6:00pm except Friday and Saturday.

Conveniently, Tokyo offers online ordering which seems all the rage these days.

Both Danny and Jaimie wanted me to reiterate to all that they are “…open and eager to meet you. We love providing top-notch food, drinks, service, and talent. For men and women to all ages. Anyone who loves food really!”

Go. You will love Tokyo!

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Tokyo Japanese Steakhouse
101 Front Street
Fall River, Massachusetts
Phone: (508) 646-6666
Monday-Thursday: 11:00am-10:00pm
Friday-Saturday: 11:00am-12:00am
Sunday: 12:00pm-10:00pm

Website: tokyosteakhouseusa.com/
Facebook: facebook.com/Tokyo-Japanese-Steakhouse

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