The thing about Japanese restaurants is that once I take a look at the menu, I want to taste a little of everything. Conveniently, Tokyo Sushi in the Old Market caters to exactly that desire, thanks to their option of an all-you-can-eat dining experience.
Tokyo Sushi owner and chef Randy Gao told me how variety's appeal is what drove his restaurant concept. He said rigid menus caused diners to order safely, sticking to an item they'd eaten before and enjoyed, while adventurous eating was often unrealistic appetite-wise and over budget. Gao anticipated that by offering smaller portions from a made-to-order, all-you-can-eat menu. Customers could now feel free to sample and share a host of Japanese dishes, without a hefty price tag.
While you can still order meals from a traditional menu, Tokyo Sushi's all-you-can-eat menu, which runs $18.99 Sunday-Thursday, gets you access to an attractive list of dining options. It includes four soups, four salads, 21 appetizers and more than 60 sushi rolls, hand rolls and nigiri, which is fish blanketed over a rice pillow.
Friday and Saturday night's menus costs four bucks more but include five varieties of sashimi: salmon, white tuna, white fish, mackerel and crab stick. That's straight fish. No training wheels.
To kick off our Tokyo Sushi experience, a welcoming staff gave us our choice of tables. The restaurant is a comfortable size, accommodating around 100 guests, and the atmosphere is clean, calm and simply styled, with none of the madness common to bottomless-plate restaurants.
Tokyo Sushi may be all you can eat, but it's no buffet. Guests select menu items, and chefs prepare them then and there. You can even watch the action at the sushi bar.
All-you-can-eat menus, even comparatively healthy Japanese ones, require a strategy. Rice fills your belly quickly, people, so start small. A beef udon soup, perhaps. Maybe a seaweed salad.
Better yet, start your meal as we did: a Scorpion Bowl flaming cocktail for two, $12. Flaming! Silly diners that we are, we didn't really know what to do with the flame on the fruity rum punch-esque delight when it arrived. A quick Google search informed us to blow it out rather than let it burn out.
The broth from the beef upon soup had well-rounded flavor and was a perfect warm-up on a cold night. The Ocean Salad's delicious mix of spicy tuna, seaweed, crab and cucumber with a vinegar dressing was as refreshing as it was adorable, all arranged in its little bowl.
We moved on to the appetizer list, my favorite course, and ordered so many teriyaki, tempura and katsu plates that I'm sort of embarrassed to turn in my itemized receipt to The Boss. Really. We had, like, 15 apps.
In our defense, and I think Chef Gao would agree, the portions are perfect for sampling and sharing: three gyoza, a handful of edamame, a couple of crispy chicken wings, a couple of short ribs. It's enough to be satisfying, but not so much as to be wasteful.
The shrimp tempura were particularly tasty, with a perfectly light breading, and those little dudes had never seen a heat lamp. Like everything we ordered, the shrimp were cooked just for us.
Sushi options include the familiar favorites, as well as a few more stylized offerings. A menu standout is the spicy tuna pizza. The culinary mashup features a “crust” of seasoned rice that's been egg battered, breaded and fried, then topped with tuna and spicy mayonnaise.
Our Volcano Roll was also quickly gobbled down. The spiced up tuna, white tuna and salmon trio had the added bonus of a tempura crunch to add the right texture to the balance. The five sashimi selections were fresh and nicely presented. As a mackerel fan, I loved having access to all the buttery cured fish I wanted.
And, since there is always room for ice cream, why not top off an all-you-can-eat meal with a little scoop or two? Choose from a handful of flavors, including green tea and red bean. While the ice creams were a nice finish, the deep fried preparation was too dense to enjoy at the end of our sashimi, sushi roll and 15 appetizers feast.
So bring a group, your appetite, and open your mind beyond your go-to Japanese entrťe. There is so much more to taste, and Tokyo Sushi does a fine job giving you the chance to try everything from salmon teriyaki to surf clam in a matter of seconds.
1215 Howard St.
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. to midnight, Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Hit: The spicy tuna pizza is a standout.
Miss: Fried ice cream for dessert was too heavy after our multi-course meals.
Reservations: None needed
Drinks: The Scorpion Bowl flaming cocktail for two, $12, is served actually aflame, so be prepared.
Price: Reasonable, especially for the vastness of the all-you-can-eat menu. $12.99 for adults at lunch and during happy hour, otherwise $18.99-$22.99. Kids older than 5 eat for $7.99 or $11.99
Service: Friendly and fast.
Noise level: Low, but the restaurant wasn’t crowded when we visited.