Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Tokyo House, between terrific and terrible

Posted By on Wed, Nov 13, 2013 at 6:13 AM

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Let’s face it—we live in a land-locked state and getting stunningly fresh fish is not always a simple task. Sure, it can be found, but usually at a price. Sushi, in particular, demands freshness—after all, it’s raw and its flavor stems primarily from the unadulterated flesh of those succulent little swimmers. So when you combine the terms, “raw,” “fish,” “buffet,” and “cheap,” is smells like a veritable recipe for disaster. Yet all those things are crucial to the draw and appeal of Tokyo House, a place that continues to sustain Little Rock sushi lovers daily.

Good sushi (generally speaking) does not, and should not come cheap. It’s often a more elegant, rather dainty affair—small, delicate rolls, hand-made, in smaller portions. As such, it often fetches relatively higher prices. So it’s understandable that a place offering “all-you-can-eat” sushi and “rock-bottom” prices would appeal to many folks…it did to me.

If you are hunting for truly exceptional sushi in Little Rock, you best keep looking—there’s plenty of passable stuff, maybe even good sushi, but “outstanding?” We have not. Still, this should not completely deter sushi fanatics from sampling the city to find their favorite Japanese establishment. There’s plenty still to be enjoyed, and Tokyo House stands as a reasonable option when one considers variety, cost, and overall quality.

Cheap sushi, in general, tastes of fish that’s been run through a washing machine a few times before being served. Its flavor is often watered-down, washed out, and only a fraction of what it was when that creature was swimming in the sea. Yet, some flavor is still to be had, and places like Tokyo House doctor things up and present their catch in a more attractive manner—enough to mentally allow you to accept “not bad” as a viable option. Sure, the white tuna doesn’t taste too different from the yellowtail, and you probably couldn’t distinguish the salmon from the red snapper with your eyes closed, but it still kinda tastes—and feels—like fish, and that’s good enough in a pinch.

Occasionally at Tokyo House, you’ll run into a piece that’s hit its limit in terms of “buffet shelf life.” Those sometimes less popular rolls or sashimi that have sat on display for just a little longer than they should—these may develop a slightly rubber texture with time. Their seaweed casings may become tough and difficult to bite through. Don’t be surprised by this, it comes with the territory. The buffet variety is good—eel, crab, tuna, and salmon all make their way onto the display eventually. Sample around, you’ll likely find something you enjoy.

Other items are hit or miss. The gyoza are worth the stomach space—fried nicely with a slightly crispy outside and hot, steamy pork filling. They’re good when dunked judiciously in soy or teriyaki sauce. The seaweed salad is passable—crunchy and clean—but we’d pass on the lifeless kimchi. The shrimp tempura is flavorless, thin, and bland—only slightly improved by its recommended dipping sauce.

Of the non-sushi items, a few were impressive. The marinated steak teriyaki was good enough to find its way onto our plate during two passes at the buffet. The fried rice, while not exceptional, was adequate and we’ve certainly had worse from many-a take out.

Despite some obvious misses, you’re sure to find enough tasty bits to justify the cost of admission—and at least, there’s a very high likelihood you’ll be leaving stuffed to the gills. Buffet prices vary throughout the week—from the $10.95 weekday lunch to the $19.95 weekend dinner. We find that lunch ranks highest on the “bang-for-your-buck” scale. It’s good for groups, and ideal for non-sushi eaters who may be less attracted by the raw arts—there’s plenty of cooked dishes sitting around in heated metal bowls. Odds are your belly and your pocketbook will leave Tokyo House content with your experience overall—and sometimes, that’s fine enough.

Tokyo House: 11 Shackleford Dr., Little Rock. (501) 219-4286. tokyohouselr.com

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