A friend who travels often to Japan recently observed, "The Japanese are more American than we are." She based her conclusion on the extremely competitive nature of the businesspeople with whom she works. She also noted other so-called American obsessions in Japan, from sexy comic books to vintage American cars and baseball.
While culture watchers are trying to make some kind of sense of these interesting similarities between the United States and Japan, there is no mistaking the common curiosities we share with each other - from management techniques to food.This common bond was very apparent as we entered Tokyo Boys restaurant in Trolley Corners. Not only do the advertisements of this restaurant appear quite Western - its logo is the silhouette of three musicians each appearing in a jazzy pose; but the sushi chef expertly presiding over the case of raw seafood wore a "Hunt for Red October" T-shirt and a baseball cap from Snowbird.
We could only wonder if the cool interior, filled with the beat of jazz music and the smells of grilling teriyaki, reflected an Americanized approach to Japanese cuisine. Would we sample the usuals - teriyaki, tempura and sukiyaki? Would the only exotic and creative cuisine emerge from the modest sushi bar? Could our Caucasian waitress, festooned in a slick tuxedo outfit rather than a kimono, steer us to some of the house specialties?
It took only a few minutes for us to realize that despite the occidental atmosphere in the sparsely decorated dining area (the only decor worth noting consisted of several large aquariums), there are plenty of Japanese specialties on the menu. And our well-informed waitress explained and recommended them with confidence.
One of her recommendations that set the stage for our atypical Japanese dinner was the deluxe okonomiyaki appetizer ($5.50). It is a small plate-size omelette filled with shrimp and other seafood, including pieces of octopus, as well as sauteed onions. Served hot and cut in quarters, it is topped with fish flakes, bits of seaweed and teriyaki sauce. It was redolent with the richness of an ocean breeze.
We also enjoyed the gyozas ($3.25), pork filled steam dumplings; California roll and Ikura (salmon roe) sushi; and kara age ($3.50), small pieces of deep-fried chicken served with a tempura dipping sauce. Other appetizers include yakitori, or grilled shish kebobs of marinated meat; tempura; onion beef; katsua cheese; shingo-maki; and tako (octupus).
A full complement of sushi and sashimi, priced from $3 to $4, including giant and orange clams, mackerel, scallop, sirloin tuna, eel, sole, abalone, sea urchin, yellowtail and shrimp, can be ordered as either an appetizer or main course. True sushi lovers will find ecstasy in Tokyo Boys' Sunday special - $22.95 for all the sushi you can eat.
The dinner menu features a $6.50 combination box style dinner with any two choices of tempura, chicken or beef teriyaki, or gyozas, with steamed rice, a wonderfully rich miso soup, tsukemono (pickled vegetable), green salad and a slice of fresh fruit. Other selections, all in the same price range, include udon or noodles, donburri (rice or soup bowl specials), tofu dishes and several salads including wakame or seaweed salad.
In addition to the combination dinner, we sampled shrimp korokke ($6.95), a blend of mashed potato, pieces of shrimp, peas, rolled into small thumb-size portions and fried. The flavor, as well as contrasting textures, was very good. The half-dozen or so are served with a teriyaki dipping sauce.
Of the half-dozen udon or noodles dishes, stir fried with various ingredients, we sampled the wafu spaghetti ($6.25), a platter of soft thin noodles doused in a mild sauce and blended with seaweed, roasted sesame seeds and pieces of seafood, including shrimp and bits of squid. This dish, as was the case with the others, captured the flair and flavor of Japanese cooking not often served in local restaurants.
Other dinner choices include salmon teriyaki, nabeyaki udon, curry rice, sukiyaki-don, agedashi (fried) tofu and tofu salad. The menu also claims to serve "only healthy drinks" such as carrot and yogurt juice. In a further sampling of cultural accommodation, our waitress editorialized, "We also have unhealthy drinks, like Coke and beer."
As we were departing Tokyo Boys, we ran into another acquaintance who had just returned after living in Tokyo for two years. Both American and Japanese guests were in his party. He said that whenever he felt homesick for Japan, he heads to Tokyo Boys.
Rating: * * * *
Tokyo Boys, 515 S. 700 East, Trolley Corners, 364-7148. Open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.; dinner served Monday through Thursday, 6 to 10 p.m. and until midnight Friday and Saturday. Reservations recommended for weekends. Accepts check with guarantee card and major credit cards.