Thanks, Shelby.

It was my birthday this past week, and by a fortunate (wink, wink) coincidence it was also the night I planned to review a restaurant for this column.

Unfortunately, I couldn't decide on one. I have a folderful of reader recommendations, scribbled names of places I've driven by and ads I've seen in the paper, but none seemed exactly right for this week.

I felt like having something warm and satisfying, comfort food if you will, but more uncommon than burgers or steak. I pondered my dilemma as I helped the journalism students I teach at a local private school, and suddenly I knew: Japanese food.

It's been a long time since I had Japanese that wasn't sushi. And with its intricate presentation and flavors, Japanese was just the thing to make my birthday an occasion.

Luckily for me, one of my students, budding journalist Shelby Matsumura, had an emphatic recommendation: Kyoto.

I was skeptical at first, not because Kyoto isn't great but because I was sure, as a beloved Salt Lake institution, it had been reviewed in these pages. But — again, lucky me! — it hadn't. At least not for a long, long time. So the husband, kids and I headed over to Kyoto for a weeknight birthday dinner.

Kyoto somehow manages to pull off a serene, intimate and elegant atmosphere while also welcoming families like ours, with young and, shall we say, exuberant kids.

I think the fact that each booth and table is screened from its neighbors helps, as do the competent, kind and anxiously helpful servers.

Our kids were thrilled by the fact that they got to take their shoes off and sit on cushions in our traditional-style booth, and by their chopsticks, and by drinking warm, rich miso soup — full of scallions, tofu and seaweed — right from the bowl.

They also liked our appetizer, a generous plate of brown-crusted potstickers with a meaty herbed filling, but not as much as did my husband, who downed at least half of them.

I was busy with my own luxurious, "I'm the birthday girl" appetizer, the sashimi. At $14.50, it's a good price for 12 exquisitely textured and strong-flavored planks of fish — tuna on this night — complete with a plateful of enticingly presented accompaniments.

There was, of course, soy sauce and a lump of fiery green wasabi, and also shredded radish and sprouts. I couldn't finish it all, but not for lack of trying.

My oldest daughter and I had the sukiyaki — she the chicken and I the beef. For me, the big draw of sukiyaki is the broth, and Kyoto's is wonderful, sweet and meaty, and the perfect complement to the thin-sliced beef, mushrooms, scallions, onions and rice noodles in my bowl.

Because I ordered a combination dinner, I also got a plate of shrimp tempura, extra-long shrimp presented with plenty of tempura veggies. The kids also attacked this plate, making off with all but one of the firm, meaty shrimp and a good portion of the veggies.

My husband and the younger two kids had teriyaki; he the steak and the girls the chicken. Either is a good choice because of Kyoto's sauce, which has deeper and more complex flavors than most other teriyaki. I give the edge to the steak in this case; it was particularly tender and juicy.

For dessert, we shared green-tea ice cream, jade-colored and milky with a fresh, earthy finish, as well as lighter and sharper ginger ice cream and, for the kids, rainbow sherbet.

Appetizers $5.95-$9.45, sashimi $14.50-$28, sides $1-$5.95, dinners $10.95-$18.50, sushi $3.50-$17.50, kids' menu $8.25-$8.95, dessert $1.50

Kyoto Japanese Restaurant

Rating: *** 1/2

Where: 1080 E. 1300 South

Hours: Lunch: Monday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; Dinner: Monday-Thursday, 5:30-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5:30-10 p.m.; Sunday, 5:30-9 p.m.

Payment: Checks, credit cards

Reservations: Accepted

Phone: 487-3525

Stacey Kratz is a free-lance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret Morning News. E-mail: