Tokyo Kitchen is Batting .500
My new gig as your humble downtown grub correspondent has gotten me paying close attention to every storefront I pass, even on blocks I’ve walked down a thousand times. For three years, Tokyo Kitchen on John Street between Broadway and Nassau has somehow managed to tuck itself into my culinary blind spot. No more.
Once I took a closer look, this narrow Japanese joint seemed like a Lunch’ers dream find: Tiny. Ethnic. A little grubby. Busy. Bilingual. Jackpot.
Well, kind of. My first dish from here–chicken katsu don–left me unimpressed, but I was so grabbed by the aesthetic of this place that I had to give it another shot. I am happy to report that Tokyo Kitchen redeemed themselves with their udon, and that I’ll be back to explore the rest of this menu soon.
Doesn’t this just look like a place you want to love?
Service was brisk but friendly, and I only had to wait about five minutes on each visit. Both times there was a steady stream of customers in and out, so I think this place has a following in the area. If you are a member of said following, I’d love to hear from you in the comments with any recommendations.
I generally consider myself a guy who knows a lot about a lot of food. Or maybe a little about a lot of food and a lot about a little food. Either way, this job is quickly bringing the gaps in my knowledge to light. For example: I know next to nothing about Japanese cuisine. I’ve eaten plenty of it, but beyond knowing that sushi rolls named after American states are not ancient staples of Kyoto cooking, I am a rube.
Fortunately, Wikipedia, wondrous font of amateurish knowledge, tells me that katsu is a 19th Century Japanese adaptation of European cooking. Assuming it’s not lying to me–Would you do that to me, Wikipedia? Would you?!?–that makes my chicken katsu don ($7.35) authentic. Kind of.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t make it very good:
This was the sight that greeted me when I opened my styrofoam box. My excitement dissipated a good bit, but I thought maybe this was just a presentation problem, so I poked the meat around for a bit. No improvement:
And I’m sorry to say that it taste just about exactly how it looked. The worst part by far was that the breading was sooooooooggy, so the whole experience was sort of like eating chicken wrapped in wet Wonder bread. The meat itself was alright and the rice was great, but that breading made this meal mediocre at best. At least there was a lot of it…
It’s possible that if I tried again, I’d get a fresher, tastier batch, but I am not inclined to try. If I go the fried route here again, I think I’ll get plain katsu and hope that the lack of sauce will make for crispier chicken.
But I was still convinced that there was something to this place, so I returned for chicken udon ($6.95) and was not disappointed.
Tokyo Kitchen is generous with both the vegetables and the chicken, and the chicken is very good quality white meat that is clearly a sliced-up chicken breast rather than just scraps.
Fair warning to udon connoisseurs: I do not have a highly-developed palate for udon like I do for pulled pork. I liked this udon better than I like most udon, but I’d have a hard time defining any specific criteria I used to make that assessment. So I apologize if they’ve used way too much dashi or something like that.
For all its mediocrity, the chicken katsu don was still edible, and the udon was a definite winner. My experience so far has definitely not been all good, but I’ll be going back, and I have a feeling that there will be more winners than losers. For whatever reason, I just have faith in Tokyo Kitchen.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- The venue is the perfect Downtown Lunch locale and that makes all the food taste just a little better.
- Generous portions make up for slightly high prices.
- The udon is great and suggest that there are other gems to be found here.
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- Either the menu or the cooking here is hit or miss, and I don’t want to risk it.
- The prices are a little high compared to other udon options or chicken and rice varieties.
- The place may be charming, but it’s tiny and I hate eating at my desk.
Tokyo Kitchen, 10 John St. (btw. Broadway and Nassau St.)