For years now, a buddy of mine has raved about Tokyo Sushi, its friendly service and enormous selection of nigiri and maki sushi and hand rolls. More recently, however, a native of Seoul, South Korea, told me that her favorite Korean food in town was to be found at none other than Tokyo Sushi. Huh?
It is not uncommon in Lexington to find some crossover in Asian restaurants, such as cucumber rolls at a Chinese buffet, but it is unusual to find both cuisines done well under one roof. That's where Tokyo Sushi succeeds. This family-owned and -operated hole in the wall is invested in delivering the best of both worlds. Task accomplished.
The sushi is delicious, if a bit rustic in its presentation. The rice crumbles and loses its shape a bit because it is more casually patted together than it might be in a more exacting venue. Nevertheless, it is perfectly cooked, slightly tart and sweet, and the chef transforms it into dozens of beautiful finger foods. There is something fabulous for almost everyone: the humble California roll; sushi of emerald asparagus with tender kanpyo (tangy rehydrated gourd strips); the luxurious "Erin" filled with eel, white tuna, avocado, tobiko (flying fish roe) and lettuce.
A similar informal, earthy execution appears in other Japanese dishes, such as the shiny gyoza dumplings, golden and crunchy around the edges, slightly oily, packed with pork and green onion, or the entrée of shrimp yakisoba (thin buckwheat noodles) that contains every vegetable we have come to expect in stir-fries: mushrooms, carrots, broccoli and zucchini. The mixed green salad is heavily topped with a thick ginger dressing. For something green but lighter, try the delicate seaweed salad, lightly coated with sesame oil and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Two — well, probably three — could easily leave more than satisfied after a sampler such as the one above, but it would be gastronomically criminal not to also enjoy the Korean dishes on the menu.
Pajun, Korea's version of a frittata, is special here. It resembles the classic in its generous helpings of seafood — in this case, shrimp predominates — and lots of scallions, and in its rich egginess. But the texture, although soft and chewy, is much fluffier, similar to popovers, and it's puffed up like a popover, too. This would feed four as an appetizer easily.
And the barbecue? Bulgogi traditionally is beef with a luscious marinade that manages to capture salty, spicy, sweet and tangy all at once. Those flavors, however, seem to go well with everything. Tokyo Sushi's pork bulgogi is splendid. Lettuce leaves, traditionally for wrapping, are not served here, but who cares? The steamed rice served with it is excellent, and the sauce has the wonderful mouthfeel of a ragu.
Banchan, the small plates of accompanying condiments, also are superb. Opinions about banchan, and especially kimchee, are wildly divergent. But I loved that the thick bean sprouts were refreshing and crunchy, that the cabbage kimchee was subtle in both heat and pickling, that the cucumber kimchee allowed the vegetable's flavor to come through, and that the sauce with the fish cake strips had just the right balance of saltiness and sugar.
When it comes to restaurants in Lexington, reviews notwithstanding, word of mouth plays an essential role. Otherwise, who would imagine that a place with a name like Tokyo Sushi offers not only an excellent option for local sushi mavens, but expands the selection of terrific Korean dining in Fayette County?
Wendy Miller is a Lexington-based food and spirits writer and critic.