New Tokyo Is on a Roll
By Eve Zibart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 7, 2008
At first glance: The decor at Gaithersburg's New Tokyo Japanese Cuisine is what one would expect in a fairly plain strip mall eatery, with a few traditional elements: the printed cloth curtains above the sushi bar and photos of famous temples in Japan. But an unobtrusively witty bit of decor hangs from the ceiling: plastic puffer fish, the potentially fatal delicacy called fugu, amid schools of smaller sushi-size fish. Japanese pop music plays in the background at a pleasantly moderate volume.
On the menu: The menu is unusually long, in part because chef-owner Eizi Nakazima makes so many special rolls and "big maki," and makes such elaborate productions out of them. There's enough sushi without raw fish here (a Texas Cowboy roll with slices of grilled New York strip and mango; a crab and shrimp tempura Hawaii Volcano Roll with a lighted candle and spicy-sauce "lava") to reassure the most squeamish members of the party. But for the more tradition-minded guest, the list of sashimi and sushi options is impressive.
At your service: The servers are extremely friendly but expect you to want to order immediately. If you want to relax and chat, ask for a few minutes to consider the menu.
On the table: Grilled asparagus and a frequent special of baby eggplant in sesame sauce are nice openers. Rings of baby squid are baked in foil with a thin glaze of mayo. The lobster roll is a nice Japanese take on that New England favorite, with rice instead of bread and a slight tang of wasabi in the mayo. Dobin-mushi pot soup, a lovely, light but filling homestyle dish not often seen on local menus, is an assortment of steamed seafood served in a small teapot of broth with a sake-size cup and lime slice on the lid. Squeeze the lime into the broth, eat the fish with chopsticks first so it doesn't overcook and then pour the broth into the cup and drink it.
The tempura fish combo (snapper, shrimp, crab leg, salmon, yellowtail and tuna) is very lightly battered and generous. It comes with miso soup and rice for $13.95. (Unlike most Japanese restaurants in the area, New Tokyo does not include a house salad with entrees.)
The seafood udon noodle soup is large and has a good broth but fewer ingredients than most versions. The snapper-like grilled whole porgy is good but a little dry; the jaw of yellowtail, when in stock, is more moist and has more flavor.
The sushi rice is good, and the quality of fish generally high, though often too cold to bring out its fullest flavor. Chu-toro (medium-fatty tuna) sashimi was cut at an off-angle, making it chewy. One of Nakazima's signature dishes is the 10-piece Golden Ocean, a big maki roll with three kinds of fish, shrimp and avocado all rolled in rice and seaweed, then dipped in tempura batter, fried and sprinkled with edible 24-carat gold leaf -- a lot of food and a local favorite. The surf-and-turf of steak and choice of seafood is a draw for non-sushi types.
What to avoid: Despite being written up as a special, the uni (sea urchin) has been bitter. The BBQ beef stick appetizer had a mushy texture, something between a satay and meatloaf. Chawan mushi, the savory steamed egg custard, had pleasant enough flavor, but of the usual treasure trove of tidbits (chicken, ginkgo nuts, fish cake, shiitakes), it hid only shrimp. The thickish sauce on the teriyaki dishes is off-putting.
Wet your whistle: The scantiness of the sake list (two brands) is a disappointment. There are a few wines and beers.