Tokyo Grill landed in a possibly perfect spot when it moved into the space vacated by Asian Palace Express. Anyone seeking the former tenant will likely give the new one a try, and they'll most likely return.
The small restaurant holds about a half-dozen tables and a pint-size sushi bar, but it seems most orders are placed to go.
The food isn't fancy -- you won't confuse it with a top Japanese restaurant -- but it's heads above fast food and falls in a similar price range. A
meal for three, with appetizers and before tax and tip, was $33.
At first glance, the menu might seem overwhelming. There are indeed many choices, but closer inspection shows much of it is almost the same thing. Of the 10 bento box selections, six are teriyaki choices, such as chicken, steak, salmon, shrimp, vegetable or tofu.
The hibachi dinners, which are cooked in the kitchen, not tableside, are the same: All the basics -- chicken, shrimp, steak, vegetables -- plus salmon, scallops and lobster tail are covered; then there are a variety of combination meals.
There are many sushi selections, though, and all at very reasonable prices.
You can choose from 23 rolls with a side order of very nice miso soup for $4.25 for one roll, $6.95 for two, and $8.95 for three. There are 16 larger, special rolls that are found at most sushi bars these days, such as a dynamite roll, volcano roll, rainbow roll and so on.
Combinations (which also come with miso soup) include sushi and sashimi.
We started with a spicy California roll and a spicy crawfish roll. The "spicy" element to the former was nothing more than a squiggle of red mayonnaise, but it did add a little kick. We were surprised at how meaty, how hearty, the crawfish roll was. The miso soup was the biggest surprise, though. It had the characteristic earthy mustiness, but it has a touch of brightness, too. Perhaps something as simple as a squeeze of lemon?
There were two items we ate that perplexed us. The shrimp tempura was the first. The order came with fried rice and a choice of soup or salad, as well as a generous assortment of tempura-fried vegetables. The vegetables -- onion, mushroom, sweet potato and broccoli -- were light and delicately fried, but the batter on the shrimp was hard, more like fried shrimp on a seafood buffet than tempura.
This was a to-go order, so I just puzzled over it, but when I dined in, I ordered it again. The bento box comes with a choice of shrimp or vegetable tempura on the side, and I gave the shrimp another try. It was the same, while the vegetables on my companion's plate were cooked in the traditional thin tempura batter.
I asked the server about it, and she got the cook, who explained that the shrimp was fried twice. I asked if I could get it in the lighter batter, and instead he delivered a complimentary order of tempura vegetables. Are they prebattered? I can't say that -- I saw no tell-tale box. And they taste fine. Just not like tempura.
The rest of the hibachi meal was quite good. The shrimp was cooked just until tender, and the vegetables were delicious. It was a medley of thick-cut onion slices, zucchini and mushrooms. Though we ordered the steak and shrimp combination, I would gladly order vegetables alone on my next visit.
The bento boxes, like the hibachi meals, are a terrific value. The chicken katsu meal delivered a very tender fried chicken cutlet topped with sauteed onions, savory brown gravy and an egg. With that came a large portion of fried rice, two shumai dumplings, four pieces of a California roll and a choice of shrimp or vegetable tempura. It was easily two meals, it was good, and it cost $10.
The avocado salad was little more than a green salad with a few fresh cucumbers, red onion slices and tomato on iceberg lettuce, but the avocado was perfectly ripe, and it covered about half the bowl.
The second head-scratcher at Tokyo Grill was the scallion pancake appetizer. I expected something slightly thicker than a crêpe, the batter cooked around slices of green onion. Instead, we were delivered a "pancake" that looked for all the world like a flour tortilla and tasted like one, too. There were bits of scallion, and a tasty sesame dipping sauce to go with it, but it wasn't a shortcut that worked for me.
The gyoza, on the other hand, were several notches above those found in "better" restaurants.
No MSG is used at Tokyo Grill, by the way.
Service is friendly and efficient, both on the phone and in the restaurant. To-go items are properly packed (holes are poked in the top of the tempura box to vent steam, for instance), and condiments are generous. Overall, the food is tasty, quickly and simply prepared, and the bottom line is that it's a very good deal. In value-driven times, that's a boon for business.
-- Jennifer Biggs: 529-5223
Address: 4978 Park.
Telephone: (901) 761-7888.
Hours: Daily 11 a.m.- 10 p.m.
Reviewer's choices: Bento box (prices range from $8.95 to $11.95); chicken katsu ($6.95); hibachi entrees ($5.95 to $10.95, with the exception of lobster tail, which is $24.95); miso soup ($1.50).
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars