I won’t pretend to be objective about the re-opening of Tokyo Café (5121 Pershing Av, 817-737-8568) this week. The venerable Japanese eatery has been shuttered for more than two years after a fire shut it down. When the place closed, the owners said it would just be temporary. Since then, the Ho family opened the outstanding Cannon Chinese Kitchen (304 W Cannon St, 817-238-3726). That’s great and all, but there was always a Tokyo Café-sized hole in the hearts of Fort Worth foodies.
For many locals, the cozy Westside café, which opened in 1997, was their introduction to Japanese cuisine. The bill of fare has always been approachable – not as elevated as the place’s sister restaurant, Shinjuku Station (711 W Magnolia Av, 817-923-2695), but light years beyond most fast-casual Asian places. And it’s affordable. You could get in and out of the place for less than $15 at lunch.
The restaurant’s new iteration is downright swanky. The décor, inside and out, blends traditional Japanese minimalism with tasteful modern flourishes. The walls of the main dining room are barren with only sleek-looking windows letting the sun link the interior to the nature outside. Paper lanterns hang from the ceiling, making the room look tastefully festive. Impressive cracked-egg-looking light fixtures greet guests at the entrance. The only design quibble I had was that the sushi bar seemed so far removed from the rest of the dining room.
It wouldn’t be fair to review a place that’s only been open a few days, and our server did warn us that the kitchen is still working out some kinks. And, overall, the service was lacking –– we waited about 45 minutes for our food. The owners have a good track record, so I have no doubt all of those bumps in the road will be sorted out in no time. At least everyone was nice.
The kitchen isn’t yet serving its bento boxes, but a lot of the café’s favorites such as the beef bowl ($9) and many of the classic sushi rolls have reappeared on the menu.
Chef Kevin Martinez, whose impressive Yatai ramen food cart regularly appears on west Magnolia Avenue, has his fingerprints all over the new menu. His most obvious influence is the Westside Ramen ($9), a hearty bowl of dark, intense broth, thin, al dente noodles, green onions, roasted seaweed, half an egg, Narutomaki fish cakes, and floating pools of black garlic oil. Speaking of filling, my guest’s Katsu Pork Bowl ($8), a modestly portioned mélange of panco-crusted pork, sautéed onions, a soft scrambled egg, and sticky rice, was the perfect entry-level Japanese dish.
On the lighter side, the Spice Girls roll ($11) with tuna, avocado, smelt roe, togarashi (spice mixture), and imitation crab (or Krab) was a fresh-tasting blend of salt, spice, and seafood cradled in deliciously sticky rice.
It warmed the cockles in my little black heart to see so many people pouring in the front door –– most of whom knew the owners and were greeted by hugs. I’ll get back to being my surly self next week. For now, I’m just happy Tokyo Café is back.