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Kyoto Japanese Restaurant

Trickling koi ponds and delightful Japanese fare

The Kyoto Unagi Roll is an eel layed atop a California roll. Photo credit: Jackie Fender

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ANNOUNCER: Craving more bites with an exotic flare, Dutch and Jackie head from the heart of downtown a bit south to a South Tacoma Way strip mall surprise, Kyoto Japanese Restaurant. Nestled in the same strip mall that H Mart resides in, Kyoto provides a tiny oasis in a concrete jungle.

JACKIE: As soon as you walk through the doors you're greeted with an inviting ambiance. You cross a trickling koi pond on an arched bridge, directly into Kyoto's intimate dining area. The wall-lined booths are semi-private and the understated lighting adds a nice glow to the space. If you're celebrating a special occasion or looking for more privacy during a meeting or gathering, you can reserve one of the tatami rooms. Just add sake by the bottle and you have yourself a compelling dining adventure.

DUTCH: It is a surprising setting for the neighborhood, and one that must be experienced. The tatami rooms with the traditional Japanese seating reminded me of when I lived in Japan and helped to set my mood for some traditional selections.

JACKIE: Service is friendly and efficient during each of my visits. A steaming pot of green tea is placed upon the table as you're given an opportunity to peruse the menu. The sushi selection boasts fresh and authentic flavors while the rest of the menu features well executed bites you'll find at your usual Japanese cuisine establishments. There are a variety of combo options and I started with the simple Chicken Teriyaki with California rolls. The dish is beautifully plated and everything it needs to be, perfectly sticky rice, well dressed grilled chicken and freshly prepared rolls.

DUTCH: I also went with one of the teriyaki combinations, mine, however, included a selection of tempura vegetables: zucchini, carrot, onion and potato. I don't like it when places skimp on the teriyaki sauce, and Kyoto plates a nice balance between chicken and sauce. The sauce doesn't overwhelm the dish, but still allows for the chicken to still be chicken. The vegetables were perfectly cooked and maintained a crunchy tempura shell even after dipping in the Uwajimaya sauce.

JACKIE: Sushi doesn't have to be your thing, but it is mine. I have a deep affection for sushi. My go-to, and favorite indulgence is the Unagi Roll, which I find to be a great gateway into sushi for those a bit squeamish about raw fish. The eel is prepared in a way that makes it rich, with a delicate crisp texture. It's then laid elegantly atop a California roll, with cucumber, crab and avocado stuffed within a touch of roe to finish it off. I might be drooling on my keyboard as I type this.

DUTCH: I'm not quite that brave when it comes to sushi and I tend to stick with the traditional choices. The California rolls were just as fresh as Jackie promised, but when ordered by the roll, comes with eight pieces that are perfect for sharing. The Seattle roll is a bit of a spin-off of the California roll with avocado, cucumber and crab, but it is topped with smoked salmon and roe. Additionally, the Philly roll adds a touch of creamy to your fresh experience with cream cheese accompanying salmon and a dusting of smelt roe. And of course, this all comes with pickled ginger and wasabi for dipping.

KYOTO JAPANESE RESTAURANT, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday-Friday; noon-10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 8722 South Tacoma Way, Tacoma, 253.581.7229

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