Reviewed by Wes Marshall, Fri., Aug. 3, 2012
Mon.-Fri., 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:30-10pm;
4101 W. Parmer Ln. Ste. E, 821-9472
Monday-Friday, 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:30-10pm; Saturday, noon-10pm
The Parmer/McNeil area is a long way from home, so, despite hearing some impressive praise, I'd never taken the trek to Tomodachi Sushi until recently – big mistake on my part. The restaurant has been in business for six years now, and, judging by the crowds, plenty of sushi lovers are happy to make the journey. Tomodachi is the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Steve Riad and Tina Son. As is often the case in family-operated restaurants, one spouse handles the kitchen and the other runs the front of the house. Steve holds court behind the sushi bar. He loves making the simple, traditional nigirizushi and sashimi, preparing each order as though the customer is an expert who will judge the dish astutely. The rice is tangy, sweet, and perfectly textured. His cuts are lovely, pleasing, and placed just right. Take for example the uni ($9 for two pieces), which is beautiful and aromatic. With a chef of this caliber, you can trust he's already flavored it properly, so no soy or wasabi is necessary. The uni was heavenly and of impeccable consistency, always a good sign for an item that goes bad so quickly. Unagi ($6) is always a good test. How well do they cook and sauce the eel? In all cases, the Tomodachi staff showed the type of casual expertise that comes from years of tough apprenticeships.
Of course, a lot of people like Japanese flavors and concepts, and though they want something exotic, they also prefer more familiar flavors. They desire a fusion of American and Japanese cuisine. These aren't foods you would see in traditional food towns like Nara or Kanazawa, let alone Tokyo. However, Riad trained at the Culinary Institute of America, and spent time working at Nobu Las Vegas, a bastion of fusion concepts. He has devoted a lot of creativity to his American rolls and hot dishes. I asked for their most popular roll and they brought out an Ex-Girlfriend Roll ($14), a bouffant concoction of crab, avocado, spicy tuna, halibut tempura, and spicy mayonnaise. It was deliciously decadent – fried things on fat things on mayonnaise – and all of it delicious. Not only that, but the serving was huge. I'm a sucker for crab cakes ($9), and Tomodachi's are two huge cakes, almost 4 inches in diameter. They were almost completely made from crab, with a perfectly crisp panko exterior, resting in a pool of spicy aioli that had me wishing for a spoon.
Among the more traditional foods, the Tomodachi cucumber salad ($4) is pure simplicity, but also pure perfection. It's just sliced cucumbers, sugared vinegar, and sesame seeds, but it is flawless in every way. The blend of tangy and sweet, the snappy texture, the fresh flavors, and the nutty crunch of sesame seeds add up to a delightful palate cleanser. One other strictly traditional item was from the small tempura menu. We chose two pieces of shrimp ($4). Again, we've all had fried shrimp, but in Japan, making tempura is an art. We had an experience in a small tempura bar in Tokyo that was closer to a religious ritual than a dinner. It was an eight-seat bar with the chef doing everything himself. Each dish had its own batter, its own method. In a town with over 160,000 restaurants, that particular chef was venerated as the master, and he took every single motion as seriously as a brain surgeon. I wouldn't compare Tomodachi's tempura to that master's, but the point is, you could see the same dedication to details in their staff. This is probably one of the reasons that so many chefs and food workers from other places around town were sitting at Tomodachi's bar, asking Riad terribly technical questions about preparations, origins, and potential substitutions. That's always a good sign.
The front of the house had a similar dedication to getting everything right. Our server was from Hong Kong, and she was the perfect combination of knowledgeable helpfulness, attentiveness, and casual friendliness. Because of the folks who work out front, Tomodachi never feels formal or traditional. It's as welcoming as an old Texas roadhouse like Poodie's, but the level of professionalism rivals a good French place like the much lamented Aquarelle. That's just the right mix, if you ask me. Ms. Son has also put together a very nice sake list. It's small but seamless, reminiscent in quality-per-listing of the Eastside Cafe's wine list. She also designed the interior, something she learned while at the Fashion Institute of Technology's School of Design in New York City. As I am sure you can tell, all aspects of Tomodachi come highly recommended.