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Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2010

For Sushi in Milwaukee, Try Kyoto

Newly expanded, reopened Japanese restaurant one of the city’s best

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“You expect me to eat all of that?” While you won’t hear those words at many Japanese restaurants, that sentiment is a definite possibility at Kyoto.

The customer I overheard was referring to a sashimi plate ($10)—and it was the lunch portion. The sashimi plate includes 10 slices, large by Japanese standards, of raw fish. The selection is “chef’s choice,” but most likely there will be ruby slices of tuna, pale white hamachi (amberjack), orange-hued salmon and faintly streaked tai (red snapper). And this arrives after miso soup and a salad. The dinner serving ($21) is even larger, with 16 slices of fish.

Kyoto reopened a few weeks ago, following some remodeling and an expansion. The tables, featuring hardwood surfaces, have doubled in number. The plastic sushi samples have disappeared from the vestibule, and an expanded sushi bar now has a granite top. The color scheme is made of soothing brown hues, the staff dresses in basic black and the menu has grown. Prices have been modified as well—some have increased, though the special maki rolls are a little cheaper. Overall, everything has improved.

The new menu has an expanded sake selection and plenty of items to order, though the descriptions tend to be terse. A new appetizer named hamachi kama ($9.50) is listed with no detail at all. It’s a grilled collar of yellowtail amberjack. As much as I enjoy hamachi served raw, the flavor when cooked is intensely delicious. The few bones are easily found, and the serving is very easy to negotiate with chopsticks.

Lunch and dinner boxes include gyoza—meat-filled dumpling wrappers that are deep-fried until crisp and pack a gingery flavor—but they are better and fresher when ordered as an appetizer ($5). Another find, though not new, is the naruto roll ($8). This is found in the rolled sushis, but it differs in that seaweed and rice are not used. Instead, thinly sliced cucumber serves as the wrapper. The filling is a choice of tuna, salmon, eel or shrimp, to which crab meat, avocado and masago (smelt roe) are added. It is served with a vinegar sauce similar to a sunomono dressing.

The shrimp tempura ($13.50) remains as excellent as ever. Kyoto’s batter is always feathery and crisp for these six, extra-long shrimp. Miso soup, a salad with ginger dressing and steamed rice are included in the price. The teriyaki dishes are all competently prepared, and some other Asian dishes have been added as well. Thai red curry shrimp and chungking chicken are now on the menu. A perfectly good version of hot and sour soup ($2) is also offered. The appetizers include salt pepper squid ($7.50), a Cantonese dish arriving in a light, salty batter and sprinkled with minced sweet red pepper and scallions. It is as good as versions found at top Chinese restaurants, and the serving is large enough to be an entrée.

The sushi and sashimi offerings mostly remain the same. The maguro (tuna) is as fresh as ever and toro (tuna belly) is still available. The nigiri sushi and sashimi may be ordered as one or two pieces or in various combinations. The largest and most impressive is the party boat ($68), which includes 18 pieces of sushi, 18 of sashimi and three whole maki rolls. It is said to serve three, but there definitely will be leftovers.

The choices of maki (or rolled) sushi are numerous. A simple cucumber roll with rice and seaweed is $3, while a specialty roll like the Kyoto maki will run $11.50. The Kyoto maki, with its filling of shrimp, crab and avocado, is said to be cooked. While the shrimp and crab are cooked, the roll is topped with slices of salmon that are barely cooked, if at all. The salmon is buttery in texture and the roll is drizzled with two sauces, one teriyaki and the other a spicy mayonnaise. The flavors are rich and soothing. The “cooked” labels for other rolls appear to be accurate.

Beer is the preferred beverage at a sushi bar, and there is an appropriate Japanese selection. Non-drinkers will find large glasses of brewed iced green tea available. The service was a bit spotty when Kyoto first reopened, but now it is back to normal. Even at lunchtime there will be four sushi chefs at work. Tellingly, regular customers seem to like the new quarters. Kyoto’s improvements are very welcome, and the restaurant clearly is one of the best local places for sushi. n

Kyoto

7453 W. Layton Ave.

414-325-1000

$$

Credit Cards: MC, VS, AX

Smoke-Free

Handicap Access: Yes