Winning Newcomer

Aug 19 • GRUB & GUZZLE, Restaurant ReviewsNo Comments

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Kyoto Asian Grille offers tasty cuisine without hefty prices

CLASSIC FLAVOR: Kyoto’s beef and broccoli outshines pedestrian Chinese takout any day of the week. Photo by Bethany Turner

CLASSIC FLAVOR: Kyoto’s beef and broccoli outshines pedestrian Chinese takout any day of the week. Photo by Bethany Turner

Wilmington has never lacked for good Asian cuisine. In fact, diners seeking quality fare often ponder which restaurant to frequent upon a craving. As I sat down to dinner, I wondered how the relative newcomer Kyoto Asian Grille off Market Street (in what used to be a Wendy’s) would fit in?

The answer is “quite nicely.”

Kyoto offers a friendly, if demure, atmosphere, attentive service and quality food at remarkably low prices. I sat at the bar and overheard bits of chatter from behind the sushi station. Open for only a few months, at the helm of Kyoto stands a transplanted chef/owner from Greenville. What he now calls the “Seahawk Roll” was a “Pirate Roll” a few short months ago.

The staff remained genuinely friendly. I don’t know if it’s an intentional effort to build their loyal following or just a natural tendency toward kindness, but either way I suspect “regulars” will find this place. I particularly enjoyed the smiles of the crew when they recounted the number of Saturdays on which they picked up customers who chose not to wait an hour or more down the road at Indochine. The genuine glee they took in picking a location where they could attract errant diners seemed charming and infectious. I couldn’t help but laugh along with them.

I opened with a pair of appetizers: First came the tuna tataki. Featuring thicker cuts of fish than those to which I’m accustomed, it tasted surprisingly filling. The raw tuna couldn’t have been fresher if it were still swimming. Served over a crispy seaweed salad, the traditional dish was well-received.

In addition to the ponzu—a citrus, tart and thin sauce—the sushi chef added a drizzle of eel sauce, which contained a thicker, sweeter flavor. While I’m not convinced it did much in balancing the dish, the contrast made it lovelier to behold.

I followed up with a chicken satay. Satays have always been my culinary white whale, as they rarely manage to keep in moisture. Kyoto had no such trouble in that department. I’m told that the secret came with a quick dip in the fryer, followed by the grill. It resulted in contained moisture and tenderness, tearing easily from the small wooden spear.

The memorable part of the satay, however, came with the house-made peanut sauce. Grittier than what can be found in the grocery stores, it isn’t the prettiest sauce I’ve ever seen. Upon tasting it, I immediately was reminded of the Japanese principle of wabi-sabi: finding beauty in the irregular. The peanut sauce smacked with a rich, nutty flavor and just the right hint of red-pepper spiciness.

I took a long time selecting an entrée, as I was no longer particularly hungry and there were still too many options I wanted to sample. I eventually settled on the lobster. Stir-fried over rice, with broccoli, zucchini and onions, the portion heaped off the plate. Containing two lobster tails, each weighed in at least 5 ounces. How they served it for under $21, I’m not quite sure.

The lobster might have been a touch chewy from the stir-fry, but the mild fishy flavor, with its hints of sweetness, bled through the rice admirably. I chose steamed rice, but fried is an option, too. The vegetables, still crisp and vibrant, added contrast of both color and texture. All told, the entrée successfully sated my tastebuds.

Lunch at Kyoto is also worth seeking. I sampled two of their $4 lunch bowls (they could easily get $6 for them). I opened with honey chicken. I’m not the biggest fan of sweetened entrees, but I tried it to expand my horizons. The chicken’s texture crisped nicely, but I found the red sauce a bit too cloying for my tastes. More garlic or crushed red pepper would have tamed it. The honey potently took over, which is quite indicative of the dish’s name, I suppose. Bigger fans of this style entrée will flock to it.

The beef and broccoli featured rather substantial chunks of meat, and higher quality beef than I was expecting. Too many bad experiences with lousy Chinese takeout left me unprepared for high-quality ingredients. The rich, brown sauce complimented both tender meat and crisp-soft vegetables. The sauce had an understated quality that lent credence to the beef itself, much like an accompanist on the piano accents a talented singer.

Two lunch entrées and a Coke guided me out the door for only $10 and a little change. That’s sans tip, of course. (Please, always tip the waitstaff—or go to hell. Your choice.)

All and all, Kyoto Asian Grille is a winner. From the muted blue-gray interior, to the service, to the prices, to the quality of the meals, I left more than satisfied. Also, they provide a range of Asian fare, from Thai to Chinese to Japanese, so all regional preferences get covered. Because I so often have to try new places for reviews, I don’t always get back to old favorites as often as I wish. But I will be back to Kyoto—and frequently.

DETAILS:
Kyoto Asian Grille

Mon-Sun: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.;
5 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
4102 Market Street
910-332-3302
www.kyotoasiangrille.com
Bottom line: I suspect Kyoto to find a host of regulars rather quickly, thanks to great food, service and, especially, prices.

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