Evening restaurant review
Service: Fast and friendly
Ambience: Urban cool
If you ask any fan of Japanese food for a downtown dining option these days, invariably the first recommendation will be the ever popular Takashi. I must admit, I too am a big fan of Takashi. My only complaint is the too too trendy crowd and utilitarian nature of the dining space. With all the buzz surrounding Takashi, I wonder if some people have forgotten about a classic favorite of the downtown dining scene, Mikado.
I for one am certainly guilty of overlooking the restaurant. During my 8 years of living in Salt Lake City, I have never once tried this Latitude Group mainstay. This weekend we sought to see if this long-standing restaurant was a worthy challenger to Takashi.
We arrived around 8 p.m., with reservations just in case. Our host first inquired if we preferred a table or a room. We assumed a room was a private tatami room, but this being our first visit, we wanted to get a feel for the main dining space. As we were led to our table, past the inviting looking tatami rooms and what appeared to be another dining area downstairs, we realized that Mikado is quite a large restaurant, despite the small store-front appearance from outside.
Our table next to the window afforded us good views of the main dining space, the sushi bar, and the gently falling snow on 100 South. Exposed brickwork lent a comfortable modern feel. Neither of us were too convinced by the line of LCD monitors over the sushi bar, at least they were on mute, and I’m sure the Jazz fans in the place had no problem with them whatsoever. The sushi bar was packed full of happy looking patrons as four focused sushi chefs worked away.
Feeling immediately relaxed, we perused our booze options. Lately, we have been dabbling with the odd glass of Sake here and there, so we decided to go for a full bottle this evening. Mikado has a good range of Sake, including a range of “Premium” selections. Our interest was immediately piqued. After a brief conversation with our waitress regarding whether or not a whole bottle of sake was too much for two people (it wasn’t), we settled on the Rihaku Nigori Sake ($68), aka “Dreamy Clouds”:
This particular variety of Sake is unfiltered. As a result, the appearance is cloudy. Our waitress informed us this wasn’t to many peoples tastes, but it afforded the sake a distinctive creamy taste. One sip was all it took and we were hooked, an excellent choice that would surely suit our meal.
The menu had us both licking our lips. It comprised a pleasing array of small plates, larger entrée sized plates, and a comprehensive selection of sushi. To sample as much as we could, we chose a selection of the smaller plates (Otsumami) and a little sushi as well.
Our first selection was the Asian Barbecue Shrimp ($7.95):
I will admit to being initially sceptical. I expected an underwhelming overly sweet sauce, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The BBQ sauce was not at all cloying and complemented the perfectly cooked shrimp well. The grilled shrimp were wrapped in prosciutto adding a further dimension to each bite. At this point, I realised the evening’s meal was going to be a great experience. Attention to detail was already evident. Take a look at the lime slice in the picture above, stabilising the bowl on the plate.
Next to arrive at our table was the Gyoza ($5.95):
These soft pork dumplings came served with a spicy sesame soy sauce. These were as good as any gyoza I have tried, soft, but fried crisp on their underbellies.
After some gazing at the varied speciality rolls list, we opted for the Red Dragon Roll ($11.95):
The dragon roll was effectively a California roll topped with spicy tuna. The end of roll also had a little ebi to complete the dragon effect. A simple and perfectly executed roll, this prompted us to try a few more exotic items.
Tuna Cha Cha tempted us as soon as we read the name ($8.95). The seared tuna is placed on elongated wonton chips. The tuna is then topped with guacamole, wasabi cream, and a Yuzo-miso sauce:
The wonton chips function as individual “plates” complete with handles for the small piles of tuna and toppings. I thought this was a really fun and quirky dish that served to highlight the creativity of the Mikado kitchen.
Saigon Roll (top $8.95) and Mean Gene Roll ($8.95):
The rice-less nature of the Mean Gene roll (snow crab, salmon, maguro, ohba, and kaiware wrapped in cucumber and seaweed) meant we had to give it a whirl. It proved to be a wonderfully refreshing change of pace to the standard rice based roll. It was fresh and packed with flavor.
The creative and unusual ingredients, coupled with our waitress’s recommendation, led us to our final choice, the Saigon Roll (cucumber, salmon, tempura jalapeño, crushed peanut, lime juice, Mikado sauce, cilantro, and chili sauce). Another fantastic roll, the fried Jalapeño and peanut in particular lending a complex texture and taste.
Normally I’m not a great lover of “speciality” rolls. Often, they seem ill thought out, too big, or simply too over the top. The special rolls we tried at Mikado were all excellent and seemed genuinely well thought through with all of the ingredients serving each other well. I am especially looking forward to a return visit to try the Mexi Roll (white fish tempura, cilantro, red chilli sauce) and the On Death Roll which is listed on the menu as “spicy, spicy, spicy, spicy tuna roll (please sign a waiver with your sushi chef)”. (Wen’s note-I’m scared, yet oddly excited, much like I was after the bottle of sake.)
Our entire dining experience from start to finish was stellar. Not only was service friendly and informative, but it was also fast. Items arrived at a perfect pace. As we finished off our meal around 9.30 p.m., diners continued to arrive. Everyone seemed to be having a great time. We were intrigued by the sign on our table promising live music and drinks late into the wee hours (from 10:00 p.m. til 2:00 a.m.). As things stood, we couldn’t eat or drink another bite, so we were forced to stagger off into the snowy night. As we departed, we took a quick glance into an empty tatami room and concurred our next visit should be to explore one of these private rooms.
So does Mikado measure up to Takashi? We definitely think so. We found the the food just as good. Mikado also has the added advantage of a more comfortable atmosphere, not to mention service which was a class above. A furthrr plus is that you don’t have to contend with the Takashi crowds, heck Mikado even takes reservations. Two thumbs up from us for this new favorite.