The consensus on Domo is so large as to be virtually irrefutable: remarkable décor; very good food; slow, indifferent service.
Ever itching to refute up a contrarian storm, I lucked out on my first try by ordering the soba noodles with shrimp tempura & calamari teriyaki, a bowl of slop I couldn’t point to solely & conclusively as disproof of social reality—see also the roundtable it inspired on the debatable concept of “ordering wrong”—but could at least use as 1 solid piece of evidence that the food might be overrated.
But that was about a year ago, & ever since I’ve been getting facefuls of the same evidence everybody else has to show that those noodles were likely a fluke & that the kitchen can, by and large, deliver fairly reliably—even if said smooth delivery has a way of being ironically intercepted by the servers themselves, who have, among other issues, the most annoying habit of refusing to bring everyone’s meals out at once. Perhaps there’s some rule of Japanese dining etiquette stipulating that food come out the instant it’s ready; after all, owner Gaku Homma is proudly ganko, a stickler for authentic experience even at the risk of diner alienation:
Customer service is, of course, extremely important, & service should be efficient & friendly. [Good luck with that.—Denved.] Sometimes, however, customers mistakenly think they’re following traditional customs for eating Japanese food, & restaurant owners & employees alike become intimidated. Not wanting to displease their clientele, staff members refrain from saying anything about improper requests or eating manners & instead try to accommodate every request. This is commonly thought to be good service, but in the long run, this approach does not serve customers well. (Much more here; I’m especially charmed by this little rant:
I have seen people in sushi bars order wasabi & gari like bar peanuts with beer. This would be the equivalent of ordering au jus & horseradish as a main course. Au jus & horseradish are used to compliment the taste of good prime rib. The same should apply to sushi.)
Really, his attitude is one I’m totally down with; I always try to start from the premise & operation on the notion that the chef knows best—for if I knew better, why would I go through the inevitably disappointing motions of dining out? Rather, I want to experience & discover & soak it all up. However, when such cross-cultural culinary teaching is left to a staff that is not, for the most part, efficient or friendly but rather appears apathetic & contemptuous by turns, nothing gets learned—& plenty goes resented. Thus the standard complaints about Domo’s service.
But to scoot back to the competent kitchen—as usual, it’s the little things that loom largest. Take the signature “fruit-based” teriyaki sauce, which has more in common with mostarda di frutta than the blend of pancake syrup & petroleum derivative that typically goes by the label in that it’s so vibrant, flickering with tartness and spice. Good thing, too, because the menu’s soaking in it. It’s what lends the teriyaki curry’s grilled beef tenders, for instance, their especially smoky intrigue (while leaking a bit of sweetness into the accompanying rich & redolent, if slightly viscous, curry with carrots & potatoes).
And I think it’s what acts as the red sauce to the deep-dish slice of omelet pizza that is a wedge of battara yaki—adding fruity tang to the seafood-and-scallion pancake, which is fluffier & drier than the Chinese version.
Personally, I prefer the scrumptious slickness of the latter, but this is good too, with its squeeze of aioli & sprinkle of bonito.
Speaking of mostarda,
the karashi saba, or raw mackerel lacquered with hot mustard, is stellar, the latter in its sharpness being the ideal match for the oily, dark flesh of the former—the only fish but one on the Wanko Sushi list to get such treatment, which goes nicely to show that in Homma’s kitchen, unlike so many places where there’s a lot of mixing & matching of meats & sauces, one flavor doesn’t automatically fit all. (That said, the other option’s squid, which I’d think far too delicate for hot mustard. Taste test next time.)
So yeah, Wanko Sushi.
It’s Domo’s wholly unnecessary trademark on, to again quote the website, “sushi rice topped with fresh sashimi [& served on] small plates, or wanko.” With a name like that, it not only has to be good, it should really steer entirely clear of thick white squirts of mayo & such. It doesn’t. Regardless, it’s a treat for its unusual style & mostly (see: squirts) lovely, chirashi-like presentation.
Of course, unusual style & lovely presentation are what Domo’s all about. Insisting everywhere on its rural underpinnings, it not only looks the part—
think some woodcutter’s tool-lined feudal-era cottage
leading to a rock garden replete with
lily pond & painted bridge—
it acts it, too, what with such touches as the array of side dishes served family-style à la Korean panchan at dinner, individually at lunch. They’re chef’s daily choice, so it’s a crapshoot, but 1 with amazingly good odds—in fact, among all of these,
the only dud has been the virtually flavorless rice noodles (top center). The rest form a kaleidoscope of light & rich, bright & funky, crisp & saucy, incorporating everything from black beans & corn to daikon & soba.
You might even get meatballs.
Miso soup’s pretty special too,
a whole slew of veggies fortifying the light, almost frothy broth. Likewise, the tofu nabemono is way more mono than nabe. It looks like an ice floe just broke up in a bowl of Antarctica.
Still, like everybody else, I just can’t bring myself to embrace the place wholeheartedly due to that nagging sense of not being welcomed with totally open arms in turn. It’s as though Amerikajin customers, in management’s mind, are the necessary evil of running a successful Japanese restaurant—the unpredictable, malfunctioning obstacle to perfect culinary machinery.
And yet we all keep flocking back. How wanko.