By Jim Duncan CVFDude@aol.com
New sushi bars in Ankeny and Dogtown
When social scientists write about cities and their suburbs, they employ Darwinian metaphors like “cultural survival,” “adaptation” and “evolutionary synthesis.” Lacking the dramatic contrasts that intrigue Darwinians, Des Moines and its suburbs rarely make it into such studies. When it comes to restaurants though, our city and suburbs differ utterly. The average suburban café here has lots more seats, offers much bigger menus, and occupies far more real estate (parking) than its city cousin. It’s also more likely to be associated with a large industrial restaurant group that spends more money on television advertising. The metro’s two newest sushi restaurants fit these patterns.
Like Samurai and Ohana in West Des Moines, or Taki and Appare in Urbandale, Tokyo in Ankeny (try repeating those words without smiling) sprawls over multiple dining rooms with different ambiances including cooking stations. Tokyo’s décor was predictably full of Asian trappings. Despite nearly 200 different menu items, not counting possible combinations, there was no toro, no hamachi kama and no uni — my favorite Japanese treats. I did find several good appetizers — fried tofu, fried oysters, seaweed salad and squid salad. Calamari disappointed me with the same chewy rings one finds in buffet lines. Both times I ordered tempura, my dishes were served crisp, light and perfectly golden. A sea bass special delivered fresh tasting fish.
The sushi menu required careful reading to avoid the Americanized touches of mayonnaise (“chef’s special sauce”) and creamed cheese. The size of fish cuts in my sushi rolls was consistently generous yet no one ever served me more than an ornamental touch of pickled ginger. Whenever I asked for a bit more though, I was given a huge bowl. Though nothing was inadequate, none of the raw fish nigiri I ordered impressed me with freshness. Imitation crabmeat was used in specialty rolls, though king crab was offered as nigiri.
In Dogtown, Hoshi opened after remodeling the former 21 sushi café, separating the sushi bar from the alcohol bar. That seemed to work. I was told that the food business was outperforming the bar business, and my visits seemed to verify that, despite attractive specials on carafes of saki and on martinis. As in Des Moines sushi bars Miyabi, Sakari, Junko and the wind-grieved Zen, a one-room café offered a focused menu. Hoshi has fewer tables than Tokyo’s menu has pages. A dinner of soba (buckwheat noodles) was served in a very sweet sauce with broccoli, onions and carrots. Teriyaki also delivered sweet-sauced entrees. Tempura was expert — crisp, golden and light.
The sushi bar, manned by a long time Waterfront veteran, featured several Americanized specialty rolls. He worked faster than anyone at Tokyo, and he produced more photogenic rolls, too. One included fried salmon, green apples, mayonnaise and eel sauce. Several mixed multiple sauces (some taste traits evolve from suburban carriers back to city folk). Traditional raw sashimi and nigiri were limited to big eye tuna, yellowtail and salmon. Octopus, cooked eel, roe, and shrimp rounded out that menu. Imitation crab was used exclusively in rolls. On my fourth visit, the freshness of the fish improved. I was told a new supplier had come aboard. That’s enough to get me to return.
Bottom line — Both these new places fit their addresses, excel at tempura, and offer much more than sushi. Neither will steal serious Japanese diners from Miyabi yet.
Live jazz is now being served for weekday lunches at the Historical Building Baratta’s and for Sunday brunch at Mars Coffeehouse… Café di Scala has added Beatles’ Brunches the first Sunday of each month. CV
Caption: Nigiri and hamachi roll at Tokyo, 113 S.E. Delaware Ave., Ankeny, 963-8898. Hours are Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 10:30 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 10 p.m.
Hoshi, 2314 University Ave., 369-7253.
Hours are Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.