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Aug 14, 2012 10:48 PM

What's good at Japanese Restaurants?


What's good at Japanese Restaurants? I've never been to one before. The menu lists some bowls, it says pick rice, noodle, or veggie. Then it says to pick either BBQ, Teriyaki, or Hibachi Sauce. They also have a Volcanic Chicken Bowl.

  1. My recommendation for a place to start is udon (noodle soup).

    1 Reply
    1. re: GH1618

      Thanks. The Vegetable Tempura and Soy Garlic Noodles sound good too. It's hard to decide because I have no idea what anything on the menu is or what type of sauces they use.

    2. What a massive question. It completely depends on your taste. Real Japanese food is quite different then Western food, but I have a feeling the restaurant sounds somewhat Westernized.

      Rice is a large staple, if you have never had short grain/sushi rice it might be interesting to try, it is not just a medium for sauces like some long grain is used for.

      There are many noodle choices as well, udon is pretty mild in flavour, soba can actually have a flavour some people might find different.

      BBQ sauce you can probably imagine, Teriyaki sauce is mirin, soy sauce and sugar, it is kind of a salty, sweet almost burnt/dark caramelized taste. No idea what the Hibachi sauce is, but could be a ginger based sauce.

      Sounds like it will just be whatever protein/vegetable you want, mixed with the sauce you want, on top of rice or noodles.

      If its more then that, Japanese is famous for seafood. Fresh sushi and sashimi are excellent, but may contain raw fish so be aware of that. Udon is great, its summer now so cold udon or soba dishes are excellent. The fried foods are also good, katsudon, karage, tempura. Japanese Curry is pretty tasty as well.

      I can't really even begin to get started, if you posted the menu we could make suggestions, but it really is a massive cuisine.

      1. The menu description you provided indicates to me this is an americanized japanese-style restaurant. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but be aware that it bears only a remote resemblance to Japanese food. I'm sure whatever you pick that suits your palate generally, e.g. if you like noodles a lot pick noodles, if you really like BBQ pick that sauce (and what the heck is "hibachi sauce"?!), will be edible, but it won't be Japanese food.

        1 Reply
        1. re: janniecooks

          <<suits your palate generally,>>

          Wow, on CH I rarely see the word "palate" spelled correctly in this case.
          You must also be a great cook, Jannie.

        2. What would be good is to avoid this place and go to a real Japanese restaurant.

          17 Replies
          1. re: E Eto

            +1. This sounds like the chipotle of Japanese food. Not really Japanese but Asian fusion.

            Not a bad place to start if you really don't know much about that kind of food but a real Japanese restaurant will have a much better selection.

            1. re: Crockett67

              Japanese cuisine is really about different disciplines (noodle making, fish prep, frying, stewing, etc.), so a more focused menu vs. a better selection would probably do the cuisine more justice. I would recommend to someone just introduced to the cuisine to find a place with a smaller menu with attention to craft, freshness, season, and the other harbingers of good Japanese food.

              1. re: E Eto


                The OP really needs to research further by herself and think about what genuine non-Western foods are supposed to be like rather than treating the upstate NY restaurants in her immediate locale as definitive of the various cuisines. One congratulates her on trying out new (to her) cuisines and encourages her in her endeavors but also encourages her to look into the cuisines in a more thorough fashion. Suppose she looks up what "Japanese cuisine" is with a simple Google search? That menu from the place she is contemplating patronizing (in a post below) looks nothing like what I would expect from a Japanese restaurant.

                Here's a meal I had not so long ago at a decent Japanese place:

                1. re: huiray

                  Your Japanese lunch was fairly Americanized as well. Though at least there is nothing that can be called "volcanic".

                  1. re: Silverjay

                    Oh certainly it was at a Japanese restaurant operating in the USA and the items ordered were to my fancy. Still, I wouldn't say hiyayakko and zaru soba are common American-Japanese items ordered by a great number of USAmericans, actually. :-) But certainly Japanese in Japan may order other things and even the same things as I ordered would probably be presented differently and all three may not be combined in the same meal as I did with mine. Of course I also did not have an actual wasabi root to grind against the special tool for doing so with my zaru soba. Perhaps you would have that as a matter of course in Japan. The nigirizushi I had - what strikes you as being USAmericanized to you?

                    1. re: huiray

                      The nigiri are all fatty items that Americans prefer and are usually jammed in sushi sets - tuna, salmon, yellowtail, and eel. No balance. No white fish or silver fish or shellfish. And tobiko you may as well punt through the uprights as it's more or less considered decorative. Maybe there were other sets and this is the one you chose.....Miso soup is usually served at the end of a sushi meal. For a lunch set, it might be served altogether, but most Japanese places in the U.S. follow the soup-salad-main convention because that's what we are familiar with here....There's also a huge pile of wasabi. I see that a lot here. Presumably the chef left the wasabi off the nigiri I guess......Finally tofu, sushi, and soba in the same meal is WEIRD. Actually, being on the same menu is weird. Maybe that was you just trying to catch up on all your Japanese favs at the same time. Still, it's a pretty odd combo. What are the chances that either the tofu or the soba were made in-house?

                      1. re: Silverjay

                        And I don't mean to pick on you. It's late and I just saw your link and the pic for the first time. I recognize we go to some restaurants to get our favorites of a particular cuisine in one place. Totally natural and I'm as likely to do it as the next person.

                        1. re: Silverjay

                          ...and you jumped to the conclusion that the restaurant had "set lunch" selections (A, B, C, whatever) and that the sushi was "set 1" and the "Set A" package had the tofu+soba+set1 sushi. Wrong.

                          I explained in my post ( you first responded to (where I *said* "But certainly Japanese in Japan may order other things and even the same things as I ordered would probably be presented differently and all three may not be combined in the same meal as I did with mine.") that I chose the dishes myself. I did so again in my subsequent post ( I selected the individual dishes and the individual nigirizushi pieces entirely a la carte from the full menu of the restaurant - as what I wanted to eat that day. And yes, I didn't feel like having ikura that day. :::Shrug::: If the combination was something that a true-blue traditional Japanese person would not do, so be it. Heh.

                          Each individual dish or nigirizushi seemed fine to me and were not American-Japanese concoctions. I had no complaints about what each dish was nor about the freshness/quality of the fish. :-)

                        2. re: Silverjay

                          I chose the nigirizushi myself as personal selections as my personal hankering that day. They were not a "set combination". I did not want shellfish or whitefish that day. Miso soup and salad at the start is a Western convention, that is true. The pile of wasabi was offered, yes, but one chooses to use as much or as little as one desires. I chose to use barely any to accompany each piece of nigirizushi - each of which *had* a small pad of wasabi already placed there between the fish and rice. The first piece of each pair I ate alone, without any additional wasabi or soy sauce, and decided with the second piece if I wanted any additional wasabi or if I wanted a touch of soy sauce. No slurry of soy sauce + wasabi was made by me nor did I dunk any piece of nigirizushi in such a slurry - if not anything else because I did not make such a slurry. Tofu, sushi and soba in the same meal - as I said, that was what I felt like that day. I do not consider such a "mix" to be forbidden simply because it is not what you would ordinarily do in Japan. Neither the tofu or soba were probably made in house - but I hardly hold that to be a defining mark of whether a restaurant is Japanese or not.

                          Note also that I said it was a meal I had at a Japanese restaurant. I did not say I had a Japanese meal as a Japanese person might have in a Japanese restaurant in Japan.

                          For that matter wouldn't there be sushi, tofu and soba in the same meal in some versions of a kaiseki offering or even less elaborate meals?

                          1. re: huiray

                            Haha, no. Unless you sat on a tatami mat, your meal had nothing in common with kaiseki. Typically in Japan, only cheap canteen style restaurants or maybe airports would offer tofu, sushi, and soba on the same menu. Perhaps a catch-all izakaya might do it as well..... Obviously many Japanese restaurants here in the U.S. try to offer a broad menu of standards across the cuisine in the same way many Chinese or Italian restaurants present various regional offerings in one place...A pile of wasabi with nigiri sushi is American. I guess it's done because many people want to control the amount of wasabi themselves, but putting wasabi in shoyu and dipping in nigiri is American....I think in a discussion about what to eat at Japanese restaurants, it's reasonable to point out that a big block of tofu, fatty pieces of sushi, and a pile of soba in one setting would be unusual. It's nothing to take away from your individual right to fulfill your hankerings. But there is something to be said for pointing out standard cultural dining convention.

                            1. re: Silverjay

                              That's fine. It's also very true that in America many (if not most) Japanese restaurants (other than select or specialized ones in limited areas) would offer selections from across the spectrum as you say, rather than like in Japan where you would have dedicated sushi-ya or ramen-ya and the like as the norm. Even so, you admit that having tofu, soba and sushi on the same menu is found in Japan itself.

                              Uh, don't Japanese also dip nigirizushi into shoyu or soy sauce if they desire to? BTW - again - I kept my soy sauce and wasabi separate. Sure, the common USAmerican tendency is to put wasabi into shoyu/soy sauce and stir it up then dunk the nigirizushi into it - but the point here is that the restaurant would not provide the already-mixed wasabi-shoyu. *You* decide if you want to do it. :-)

                              1. re: Silverjay

                                BTW I wasn't saying that what I had was a kaiseki meal. I was merely pointing out that there are kaiseki meals where one does indeed end up having some sort of tofu, selected sushi, and some form of noodles (including soba) in the course of the meal. Somehow I get the feeling you did think I was saying my meal was just like a kaiseki meal. :::rollingeyes:::

                                1. re: huiray

                                  It would be odd for a rice and a noodle dish to appear in the same progression. People don't usually eat both in the same meal. And sushi is traditionally not a kaiseki item but that is changing and no longer rigidly followed. But we're talking about a small piece of hirame or tai most likely. Not oily fish...Regarding wasabi, sashimi is served with a small grated pile. Sushi is not as the chef places a dab on the nigiri for you.

                                  1. re: Silverjay

                                    Nowadays I believe noodles are sometimes swapped for the rice course.

                                    1. re: huiray

                                      Doubtful that soba would appear in kaiseki. Maybe somen or harusame in the summer. But doubtful.

                            2. re: Silverjay

                              soup/salad/main is because miso OUGHT to be at every meal -- but people won't order a $2 soup.

                    2. I agree that the menu you describe sounds very Americanized - like someone has taken the Mongolian grill concept, and added Japanese sauces.

                      However, if you are at a more Japanese style place, one of my favourite dishes is the grilled fish, particularly the saba (mackerel). It's very flavourful, with a slightly crispy skin.

                      For some fairly 'safe' choices for Western palates that are fairly generic (ie, not in a specialized restaurant)

                      Teriyaki - meat or fish in a sweet-salty soy and rice wine based sauce.

                      Tempura - breaded, deep fried shrimp and veggies, served with a soy dipping sauce.

                      Tonkatsu - breaded, deep fried pork cutlet, served with a sauce that's a lot like Wochestershire sauce.

                      Japanese curry - Take Indian curry, run it through Western cooking styles and import it to Japan. The result is sort of a curry-flavoured brown gravy, used in a stew with meat and vegetables, or with deep fried meat on the side.

                      My mother-in-law relies on sukiyaki for feeding foreign guests - thinly sliced beef, mushrooms, tofu and vegetables, cooked at the table in a soy and rice wine based sauce. It's simple to make, but goes over well with a wide variety of people.