Nikki Buchanan, The Arizona Republic
Published: Aug. 13, 2009 The Arizona Republic & AZCentral.com
Seven-year-old Tokyo Lobby just may be the most popular sushi bar in West Phoenix. Owned by sushi chef Kelvin Kim and his wife Jennifer, this lively Japanese gem, tucked away in a strip mall, boasts legions of fans who love the easygoing vibe, the freshness of the fish and fanciful sushi rolls with crazy names.
Scene: If you're planning a Friday afternoon or evening visit, brace yourself. The TGIF crowd keeps this dark and narrow restaurant plenty noisy, but that's the fun of it. Even on a slow day, business is steady in this taupe-toned, black-accented space, sparely decorated with Japanese curtains (noren), one geisha print and two red lanterns. But trust me, people aren't traipsing from Scottsdale to Glendale for the decor.
Food: Monkey brains, anyone? Relax, it's one of Kim's wacky monikers, this time for deep-fried mushroom caps, stuffed with crab and spicy tuna: a mild, pleasant "specialty roll" that functions as an appetizer ($6.95).
Naturally, the Lobby offers all the nigiri-zushi and sashimi a traditionalist could ask for, including gunkan-style ikura (glossy-orange salmon eggs that burst like salty pop-beads in the mouth, $4.95) and halibut sashimi, each pale slice splayed around a tangle of shredded daikon, which makes a sloppy, un-Japanese presentation of white-on-white. Snips of green onion and orange tobiko add color and flavor accents to this subtle selection ($12.95).
But it's the specialty rolls everyone seems to love - over-the-top Americanized creations, so drenched in mayonnaise and sweet sauces they hardly qualify as sushi at all. Some like it hot, and for those who do, there's What the Heck, a tongue-tingling roll filled with spicy crab and tuna with jalapeņo, draped with maguro, then topped with tobiko and nori strips ($9.95). Although the Shiny Day is rolled with spicy tuna and topped with bright red dabs of sriracha, it tastes clean and fresh, thanks to its salmon wrapper and topper of tiny slices of fresh lemon ($9.95).
For sheer richness, nothing beats the shrimp tempura roll, a toasty-tasting inside-out roll filled with crunchy shrimp tempura, crab and avocado, finished with tempura flakes and tare (sweet, smoky eel sauce, $7.95). Well, maybe one thing beats it: the Glendale Roll, a warm, goopy combo of baked baby lobster and California roll, wrapped in soy paper and deep-fried ($10.50). Yummy.
You'll find lots of cooked Japanese specialties here as well, including generous bento boxes. Box A contains decent (but not stellar) chicken teriyaki, rice, salad, exceptionally good vegetable tempura and four pieces of California roll, all for $8.95. You can barely buy fast food at that price.
Drink: All the standard Japanese brews are here, as well as sake bombers, way-out shooters and a short list of cold sakes.
Lowdown: Specialty rolls are so rich and elaborate that two of them easily feed two moderate eaters. Bento boxes are an even better bargain.
Reproduced with permission of azcentral.com