Kyoto Japanese Steak House

Kyoto Japanese Steak House is located just West of Curtis on Fairview, and has been for some time now.  They must be doing fairly well to have been open for so long, but I don’t recall the last time someone mentioned to me (or even within my earshot) that they had eaten there.  Among the people I know, Fujiyama is the place to go for sushi in the Mall area, and Shige is the place to go when you’re downtown.  However, there are a lot of other options around town, and Kyoto is one of the most enduring.

I first went to Kyoto with a friend after a hockey game a few years back.  It had run late, and eateries seemed literally to be closing as we approached them.  We finally ended up pulling into the parking lot at Kyoto with our eyes rooted to the “OPEN” sign to see if it would suddenly go black.  When it didn’t, we went inside.  They were due to close in about twenty minutes, but I was only intending to ask them what they could make the fastest and order it to go.  The woman who came to serve us was very nice, and despite the lateness of the hour invited us to sit down and order whatever we liked.  I was dubious, but the sights and smells were making me crave sushi something fierce, so I ordered a platter.  My less hungry (and possibly less adventurous) companion ordered fried rice.

What transpired next has stuck with me to this day.  The sushi chef, with a speed heretofore unseen by me, turned into a sushi-making machine.  In mere minutes there was a plate of ten glistening, perfectly arranged nigiri sitting in front of me.  To date, that man is still the fastest sushi chef I’ve ever seen, and furthermore he is extremely technically proficient.  I found not so much as a textural flaw from a piece of fish being cut a little too hastily.   He also scored major points with me for making the best-prepared unagi I’ve had the pleasure of eating (though unfortunately for them, the best eel sauce is at Sakana…go figure).

However, as time has passed I very rarely get sushi there.  The staff is still incredibly friendly, the chef is still wickedly fast, and the food is still very good, but since the restaurant is so close to my work I usually end up going there for lunch.  Sushi is one of my preferred indulgences, so I enjoy being able to really relax and savor it, and that doesn’t usually go so well at work.

Another one of my favorite Japanese dishes is yakisoba, a relatively straightforward combination consisting of buckwheat noodles, veggies, sauce, and some meat if you’re so inclined.  This is another dish where Kyoto shines, at least for me.  While some places make it too dry, too oily, too sweet, too salty, etc., Kyoto strikes a very good balance.  On my most recent visit, I ordered the shrimp yakisoba, then treated myself by adding a side of unagi nigiri.  My sister, who prefers her sushi in roll form, went with the “No. 1”, which features smoked salmon, shrimp and avocado.

Shrimp yakisoba

The yakisoba was as good as always, the sauce blending savory and sweet well, the veggies cooked but still retaining their texture, enough oil to let you know it had been stir-fried and a sprinkling of sesame seeds for good measure.

No. 1 roll and unagi nigiri

In fact, the only real issue I have with Kyoto is in regards to their portions for sushi, specifically the rice.  If you look closely, you’ll see there is indeed rice under that beautifully cooked eel, but not a lot of it.  In fact, I’d venture to say that their nigiri is made using between one third and half as much rice as most of the other places in town.  Maybe this is a regional preference where the chef was trained, but sushi is all about the rice after all.  The rice is, if made correctly, not only flavorful but good filler as well, and being given a substantial amount of if keeps me from turning in to Adam Richman when I go out for sushi.  My sister also believes their rolls might be a little smaller (I can’t really verify this since I usually order the big, specialty rolls when I order rolls at all) than those available from other restaurants in town, but says the quality and flavor makes up for it to a large extent.

When all is said and done, Kyoto is a solid little restaurant.  Not the best in town per se, but definitely the fastest and the friendliest, and they manage to put out consistently good quality food.  If you like unagi, it’s worth a stop to try theirs, and if you’re curious about it they’re a very good place to start.

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