Onion volcanoes, with love 

House of Tokyo is a Southside tradition

House of Tokyo is a Southside tradition

Nothing says “welcome” like a hot damp rag. I feel myself relax all over when I receive a rag at the House of Tokyo, a Southside steak and seafood standby. Such are the weird comforts of Japanese cook-it-in-front-of you steakhouses: the den-like atmosphere with that sweet, hokey 1970s decor, a pool with oversized goldfish and a little bridge across it, and sheer strangers united in awe over an artfully bandied raw egg or a catapulted piece of shrimp.
House of Tokyo’s menu is expansive and daring as American-oriented Asian steakhouses go.

On this evening, the House of Tokyo dining room is populated by a glowing teen couple on a date, a tattooed goth couple with child, square suburban families celebrating birthdays and my own very hungry clan. We’ve moseyed down State Road 135 to a vintage strip mall right across from Meijer, where the House of Tokyo has been seducing Southsiders since 1987.

In my hot rag rapture, I barely noticed that hot tea does not come with the meal, but salad, soup, rice and sautéed vegetables do. The salad was an iceberg lettuce rendering with lots of orange thousand island-sesame dressing, thick and goopy as many Hoosiers prefer it. The proportion of salad to dressing was way off, so I dug to the bottom of the bowl for the least sopping lettuce leaves. The soup was much cleaner, a clear and comely broth with mushrooms and green onions for crunch, thankfully a lot less salty than soups we’ve had at other Japanese steakhouses.

For kicks we ordered a tempura roll appetizer ($4.25 for eight rolls) but quickly learned that House of Tokyo is not even trying to compete in the sushi category. These rolls were a nice texture but fairly tasteless; even the wasabi wasn’t very green. This is no Mikado, nor does it pretend to be. The cucumber salad ($2.95) was a much better appetizer choice, a chilled mix of tangy cuke strips and thin laces of crab meat.

At this point in the meal, a tall-hatted Japanese chef came to our table wielding a spatula like a pistol. With their often-loose grasp of English, these chefs manage to tease 10 wide-eyed Americans while cooking 10 dinners at a time. Perhaps they tire of the Hoosier masses fumbling with chopsticks, but they rarely show it. We found ourselves in fabulous submission to the cookers of our dinners, part comics, part iron chefs.

Mom opted for the Teriyaki Chicken ($11.75), masterfully cooked to preempt the rubber factor. My sister-in-law’s Yakisoba Chicken & Shrimp ($15.95) was a mixture of wheat rice noodles and chicken/shrimp chunks. The noodles sweeten as they cook for a rich-tasting dish.

Dad’s Tokyo Steak ($17.95) was a 9-ounce ribeye cooked to a tender medium rare. My husband went for Yakiniku ($19.95), a ribeye and shrimp combo in a lemony green onion sauce, a bright, cocky dish and one of the more expensive on the menu. The dollar sign award goes to the Land and Sea extravaganza: shrimp, scallops, lobster, filet mignon and chicken for $29.95. (What, no squirrel?)

By now it was clear that the House of Tokyo’s menu is expansive and daring as American-oriented Asian steakhouses go. Case in point: House of Tokyo offered Okonomi-yaki, designated on the menu as “a Japanese pizza with vegetables and shrimp” ($12.95). Pancake is more like it. Squid, shrimp and bean sprouts went swimming in a creamy batter on the grill. The pancake was moist and milky and pleasing but a little less flavorful than I had hoped — more green onions would have been great. Okonomi, I learned, means favorites in Japanese; Tokyo street vendors’ customers pick their favorite ingredients to put into this handy cake, such as cabbage, yam or sprouts.

The culinary entertainment came when our chef stacked sliced onion rings on the grill, stoked them with oil and had the stack smoking like a volcano. He finished our meal with cups of sticky rice, sautéed zucchini and onion, and a big helping of delicate bean sprouts. House of Tokyo bean sprouts were earthy, unburdened by gallons of soy sauce. Since it was nobody’s birthday, we passed on the Sparkling Pineapple ($2.95).

During our dinner we spied a grandfatherly, well-groomed Japanese man presiding over the dining room from a far corner. He came over with a silent smile and replaced our average-sized straws with longer ones. His magnanimous look implied that his customers’ happiness is his happiness. Though anyone seeking Japanese cuisine at its most sublime should probably go elsewhere, you can feel the love at House of Tokyo.

House of Tokyo
172 Melody Lane
Everyday, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Food: 3 stars
Atmosphere: 4 stars
Service: 5 stars

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