Wednesday, January 26, 2011

MKEFoodies Tweet-Up 2011, #1

It's late, and my writing always starts sounding like a Jefferson Airplane album played backwards when it's done after midnight, so I'm going to save writing the actual blog post until tomorrow. But some bullet points for the MKEFoodie's first Tweet-Up of 2011:
  • Foodies are, by far, the most fun and outgoing group of people on the planet.
  • Milwaukee Foodies are crazier, funnier, and generally more agreeable than either Cleveland and Norfolk Foodies put together. Yuma foodies are a pretty zany crowd, though. We're a close second.
  • The Mason Street Grill's Steak Forks are the weirdest and tastiest appetizer I've had in a while.
  • My MKEFoodie friends rock, and I raise a digital toast to a new year of eating well. And, frankly, Eating Milwaukee. But that's a different show.
For a look at the pictures (spoiler alert! the whole story will be up a little later!), check out the Picasa gallery below:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Phở 27: Vietnamese, Milwaukee Style

I have been lied to for the majority of my life. My family, my friends, my co-workers have made jokes at the South Side's expense for longer than I can remember. UCLA: University of Cudahy by the Lake, Almost. South Milwaukee, Whitefish Bay, nothing smells like Cudahy. If your side of town has an equal number of bars and churches, you might live on the South Side. You might be on the South Side if you see people wearing camouflage at social events (including weddings and funerals). Bucyrus, Milwaukee Forge, and Ladisch are "Corporate America." Yeah, yeah. I get it.

Frankly, and I don't think I'm alone here, I believe the South Side has been getting an undue bum rap. More than half of our favorite restaurants are South of I 94, and I don't think that's an accident. After having been raised in Washington Heights, and moving to the South Side a few years back, I've grown to love and appreciate the weird, wonderful, happy and strange diversity and opportunity that the South Side hosts. No better do I see this tenet illustrated than in Phở 27. 

Located at what is quite possibly either the nexus of the South Side, or what happens when you try to divide by zero, Phở 27 lives in a smallish building which started life as an Arthur Treacher's, and was most recently a Hardee's (or Carl's, Jr., for you folks West of the Rockies), then a Super-A-Number-1-variety Chinese restaurant, right smack-dab on 27th Street, a few dozen feet from Layton Ave. The exterior of the building is homely:

Which we all found almost laughable, considering how beautiful and stylish the interior is:

Warm wood panelling, neat and simple wood-top tables, chestnut ceiling, track-halogen lighting, and a dining area awash in a calming glow from giant lotus-blossom pendants. A small bar area lets you get sauced before your friends arrive for dinner, and a comfortable, long banquette divides the formal seating from the bar. 

With all of these amenities, one thing you won't find in the entire restaurant is a CFL bulb. Glory hallelujah, praise be to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Even the cans in the ceiling have PAR floodlights. Not a single speck of bad lighting in the entire restaurant -- very, very classy.

When we arrived, mind you late in the evening (I think our goal was about 8:30pm), the dining room was reasonably full. It was a Saturday night, but during a snow storm (which, really, doesn't keep people indoors anymore), and late... mind you, late. I get excited when I see dining rooms as busy as Phở 27's was. We sat along the banquette, and our bubbly, youthful waiter helped us get situated by moving a few tables together to better accommodate our food/cameras/drinks/everything else.

It should be mentioned that our orders were inordinately complicated, and we asked to have itemized, individual checks -- and our server didn't bat an eyelash. Not only that, but everything arrived as ordered, no mix-ups, no extra/missing charges. Kudos to Phở 27's fresh-faced wait staff for being on the ball!

Being that it was Pay Day, and I was blinded by my winter-break-no-school full check, I decided to order almost every appetizer on the menu. We started things with an order of Shrimp Spring Rolls:

Served with a creamy, sweet, and thick peanut dipping sauce:

As well as egg rolls (actually, two orders of egg rolls... we were celebrating, after all):

Served with a tangy sweet / sour sauce:

Everyone's favorite dim-sum staple, shrimp toast:

and Phở 27's own Saigon Wings, which, much to my disappointment, were not lowered onto the table via helicopter:

As well as a couple of pots of hot jasmine tea:

And, to be a little out there, a Mango Smoothie Boba Tea Mongrel Conglomeration:

I know, that's a lot to take in. I'll go slow. I promise.

Let's start at the beginning; the spring rolls. I'm sort of a fence-sitter to spring rolls, really. They can either taste fresh, crisp, and clean, reminding me of all of the great veggies of, well, Spring. Or, they can taste cold, insipid, and bland. Despite having a whole garden of veggies, as well as some nice, plump shrimp, the spring rolls fell short of any wow! quality. Combine them with the peanut sauce, and you have an entirely different story. With a little salt, a little sugar, and a little fat, the spring rolls come alive, and all of the different flavors of the vegetables start to sing and harmonize and become an actual composition. Ahh, finally: a dish where the dipping sauce is actually vital to the complete concept, instead of being an afterthought. Okay, the point shall be awarded to the spring rolls in this round.

Egg Rolls! C'mon down! You're the next contestant on In My Mouth This Instant. I'm sure all of my co-workers are going to make some great jokes about that one at the Staff Party this year....

The egg rolls were a solid departure from the usual wonton-wrapper variety we'd expect at a Chinese joint. Densely packed, with pork, bean noodles, minced shitake, and taro root, they were a big hit at the table. I liked mine with a little Sriracha more than with the sweet and sour sauce they were with. 

The Shrimp Toast was a complete and utter surprise: I was expecting a very staid version, and instead we received beautiful oily, crispy, savory, shrimp-y triangles of heaven. Strange but true, I kinda fell in love with the shrimp toast.

The Saigon Wings were a real mind-bender. Marinated, then coated in... sugar? Deep fried, so that the sugar? caramelizes and forms little crunchy sweet scales all over the surface of the wing. The photo doesn't really portray the actual texture: it's as if the wing were crackleur. Very, very odd. But tasty. Odd and tasty. I'm still a little miffed... as I was harried, taking shot after shot of our food, my fine Eating Milwaukee staff-mates ate every wing except the one I had on my plate: which was very tasty. I just wish I could have downed may another wing. If not, even just a drummy would have sufficed...

The hot tea had a very, very light floral scent which I will (probably incorrectly) assume was jasmine. Other than one pot tasting a bit stronger than the other, it was everything hot jasmine tea should be.

My beverage, which most would call Mango Bubble Tea, but is in fact a mango smoothie with boba pearls, made me bat my wide-open eyes like I was auditioning for a Nicki Minaj video...

A little bit creamy, a little bit icy, a little bit sweet, and a little fruity. The mango was probably just shy of ripe, and the drink didn't blend entirely smoothly -- I still hit my fair share of ice chunks and fibrous bits of mango. Nonetheless, it was tasty... just not a home-run. 

Just about the time I was able to really grasp the breadth of appetizers on the table, our food began to arrive. The run down is as follows:

Andy: Beef Cube Steak with Onions

 Adam: Rice Noodles with Lemongrass with Beef and Onion

 Lauren: Chicken with Lemongrass

 Joe: Special Phở 27

Would you still love me if I told you my heart was racing when our entrées arrived at the table? Each one of us had ordered slightly out of our comfort zone, and right then, on the snowy Friday night, after an exhausting week of work, the thrill of New Food was coursing through my veins. I felt alive.

Andy's cube steak was incredible. Tenderness beyond imagination, and a smoky, wok-fired sear coupled with softened onions -- the flavor was at the same time both very familiar and lusciously exotic. Andy had gone out on a limb -- asked our server what his favorite was -- and order, sight unseen. Thus started our gastronomic Vietnamese adventure.

Adam's noodles were a refreshing bright spot against the dark smoke of Andy's beef. Crisp veggies, chewy rice noodles, mild but flavorful beef, and crunchy peanuts. Despite the bowl being the size of Adam's head, he did an admirable job consuming the lot. No doggy bags for these gents! 

Lauren's chicken with lemongrass was spicy: I was actually a little worried at first, because Lauren likes the same spice level I do: mild plus. Bight the sunny notes of citrus and the complex, layered curry-like sauce won her over. I would say it won me over, too -- I had to take a second, third, fourth bite to make sure I wasn't imagining how incredibly tasty it was.

And then there was my Phở.

I've never had Phở. I've seen Andrew Zimmern, Anthony Bourdain, and Rachel Ray eat Phở. I've seen glimmering bowls of the concoction before. Noted how the floating meaty parts looked strangely like offal (I was right), and that the clear, lightly brown broth looked watery and flavorless. I imagined Phở to be like a lot of other so-called "National Dishes": a culinary eunuch, without any sort of will or might or shred of actual heritage or dignity.

Luckily, my Phở had balls. Pork meatballs, to be exact. Along with eye of round, brisket, beef tendon, and tripe. 

I broke a rule: I ran away from food I was scared of. The problem is, I hate tripe with a fiery passion. I know that gastronomes everywhere are now taking me off of their favorites bar in their browser windows, and the gathered masses yearning for my head on a stick all started lighting their torches and sharpening their stakes in unison. I'm sorry, guys, I just really can't stand tripe. So I ordered my Phở without it.

The broth was an out of body experience. With so many things going on, your mind disconnects from the idea of both flavor and such thin, simple appearance. Floating above the broth is an aroma; sort of a five-spice smell, there's cinnamon, maybe star anise, maybe clove. The perfume is so light, though, it's almost a whisper, almost a ghost: the spirit of spices hovering in the near-field, lending a little warmth, like the feeling of a loved one who just left a room.

Pull the beaded curtains of spices away, and there's beef: big, brassy, unmistakable beef. The beef is a bouncer at the Door of Club Soup: rippling muscles, piercing stare. You can't help but be taken in by the beef. On the finish of all of this umami-rich beef flavor there's just a bit of the barnyard, an earthy, real-bones-were-used-in-this-stock sort of flavor. Slurp a little broth, let it air out, and suddenly it turns a little brighter, flavors of the green onion snap into the foreground.

My Phở was served with a plate of a accoutrements:

Thai basil, bean sprouts, lime, jalapeño, and culantro. I shredded the basil by hand, tossed in a few bean sprouts, gave Andy the jalapeño to munch on, squeezed in the lime, and cautiously ripped up the culantro. 

The basil, lime, and bean sprouts bring freshness and green garden flavor to the deeply rich broth, the culantro just kinda tasted a little odd to me. Probably because I've never actually encountered culantro before, and I had to look it up at home purely by appearance: I didn't even know its name at the restaurant. Regardless, it has a flavor that I can't compare to anything I've tasted before: sort of medical, sort of phenolic, sort of astringent. 

The meatballs are not big, crumbly ground-meat style balls, but rather dense, tightly packed little wads of flavor, with the texture of a fresh, warm cheese curd.

By the time I actually finished taking pictures and began to eat, my rare eye of round had pretty much cooked through in the scalding broth. Which was really just fine, it was still fabulously tender and had taken on the salty magic of the broth. 

My biggest surprise of the evening was the beef tendon -- something I had, through much inner monologue, convinced myself to approach with an open mind. The gelatinous blob quivered in my China spoon, reminding me of all of the shoe-leather cuts of budget beef my father cremated on the grill when I was a child. I quelled the sighs of fear and disgust, raised the spoon to my lips, and...

The beef tendon was astounding. The texture wasn't frightening, it wasn't even odd. Sort of like a beef-flavored gummi bear -- which sounds a lot weirder than it actually was. Chewy, but giving, and chock-full of lip-smacking gelatin. I was hooked. 

The rice noodles themselves were plentiful, lurking at the bottom of the bowl like white slithery sea monsters. Giving nice body to the soup, they were nevertheless a pain to eat with chopsticks. Remember, I am Polish.

We finished off the evening with a serving of Coffee Flan:

Créme Caramel, oddly enough, does have some background in Vietnam, as a product of French influence. So much so, it has a half-borrow-word Vietnamese name: either bánh caramel or bánh flan. Say that one five times fast.

The custard was rich, with only the slightest hint of coffee in the caramel. A little like Jell-O towards the outer edge, becoming decadent and creamy in the center, the one smallish portion was perfect shared with the four of us: just enough desert to cap our food safari experience.


Andy said it best: Phở 27 is one of those rare combinations of incredible food, amazing prices, and exceptional service. Tucked away in an uncomely building, Phở 27 delivered surprise after surprise, from its delightful décor, to mile-a-minute wait staff, to food that is both art and tradition, craft and craftsmanship. We were all a little wired after the meal, probably from the sheer shock of the entire ordeal. From the moment we walked in the door, Phở 27 exceeded our expectations, met us with open arms, and gave us a delicious, challenging, exotic, and magnificent meal. We were able to speak with the owner before our visit came to a close, and he mentioned that business has been steady, which I certainly hope is the truth. Phở 27 opened late in 2010, and has since then impressed a number of food critics in the Mil', and I can certainly see why. My hope is that the rest of the city sees what a diamond in the rough Phở 27 really is, and has the courage to step out of their edible routine and try something just a little daring. The owners of Phở 27 have certainly done so, trying their hand at a restaurant that might have seemed a little out of place just ten years ago. Now, though, the dining room is full, and my prayer is that Phở 27 keeps serving up hot bowls of goodness for a lifetime -- I know they made life-long fans of the EM staff.

Report Card:
Atmosphere: A-
Beautiful conversion of a very homely building. Warm woods, welcoming lighting, and a chíc, airy feel. The classiness of the dining room melds beautifully with the well-executed grub. 

Prices: A+
Pretty amazing, considering the quality and care (not to mention portion sizes) of the dishes you receive. My gigantic (actually regular sized) bowl of special Phở was only $7.50. Choose only one meat, it goes down to $6.95. Most appetizers are in the $3.50-$5.50 range, and Andy's exceptional cube steak was a mere $8.50. 

Service: A
Fun, talkative, helpful, and enthusiastic about food... and about us. The young men working the tables the night we visited made our meal that much better. 

The Food: A
I want to go to Phở 27 once or twice more before I give it an A+, but I can honestly say our meal shone like a diamond. Complex, exotic, fun, and miles beyond ordinary. There wasn't a true misstep in a single item we ordered. 

The Details:

Phở 27
4756 S. 27th St. 
Milwaukee, WI 53221
(414) 282-9990
Excellent website (with menu) available at

Pho 27 on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 10, 2011

Jake's Deli: Get Excited About Meat

It's a new year, and the staff of Eating Milwaukee agreed we needed to get back to our roots.

You'll never hear us complain about the rich, the spectacular, or the avant-garde. But often what makes a restaurant great isn't so much the breadth of its menu, it's how long that menu has been around.

In the case of Jake's Delicatessen, it's been around exactly 56 years. 

So, how is it that we're so late to the party?

Jake's remained a relatively unknown to most of the Eating Milwaukee staff up until recently. With it's Bronzeville location, niche menu, and mostly take-out business, no one could blame us for not being on a first-name basis with the counter staff. But to pass Jake's by would be like passing up a Picasso at a yard sale: sure, you might not be an art collector... but c'mon!

Jake's lives in one of those great storefront/apartment/duplex conglomerations that used to dominate Milwaukee's Main Streets. The façade isn't going to win any beauty pageants any time soon, but that's okay. Beauty is only skin deep. But good food is to the bone...

Inside you'll find a vintage-chíc set of very uncomfortable looking wooden booths, as well as some tables and chairs:

as well as a reminder of diners and lunch counters-gone-by; a glinting stainless soda fountain:

Of course, the irony was not lost on me that the soda fountain be located directly next to the contemporary Coke fountain: this does seem to be a bit of cruelty, though. It's sort of like adopting a lobster as a pet, only to eventually throw him in the pot...

The actual prep counter is a full half the restaurant, running the length of the dining room. 

This is where the tasty delicious meats are hand-carved, and assembled into sandwiches:

What's a real treat is to watch as the staff behind the counter slide their cutting boards aside, revealing steam pans below:

Mr. Prosser, my High School AP English teacher, once said that American authors have a love affair with light. If that's the case, I think us writers must also have a thing for steam, as it draws so easily on images of noir: a New York sidewalk grate, vapor billowing out, overhead streetlamps casting a hazy orange hue as a dame, mascara streaked down her face, takes one step out into the clear air. She says,

"I have the meat you've been dreaming of..."

And, that's when Andy elbows me in the side, and tells me that I'm missing an awesome shot of a hunk of Corned Beef being wrangled from the steamy depths.

We decided to take our order-to-go, as Lauren was waiting for us back at the Satellite Eating Milwaukee Compound. The kitschy interior design did have its charm, though, and despite the ever-present clatter and the almost debilitating smoke of burned toast and grilling meats, it's a cool place to hang out. If you don't mind smelling like burned toast and grilled meat afterwards:

I kept wondering why all of my shots were turning out hazy, until I realized that it actually was the smoke from the flat-top that was making the whole restaurant a bit... obscured.

Our trip to Jake's was our new, permanent staff member, Adam's, first, so it would be rude of me not to start with him. 

Adam ordered a Corned Beef Sandwich w/ mustard:

Andy ordered a Pastrami Sandwich:

and a Reuben:

While I ordered a Jake's Special (which is simply a Corned Beef, but leaner, and with cheese) and a Pastrami Dog:

And, of course, a bowl of Matzo Ball Soup:

Lauren had a Corned Beef as well as a bowl of Matzo Ball Soup, which looked, strangely enough, exactly like the others.

Now, it occurred to me as I was taking these shots that none of this food is particularly photogenic: the corned beef looks mangled, the pastrami looks sort of like, well, I'll leave that one to the imagination, and the pastrami dog... well, it looks like a jumble of meat not even a mother could love. I get that. This food isn't pretty. Come to think of it, it doesn't taste pretty, either: this isn't delicate or particularly multi-layered. This is spicy, sour, brash, trash-talking mustard. This is greasy, peppery pastrami that may or may not give you some spectacular heartburn. This is fatty, tart, saltier-than-hell corned beef. This is a matzoh ball that is as much butter and schmaltz as it is cracker meal. And that's just fine with me.

Andy's pastrami was, as we had heard, to die for. The hours spent in the meat-sauna had done it well, and it was fall-apart tender, spicy, and oh-so-salty. Mixed with the glorious brown deli mustard, it was a fine sandwich, indeed.

His Reuben was equally fantastic, consisting of corned beef, sauer kraut, swiss cheese, and deli mustard. Thousand Island dressing is available on the side for any sandwich, although, as Andy pointed out, there was enough going on in his Reuben that the thousand island was far from necessary.

My Jake's Special was delightful, grilled with swiss cheese and mustard. I couldn't help but feel a bit uneasy, though, looking at the receipt I had in my pocket: the Jake's Special alone weighed in at $11.19. Wait, $11 for a single sandwich? Well, it did include a pickle spear...

What really tripped my trigger was the Pastrami Dog. THIS was a man's sandwich. Which is exactly why I was so intimidated by it. 

A 1/4 pound Vienna Beef hot dog, sliced down the middle and grilled, stuffed with swiss cheese, covered in sliced pastrami, and buried in a very, very fresh Miller Bakery pretzel roll. Smother in deli mustard, consume, and take a few Tums now, just to save the frustration  later. Oy vey.

What struck me as one of the tastiest aspects of the pastrami dog was the freshness of the roll: tough and chewy pretzel outside, squishy dough on the inside. Against the salty spice of the dog and the pastrami, the roll even tasted sweet -- which was a charming contrast, indeed.

The Matzo Ball Soup didn't disappoint. Little bits of carrot, celery, and onion co-mingled with shreds of chicken, and gigantic honkin' matzo ball in the center of the bowl. The ball was fluffy, giving and tender, soaked with the flavorful, if not a bit overly seasoned broth. We all agreed it fared particularly well against Benji's, our current standard to date. 


Our meal from Jake's was all that one could ever want from a deli, if not all-out legendary. Jake's is the epitome of finding a niche, creating a memorable product, and providing consistent and satisfying experiences to customers. It's no wonder the business has been around since 1955.

Jake's dogs, as far as I can tell, are the legendary Chicago Beef Franks from Vienna Beef. I'm fine with that. Vienna Beef has made an entire business out of one single, amazing product. Good for them. Unfortunately, they're from Chicago, which means you need to be careful, otherwise your hot dog might ride up on your rear bumper, zoom around you doing 105 mph, cut you off, then flip you the bird, all while a Wisconsin State Trooper is checking Twitter on his iPhone. I'm not bitter. 

Weird thing is, Jake's pastrami is from Vienna Beef, too. And other meat products are from Kelly Eisenberg (this fact is mentioned on the website as well as in the restaurant.). 

But does it mean that the deli experience is less authentic when the stars of the show aren't actually cured, smoked and aged on-campus? 

It's a tough call for me. I've read that Jakes can go through up to 500 pounds of corned beef on busy days. 500 pounds is far beyond what one small deli is capable of producing... in a month. So, from a purely practical standpoint, if Jake's is doing as much business as they say (and the packed, standing-room-only restaurant we encountered at noon on a Saturday would surely attest to that), then it would be absolutely necessary to serve fully- or partially-prepared meats from a third-party.

Still, I can't help but feel that, for $11, a sandwich should offer me a little more in the way of experience. I want to be able to imagine the brisket being tenderly spiced and salted in the sparse time before Shabbat begins. I want to know that the pastrami I'm eating was borne of a long line of necessarily cured meats, long before delis were retro fabulous. I want Itzhak Perlman playing his violin in the background. 
All of this thinking has gotten me a little cranky, though, and one fact remains: the food (everything we tried, as a matter of fact) at Jake's Delicatessen was delectable, and worthy of repeat visits.

Our sandwiches were delicious. Our soup was divine. I even asked Adam to brush up on his Kaddish in case I died from the massive amount of meat we consumed. Prices not withstanding, we all unambiguously conceded we much preferred Jake's to Benji's. 

Report Card:
Atmosphere: C- or A-, depending on how you look at it.
If you come looking for an insanely busy, noisy, chaotic deli, then Jake's won't disappoint. A-. If you're agoraphobic, or just have paneropyrophobia (true story... the fear of burned toast), you might not enjoy your visit very much. Did you know that there's a fear of beards? It's Pogonophobia.  Either way, I don't think I'd actually want to sit in the restaurant and eat, beard or no beard. 

Prices: C-
Just a little on the steep side, considering portion sizes. My Pastrami Dog was a steal at just under $7, but lean corned beef with cheese will run you a staggering $11.19.

Service: B
Engaging, but not overly quick. Our orders were correct the first time, and we didn't have to wait particularly long. 

The Food: A
Everything we had was impeccable, if not just a touch on the heavy side. But you don't go to a deli for low-sodium diet food, now do you? 

The Details:

Jake's Deli
1634 W. North Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53205
(414) 562-1272 - WARNING! Prices on website are NOT ACCURATE!

Jake's Delicatessen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Kyoto Sushi Bar: Revisited

Before anyone starts to cry foul (or, more appropriately for our blog, maybe fowl?), this is not so much of a review as it is an honest effort to keep you, our dear readers, up-to-date on our more interesting dining experiences.

Andy and I are complete and utter sushi nuts. We love the good stuff. We love the baroque stuff. We love the semi-good stuff from the cooler case at Sendiks. We even like my sad-excuse for homemade sushi that I force on my relatives every year at Christmas... but that's another show.

About the only thing we don't like about sushi is how quickly our bills begin to rack up at the finer institutions around town. Which is why, when I first went to Kyoto (the sushi bar, not the city in Japan) about two years ago, it was an absolute revelation: all-you-can-eat sushi on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights, and the quality... was really pretty good!

But, ripe fruit soon spoils, right? Well, sometimes. But in the case of Kyoto, I'm happy to report, after a number of Eating Milwaukee outings over the past couple of months, we have nothing but raves about the place.

Sure, more authentic sushi can be found elsewhere. Sure, some of the combinations are kinda weird (teriyaki chicken maki, er, what?). Sure, the service can be kind of slow sometimes, and my inkling is that it keeps the lightweights from ordering so much sushi. But, for those of us die-hards who have been conditioning for such a dare, Kyoto still delivers the one-two punch of quantity and quality that beats my monthly sushi craving into submission. 

Let's go to the highlight reel, shall we?

Some variety of maki topped with mango sauce. The sweet/tart mango plays a nice jazz-chord with the salty crunch of the tempura, so I'll let this one go with a, "Eh. I liked it."

 The "Sunshine Roll." I'm going to write the exact description from Kyoto's take-out menu, so pardon the tense-shifts, missing pronouns and adverbs, and bizarre syntax. I think it's kind of charming.

Grilled salmon, avocado, and cream cheese inside. Fresh salmon, crunchy, and spicy sauce on top.

The salmon inside was cooked. I guess I wasn't jumping out of my boxers for grilled salmon maki, but it was fun. In a grilled-salmon kind of way.

Shrimp tempura roll. Enough said:

 Spicy tuna roll. This is one where I actually was sort of underwhelmed, only because the texture of the tuna vaguely resembles that of strawberry preserves. I think the chefs' chop is so fine that when they mix it with the chili sauce, the tuna loses any sense of integrity it once had, and simply becomes spicy mush. Next!

Philly Maki. I'm ashamed to say, I absolutely loved this one. Cold-smoked raw salmon, avocado, and cream cheese. Absolutely to die for.

 And this is the part of the show where it becomes obvious that Kyoto is not aiming for authenticity: the eel nigiri isn't so much broiled as it is deep fried. Whatever. The end bits of the eel are crispy, the filet as a whole is perfectly done, and it's piping hot when it comes to your plate. Traditional? Absolutely not. Authentic? Ehhh, questionable. Delicious? Hold on to your hat, because this is a fantastic twist on the classic...

 Miso soup! We've missed you! No, we actually haven't, but you came with dinner, and like a friend-of-a -friend you're not fond of but tolerate to keep from offending, we ate the soup, anyway.

Oh, my deep-fried oyster maki. Still my favorite, after all these years. There's something so holy about a crunchy, soft, creamy oyster in vinegared rice, with avocado and sweet eel sauce.

The legendary snow white roll. So good, we ordered a minimum of two of them. On two different occasions. Here's the menu text:

Shrimp tempura, avocado, and cream cheese inside. Spicy crabmeat and tobiko on top.

I can't offer a reason why this one is so delicious, but it must have something to do with the perfect alignment of flavor and texture. Still fancier than true maki, but a treat nonetheless.

This is either the Magic Maki or some fourth-grader's science fair project. I'm going with the Magic Maki:

Shrimp tempura, crabmeat, eel, cream cheese, cucumber, and avocado

 Oh! One of my absolute favorites! Spartan, but nearly perfect in its simplicity. I give you, the spicy shrimp roll (spicy minced shrimp with asparagus)

Our nigiri sushi lineup: Yellowtail, Red Snapper, Tako, Eel, and Tobiko.

 Add this under the "I can't believe I ate the whole thing" column: tobiko sushi. Delicious, but one is enough for a single visit.

Four Seaweed salad, three soy burger dinner, two tofu dog platter and one pasta with meatless balls! 

It tastes the same. If you close your eyes.

I have to admit, this picture, now that I'm looking at it in my browser window, gives the seaweed a decidedly more yellow tint that it actually was: a bright, vibrant emerald green. The flavor echoed that brightness: crisp, fresh, a little spicy from red pepper flake, and nutty from sesame oil. You can order as many seaweed salads with your meal as you want (remember, it's AYCE!), so give it a try! And you don't even have to put up with snotty waiters who don't like alternative-lifestyle bohemians!

My arch-nemesis, the Spider Roll! Will I ever get past the idea of eating an entire crab, soft-shell and all, and just learn to enjoy the damn sushi already? Tune in next week, same fat time, same fat channel!

It is interesting to note that Kyoto has remodeled since our visit in 2009, resulting in a much, much more chic and open feel. The lighting fixtures scream Downtown, but the acoustic tile ceiling still sheepishly mutters, "strip mall in Greenfield, ho hum." No worries. The sushi was still a massive value, and for the amazing total of $55 for two people (and that also included two sodas), we consumed about $125 (market) worth of sushi. Which will always tip the scales in these days of fighting my cat for his own food and stealing ketchup packets from McDonalds to make spaghetti because I can't afford Chef Boyardee.

In short, Kyoto is still flippin' sweet.