Tomo Origato, Mr. Roboto

You show me a funky hole in the wall with a good rating, and I’m game to play any day. Tomo Japanese Restaurant is just that…a funky hole in the wall (doing things with crawfish!) that has a 4.0 rating on Yelp, a 4.5 rating on Tripadvisor, and a 3.6 on Zomato. Food ratings are like movie critic ratings, so I always say they’re a good starting point and not much help after that. Tomo is out near Beaches, on Penman Road, tucked into a small shopping center where 904 used to be before it shut down. You could probably easily drive right by it if you weren’t looking for it.

When you walk in, it looks like every other Japanese hole in the wall where you can get average sushi for an average price. Tomo is painted in shocking shades of green and black, giving it almost a reptilian vibe. They have a full bar, though, which is nice on a weekend night when you’ve had a long week (and which offers some awesome items that I’ll get to later). The staff is AMAZINGLY friendly and helpful. Our waitress, Nikka, was beyond helpful and pleasant. She checked in just enough to make sure we were taken care of, but let us eat in peace. We got there around 6/6:30ish, and were sat right away. However, don’t get there after 7 on a weekend night, as it gets busy quickly.

Let’s start with a cocktail hour, shall we? Tomo, surprisingly, has a vast offering of traditional Japanese spirits, beers, and wines. Their “drink menu” is a chalkboard wall with colorful artwork and descriptions. It’s not the easiest to decipher in terms of what is describing what drink, but the servers are more than happy to help. DJ Snugglemonster is always excited to try new beers, so he ordered the Sweet Stout. The price for the beer may have been a little high – at $8 (for a less than 5% beer), but it is coming from Japan, so…that has to count for something. I tried the Chu-Hai Japanese Highball. I had no clue what this was, so the waitress explained that it was a carbonated alcohol that was slightly sweet and I could order either citrus flavored (recommended) or grapefruit flavored. Doing some more research before writing this blog, I’ve found that these carbonated alcohol drinks became popular in Japan in the late 70s-early 80s, and can be either very low in alcohol content (many people of Asian descent have low tolerance or what some call an “alcohol allergy”) if you order it a restaurant or high alcohol content in the 9% range if you purchase it from convenience stores. I’m not quite sure what the alcohol content was on the one I ordered, but it was DELICIOUS and dangerous. You could not taste the alcohol, which means it was either a very precisely mixed drink or it had low alcohol content to begin with. Either way – fine by me. It was bubbly, as promised, but it was also pretty sweet (which is also fine by me). Even DJSM said it was delicious, because well, it was. Citrus was also the way to go, as it counterbalanced the sweetness perfectly (without being too tart like the grapefruit might have been). I’d say, think of an alcoholic sprite that never gets watered down, and that’s what it tastes like. Tomo also offers Japanese rice vodka and the Sho-Chu (used in the Chu-Hai Highball) spirit. Sadly, Tomo offers the option of ordering a Bud Light too if you’d like, which should never be an option unless you are at a sports bar (in my humble opinion). Definitely go and try some of their more exotic offerings.

Now…for the main event! Tomo first caught my eye, given the amazing ratings, and the fact that their menu, is well, different. They do have the regular sushi offerings and ramen (which is why we went), but this is the first Japanese restaurant I’ve seen where they offer crawfish. Yes, my favorite mudbug. Apparently, many in the Asian culture love crawfish, so why should this be such a strange occurrence? They offer sushi rolls and ramen bowls with traditional Louisiana-style crawfish (but with Japanese sausage…is there such a thing?!). I’ll admit to you now, I love some crawfish and I love trying new things…but for some reason, that night, I just couldn’t bring myself to order it instead of one of my tried and true favorites. Sorry guys – next time!

As far as appetizers are concerned, there are a few – some expected and some not. The gyoza was a contender in our choice for appetizers, but every other table really seemed to like the Japanese Curry Fries. While the Fries are on the list to order next time, we ordered as an appetizer the Tuna Cakes – fried rice cakes topped with tuna and avocado. I’m not wholly sure why it came out after the ramen, but it did unfortunately. I usually don’t care what order the food comes out in, but I am notorious for not being able to even finish my ramen bowl, so I wanted to make sure I saved room for the tuna cakes! Sadly, the tuna cakes were a disappointment. Not the size mind you – the plate that the appetizer comes on takes up almost the whole table! It is, well, quite impressive. The taste, however, was a bit off. The rice cakes had a chewy texture (not the crispy texture of something fried or the soft texture of rice one would expect), and combined with the soft textures of the other ingredients, it just didn’t give a good mouth feel. The tuna and the avocado, were, well just bland. I couldn’t taste either component and was left with just a muddy taste in the mouth. The jalapeno slices on top didn’t really add flavor, but instead just added heat and caused the flavors to become less pronounced. Outside of the portioning made for sharing for a decent price, I really don’t think I would order it again (DJSM, however, did like it – so it got one vote…but this isn’t his blog, so I win).

As our main courses, we ordered the Tonkastu Ramen…lots of pork, lots of umami flavor. I love ramen (more so than pho if you have read my earlier posts). Pho is too delicate of a flavor for me, whereas ramen fills me up and leaves me satisfied. Tonkatsu is one of the most flavorful ones to me – probably not good for you, but delicious. I’ll recommend again the crawfush ramen, as it is on the menu and definitely piques my interests. The Tonkatsu Ramen came in a large bowl with a good amount of noodles to broth ratio. The ramen had things like seaweed, kale, pork, soft-boiled egg, and corn in it (corn was a new one for me, but appears quite often in ramens). There were also two little pinwheel-looking pink and white rounds of pasta. I’m not sure why they were in there, and they didn’t serve much purpose other than to look pretty I suppose. The broth was nice and fatty, without being too salty. The noodles and the pork were spot-on in terms of tenderness too. Tomo offers two accompaniments to the ramen – white pepper and a seven-spice blend. I’m sure they have Sriracha hiding somewhere, but I think it would be nice for them to include it on the table or with your ramen, as it is a guilty pleasure of many people and offers a little different flavor than dried spices on their own. I added both the white pepper and the seven spice blend to mine, which helped with some added heat without going overboard. All in all, excellent ramen, and perfect for a cold, wintry night!

I’ll add one more good note to our visit. At the end of our meal, the inevitable time came where I could not finish my ramen, but the server always has to ask if I want to take it home. I always say no, because what is worse than soggy noodles and no broth?! Nikka, bless her, saved the day again and suggested that it would be fine – she always separates out the broth from the noodles and other solids when she packages up a to-go order/doggy bag. I’m sure she does it all the time and it is relatively quick, but it seemed like an extra nice touch on the end of the meal to make sure we were satisfied (and something she absolutely did not have to do). I’ll say, too, that my reheated ramen was delicious and far from soggy.

Tomo is solidly on the list for a return visit (Crawfish this time! Swear!). I’d even suggest going there just to hang out and drink and maybe get an appetizer or two at the bar, as the atmosphere is beyond welcoming and you just can’t get some of the drink offerings anywhere else.

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