From coupons to unlimited fries and breadstick deals, there are plenty of restaurant gimmicks aimed at luring customers. But what good is a deal if the dining experience is dismal?
When Chong Wick took over Tokyo Garden on Tudor Road in December, passers-by might not have noticed the subtle addition of her name to the signage, but patrons likely noticed changes inside the restaurant. Wick seems to understand that hospitality is as important as having a good hook. She has more than 20 years of experience in restaurants, counting time spent in her home country of South Korea along with Anchorage eateries such as Peter's Sushi, Sushi & Sushi and Tempura Kitchen.
My first visit to Chong's Tokyo Garden was a weekday lunch with a friend. The clean restaurant is split by a wall of fish tanks, with a sushi bar in the front, private dining rooms along one of the walls and tables filling the rest of the space. We were seated in a booth next to the tanks and given hot towels to clean our hands, a small bowl of edamame (soy beans) and menus.
I picked the lunch special ($11.95), a combination of miso soup with a choice of spicy tuna, crunch or California rolls and a selection of entrees that includes chicken and salmon teriyaki and spicy or tempura shrimp. I went with halibut, opting for teriyaki over tempura, and also ordered a pair of salmon nigiri (raw slices of fish on rice, $5.95) and a hot tea.
My buddy picked the Tokyo Lunch Special (chicken teriyaki, shrimp and vegetable tempura, a California roll and gyoza, $14.95).
If those one-of-everything combination meals weren't enough of a deal, Chong's also currently offers every sushi roll (except the massive Big Bang) for $10. We couldn't resist and added a spicy tuna roll (normally $11.95).
Our drinks came quickly along with piping-hot miso soups and a complimentary plate of ika sansai (squid salad). Our orders soon followed.
My halibut was tasty, tender and mild. It was the size of a pack of playing cards and topped with a light glaze. The eight-piece crunch roll was robust, but the flavor on my raw salmon was a bit off -- not as fresh as I'd like.
The huge Tokyo Lunch Special filled a bento box and delivered in every area. The teriyaki chicken was peppery and tasty, the tempura delicate and light, the gyoza crisp and flavorful and the four-piece California roll satisfactory.
The eight-piece spicy tuna roll held chunky tuna, avocado and a bit of heat wrapped in rice and tobiko.
Service throughout the meal was cheerful and attentive. Refills came frequently, and a request for extra wasabi was rapidly obliged. We finished the meal with a free cup of chilled persimmon tea, served in a saucer with pine nuts. We left feeling full and appreciated.
My second visit was for dinner with my wife. We were greeted at the door and again sat down to hot towels and edamame.
In a phone interview, Chong explained that the $10 roll special is to entice diners to try something besides their usual order -- the restaurant has four pages of rolls. I picked the Chong's Roll (shrimp termpura, spicy tuna and avocado wrapped with rice and tobiko and topped with mango, crab meat and eel sauce, normally $14.95) and a pair of tuna nigiri ($6.95).
My wife ordered chicken yakisoba (Also available with shrimp or beef, all $12.95).
This meal again started with hot miso and another complimentary plate of squid salad. My eight-piece Chong Roll had two parts, an airy mix of crab salad and minced mango and cherry topping sitting on a densely packed roll. It wasn't as sweet as I worried it would be and tasted just right with a dunk in soy sauce and wasabi. My raw pair of tuna was also fresh tasting this time around.
The yakisoba came out in a big bowl and I was again impressed by the flavor of the chicken. There was a nice, light sweetness and hint of sesame to the mix of noodles, cabbage and onions.
We finished the meal with the same refreshing persimmon tea, a thoughtful punctuation to the meal.
The discounted rolls might be flashy, but dedicated service is something you can't fake. Chong's Tokyo Garden excels by treating diners to attention and extra touches that make the experience memorable.
By Spencer Shroyer
Daily News correspondent