How could I pass up ordering something named the "Tijuana ninja roll?" I'd be haunted in my sleep by stealth men shaking maracas, which makes no sense at all.
And sure enough, I was haunted, but only because my lips were still recovering from the red pepper flakes and spicy oil that comprised the roll's Mexican influence. The massive, kitchen-sink, two-bite-minimum (I tried one in a bite and nearly choked) roll towers as one of the most creative sushi offerings I've ever eaten and I've tried indescribable things inside Tokyo fish markets.
Sure, any sushi slinger worth his knife set has a couple of crowd-pleasers up his chef's jacket sleeve. Across town, many sushi joints' specialty rolls are worth the price. But owner John Ra and his skilled crew at Tomo prove they can rice-wrap with the best.
Ra calls his menu Asian fusion, deriving influence from his work across the U.S. in Japanese and Korean restaurants. Alongside the traditional items and sushi, you'll find appetizers like spring rolls and crab angels and entres like barbecued ribs.
It's a good thing our sushi, which ranged from $3.95 to $14.95 for eight pieces, was served cold. Once we engaged Ra in conversation, as he swept the dining room to check in with guests, we ignored it for nearly 20 minutes.
Ra, a personality-rich draw beyond the food for customers, will tell complete strangers stories and chat about whatever's on his mind, as if you're old-school chums. Our first visit, he told us about outgrowing Miyake (his first restaurant on Austin Bluffs Parkway, which he'll soon turn over to his sister-in-law to manage) and that this larger space will help him branch out.
It is big, a huge overhead to manage, with a long L-shaped sushi counter and tables spread across an open room broken only by a stone fireplace in the center. Flat-screen TVs hang behind the counter, with the staff showing whatever they feel like watching House of Flying Daggers that evening.
Ra suggested that on my next visit, I let his team get creative, by simply pulling up to the sushi counter and requesting $30 or more worth of surprise sushi. And so I did.
Having tried standard fare a California roll with sesame seeds, an eel roll, a salmon roll and a tuna roll alongside the ninja roll on the first visit, I was impressed by the diverse spread that was passed over the counter to us during lunchtime.
Without knowing a full description of each roll, the best I can do to relate the experience is to say that the highlights were tempura asparagus, delicate albacore tuna nigiri pieces, a sweet shrimp roll with salmon roe and a razor-thin sliced cucumber-wrapped roll. Each item was truly superb and, we felt, equal to the price paid.
We also ordered the Tonkatsu box (a loaded value at $8.95 on the lunch menu), which came with a salad, soup, half a California roll, tempura vegetables and a sweet-sauced chicken (or pork) entre. This proved an ideal lunch option for those not so into sushi, and another reason to make the trek to Tomo sometime during the workweek.
Give the new venture a try. It'll please your inner sushi ninja.
975 N. Academy Blvd., 597-2422, eatattomo.com
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 9 p.m. Menu shifts from lunch to dinner at 3:30.
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