Regular readers of this space will recognize that it's understatement bordering on folly to say that Munch loves the South Side. It is easily one of Munch's favorite locales, from Yo Rita down to Excuses, to grab a tipple and a taste of the city Munch so adores. Unfortunately, the place isn't without its problems, namely weekend carpetbaggers who come down, get loaded and act like louts. This we can agree on.
But the hubbub Munch hears lately from City Council chambers is that the solution to the problem is to limit the number of restaurants on East Carson Street. Munch can only scratch a brown-bagged head and wonder, how exactly is this a good idea?
Sign Munch up if there's a vote or a petition to increase fines and punishment for "Jersey Shore" wannabes trolling the South Side on a given Friday night behaving like infants. Better yet, how about vigorous enforcement by the state Liquor Control Board so that the aforementioned jerks aren't overserved and oversaturated with Jagermeister by bartenders?
But limiting new restaurants in a district that owes much of its very vibrancy to restaurants, one that consistently offers a wide range of excellent culinary choices and is the very heartbeat of dining and nightlife in the city, seems downright reactionary, if not incredibly myopic.
This conveniently brings Munch to this week's review of yet another South Side restaurant, Little Tokyo Bistro, where Munch and Blond Barkeep Bud of Munch (the BBBOM) went to get their wasabi on.
The younger sibling of the longtime Mt. Lebanon establishment, Little Tokyo Bistro offers sushi, Japanese dishes and hibachi grill in a clean, quiet space with an attentive, cordial staff -- it's a pleasant break from nearby Nakama, which, while fun, is a meat-market nonpareil where the men are judged by the size of their wallet and the women by the size of their ... well, something else.
Appetizers such as spicy tuna tartar, edamame (boiled soybeans), gyoza (spicy chicken dumplings) and shrimp tempura and broiled eel ($3.95-$8.95) start off the menu, and of course, there are dozens of maki and nigiri sushi rolls ($3-$10.95).
Munch and the BBBOM repped the Keystone State, trying the Philly and Pittsburgh rolls (each $5). The Philly roll didn't have Cheez Whiz in it, nor did the Pittsburgh roll have fries, but rather smoked salmon with cream cheese, and crab salad, respectively. Both were delicious, but Munch gives the slight edge to the Philly roll. Remember this, because it's the only time Munch will ever give the cretins on the wrong side of Pennsylvania credit over us for anything.
Sushi entrees include myriad permutations of nigiri and maki rolls and sashimi combinations starting at $14.95 up to the $100.95 Sushi Boat Supreme, which presumably could feed the entire crew of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.
Braving new ground, Munch checked out the kitchen specialties, which include udon and soba noodles and various beef, chicken and fish dishes ($9.95-$19.95), before settling on the Butaniku Shogayaki ($15.95), a thin-sliced pork loin, marinated in ginger sauce and grilled with vegetables. Simply put, it was a light and delicious dish, with a subtle mix of savory and sweet tastes.
Unlike many Japanese restaurants, chicken, steak and seafood Hibachi dishes and combos ($14.95-$29.95) at Little Tokyo are not prepared via a chef's performance at your table, and this was just fine with Munch and the BBBOM. We don't need to be entertained with egg-juggling and fire-breathing, we just want the food to be good. And it was. The BBBOM dug her filet and shrimp combo ($19.95), the beef juicy, veggies crisp and the shrimp ... shrimpy.
Little Tokyo Bistro flew under Munch's radar for a while, but no longer, and Munch intends to make it a regular stop in the brown bag's South Side rotation, hopefully with many other new restaurants, in the years to come.