I've learned some lessons about eating sushi over the past several years. First and most important, don't trust Texas-style sushi - the oversized, unbalanced and less-than-fresh rolls. I also avoid all-you-can-eat sushi unless I can see the coastline from my seat. Happy hours, on the other hand, are a great way to sample different types of sushi. Finally, if you're going to have a drink, you've got some unique options. Many sushi restaurants offer an assortment of Japanese beers, warm and chilled sake, in addition to sake cocktails.
Half-price sushi at TOMO Japanese Restaurant on Monday night is yet another lesson: be in the right place at the right time. TOMO is the southernmost eatery in a family of restaurants that includes Szechuan, SOBA and Five Fusion, owned by siblings Di and Howie Long. Lined with green bamboo walls, a six-seat sushi bar and a private tatami room, TOMO is much more welcoming once inside. For slightly larger parties, if you can snag the tatami room, where guests sit on mats or pillows and eat from a low table, you're golden.
On a recent visit, I started with a Salty Samurai ($7), a delicious cocktail made with dry sake and grapefruit juice. It was served up in a martini glass, a welcome change from a more standard greyhound preparation (vodka and grapefruit). The taste was smooth and not too sweet - great to sip on during the meal. We started with Chicken Yakitori ($7), marinated skewers grilled and covered in sweet teriyaki sauce and green scallions. I was pleasantly surprised not only by the portion, but also by the juiciness of each bite of chicken and the teriyaki sauce.
Our sushi arrived shortly thereafter. The rainbow roll was beautifully presented, with ribbons of salmon, tuna, shrimp and fresh slices of avocado wrapped around the roll. We also enjoyed a specialty roll from the hand-written board above the sushi bar. It was a surf 'n' turf roll with juicy beef, asparagus and tempura batter. This roll was as rich as they come, an appropriate counterpart to our other choices. The wasabi roll included crab, shrimp, avocado, cucumber and featured a strong, sharp bite. The spicy tuna roll was much safer and perfect for beginners.
TOMO also serves a variety of entrees for lunch and dinner. Bento Lunches include chicken, steak or salmon teriyaki, veggie or chicken yakisoba and tofu stir fry ($7.95 - $9.95). Dinner plates include Ginger Halibut ($13), Ramen noodles soup ($9) and dinner bentos ($12-$18).
On another visit, this time during happy hour, we were able to sample a few more starters. The Kalbi Ribs ($4), and Ika Furai ($4), were hard to resist. The Korean-style beef short ribs, thinly sliced and marinated, were meaty, fatty and well seasoned. The calamari was a bit over fried, but enough of TOMO's delicious miso aioli would make even a rubber band taste good. I found myself dipping cucumbers, kalbi ribs and anything else I could get my hands on in the miso aioli.
My companion ordered a Pearl Harbor, a sake cocktail consisting of a shot of chilled sake and a half pint of Rockstar energy drink. Following his lead, I ordered a Tsing Tao ($4) beer along with a house sake (served in a ceramic vase with a pour spout) ($6). I requested a shot glass and pint glass, hoping to relive my college days. Pouring the sake in the shot glass, and about a third of the pint full of beer, I gestured to my companion to raise his glass. In tandem, we dropped the shots into the pint glasses and threw our heads back to officiate my first sake bomb on the south side of town.
Then came the sushi. The Thai Crunch Roll ($4 during happy hour), consisted of spicy shrimp, green onions, avocado and cucumber and was topped with tempura ﬂakes. Drizzled with a sweet chili sauce, the roll was excellent, the "crunch" light enough that it did not overpower the taste of the fish. We also enjoyed nigiri, including the Shiro ($3) and the rich, full-flavored Saba (mackeral). The shiro (albacore) an old favorite, arrived bright pink and fresh, expertly cut and served over rice. Time for another sake bomb - and did I mention we were having a blast?
TOMO offers fresh fish, great value and a lively atmosphere off the beaten path of the recently pub-centric Bend. It's a great place to have a few unique cocktails or beers, order a variety of sushi and enjoy an evening out with a date, friends or family. Lesson learned: sake-bombs and sushi rolls, if done well, can make microbrews and pub food distant memories.
TOMO Japanese Restaurant
61160 S Hwy 97, 541-323-888
Mon - Thurs 11am-2:30pm, 4-9pm. (Sat, 4-10pm) Sun 3pm - 8:30pm
Happy Hour daily 4:00pm - 5:30pm