Setting the Table
Formerly the site of Nikki's Hibachi Steakhouse & Sushi Bar, Lil Tokyo hasn’t changed the locale much except for the sign and the menu as far as setting goes. Coastal Grand Mall doesn’t exactly scream “Little Tokyo” or “Japanese” decorum for that matter, but what’s in a name? It’s what’s on the plate that counts.
The place is split in half. On one half, there are 10 hibachi tables set up for chefs to cook performance-style. That side comes with the Japanese decorum. One the other half, there is a sushi bar and liquor bar set up with bar stools and cocktail tables. There is a small patio with three tables and tiki torches. It was a nice night so my wife, my son and I chose to sit outside on the patio.
Down the Hatch
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The menu has pages and pages of options. There are variations on hibachi items and add-ons – steak, chicken, fish, shrimp, scallops and lobster – just to name the entrees. There are different types of Vietnamese Pho Soups. But we came for sushi.
To wet our whistles while we ordered, my wife and I got plum wines ($6 each), and my son went for a Shirley Temple. We also ordered a small cask of cold sake ($9) to set the mood.
There are lists of your standard rolls. The ones you can get anywhere. And then there’s the list, accompanied by pictures, of the specialty rolls. All of them have interesting takes on seafood and the accoutrements that come along with sushi rolls. And Lil Tokyo has given these rolls such colorful names. Some are inexplicably named after natural disasters – Tornado ($14), Volcano ($9) and Godzilla ($12) – Yeah that’s right, Godzilla’s a natural disaster.
Some of them are mystically named – Dancing Eel ($13), Dragon Scale ($14), Kiss of Fire ($13), Red Dragon ($13), Sea Dragon ($14), Sea Tiger ($14) and the Vampire Roll ($14).
Some are named after places – Lil Tokyo ($10) and South Carolina ($13) with lots of crab. There’s even a Myrtle Beach Roll ($14) which has salmon, octopus, avocado, cream cheese and crab meat wrapped up and deep fried.
Some of them are named after times – Mid-Nite Moon ($14), Sunrise ($13) and White Christmas ($13). Others are just given adjectives for names – Beautiful ($11), Unbelievable ($15) with lobster salad and torched scallops and avocado, and the Royal Roll ($15) which is topped with filet mignon and spicy baked crab.
Our waiter Mike Makay helped us navigate the many pages of the menu and suggested anything with tuna, telling us, “Our Ahi Tuna comes from San Francisco and it’s always tip-top.”
We order Tuna Tataki as a starter, and it doesn’t disappoint, seared on the outside and savory in the center, served on a bed of shredded carrot and onion, topped with a lightly spicy ponzu sauce.
We follow the tuna with an assortment of four rolls. Three of them are specialty rolls. The Blackjack Roll ($13) has a bite of spicy tuna but cuts it with avocado, sliced salmon and tobiko.
We go local with the Coastal Grand Roll ($14) which is a healthy dose of shrimp tempura and snow crab, topped with tuna, avocado and tobiko.
Then, Makay brings the Hot Lava Roll ($14). It looks like the roll exploded into a lump of spicy crab, scallop, jalapeno, and cucumber. It’s messy and tasty. We also get a basic Spicy Yellowtail Roll ($7.25) just to fill in the gaps.
Each roll has a diverse taste and makes for a fun dining experience as the three of us take turns choosing which plate to sample from next. Taking slivers of ginger to clean our palates between bites, we dip in soy sauce and gulp and repeat until the plates are clean.
Sushi is typically expensive. Usually it’s a get-what-you-pay-for situation. Dinner for three with drinks was $87, but with the table full of food and drinks we received, it was worth it. The tuna alone would merit a return visit.
Lil Tokyo does have specials. Happy Hour is every day from 3 till 6 p.m. with buy one sushi roll, get the second for half price. Tuesdays is half-price on all hibachi, all day. Wednesday is half-price wine, all day. And Thursday is $4 martini night.