But there’s a lot more to Japanese food than merely sushi. The Japanese don’t typically eat raw fish on a daily basis. Some never do. So I’ve been kicking it old school, in a quest to find the family-style Japanese cuisine I remember as a child when I lived outside Tokyo and was well fed by my family’s Japanese housekeeper/cook. That quest recently took me to a restaurant that had fallen completely off my radar screen, even though I used to eat there quite frequently back when I lived in Midvale: Suehiro Japanese Restaurant.
Suehiro is located in a strip mall (the Park Centre) at the intersection of 1300 East and Fort Union Boulevard, north of Barnes & Noble, Old Navy and Home Depot. I used to pick up my mail at the Mailbox Etc. located just a few doors down from Suehiro, and I’d often pop in for their beef udon and donburi, which I practically lived on during my first couple years here in Zion. Then I began writing about food, found myself swept up in the new wave of local sushi restaurants and somehow forgot about Suehiro.
The place has quite a pedigree. Tokyo-born owner/chef Jiro was trained at the prestigious Seishin Cooking School in Tokyo before immigrating to Utah in 1972 where he worked at 47 Samurai, a now-defunct teppanyaki restaurant in Trolley Square. He also opened Utah’s first sushi bar in the Triad Center (anyone remember Vicious Rumors?) and owned a restaurant downtown called Yamato before opening Suehiro in 1990. Most of this was before my time; I first discovered Suehiro in 1992.
Well, fast-forward a decade and a half, and what’s changed most about this little gem of a Japanese restaurant is the clientele. There are more of them, and they skew demographically young, although it’s not uncommon at all to see tables of elderly Japanese ladies dining together at Suehiro, particularly at lunch. Suehiro sports a small (about 10 seats) sushi bar, and an abundance of wood-framed booths, adorned with hanging rice paper lamps and attractive artwork on the walls. It’s not a small restaurant but seems cozy thanks to the design and layout.
At lunch, Suehiro fills up with workers from the neighborhood, and at night, it’s a popular spot for families. It’s typically crowded, but especially so at lunchtime, thanks in part to budget-friendly specials like the assorted nigiri lunch special, priced at $11.95: You get six pieces of nigiri sushi (chef’s choice), a choice of tuna or cucumber roll, miso soup and cucumber or seaweed salad. Although it’s “chef’s choice,” I asked if it was possible to not have salmon (I have an aversion to raw salmon) with my nigiri and was accommodated by sushi chef Mike who gave me tuna, ebi (shrimp), mackerel, tako (octopus), snapper and yellowtail. The nigiri and tuna roll were perfect and the seaweed salad divine, spritzed with a lively sesame dressing. The miso, unfortunately, must have come from a concentrate (typical actually, in many restaurants) since mine separated after sitting for a few minutes: clear liquid on top and miso powder/concentrate settled at the bottom of the bowl.
The sushi at Suehiro is dependable, if not especially adventurous or unique. But what distances this Japanese restaurant from many others is a meaty selection of traditional katsu, donburi, teriyaki, yosenabe, sukiyaki, tempura and udon dishes. As I said, I lived for the better part of a year on Suehiro’s beef udon ($11.75). It’s a big, steaming bowl of thin-sliced tender beef and vegetables with thick Japanese-style udon noodles and a wonderfully hearty beef broth. There’s also a shrimp tempura version (Suehiro does outstanding tempura) and, in summer months, tenzaru—a special soba noodle dish made with buckwheat noodles, soba sauce, and includes three pieces of shrimp and vegetable tempura, plus miso soup, salad and steamed rice.
But at Suehiro, after an appetizer of agedashi tofu, I usually default to the Japanese entree of my childhood: tonkatsu ($15.95). Since my lineage is Austrian, it follows that I’d develop an early fondness for what is essentially the Japanese version of wienerschnitzel. Tonkatsu is a lightly seasoned, deep-fried boneless pork cutlet, breaded with panko breadcrumbs and served with tangy vegetable sauce. It also comes in chicken and beef versions, but the pork is the real deal.
An unfortunate oddity at Suehiro is Bush-speak on the menu, where something negative is spun as positive: “To better serve you, we no longer separate checks.” Huh?
A second option for sushi in tandem with cooked traditional Japanese fare—although a distant second—is Ogden’s Tona Sushi Bar and Grill. It’s hard not to think of Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding at Tona, which is named for the owners, Tony and Tina. Like some Italian weddings I’ve attended, Tona was crowded, loud and sweltering, although it’s a natty-looking place with lots of eye appeal and bold colors. Service was quick, friendly and efficient, but the food seemed to me mostly just serviceable—not bad, but nothing especially memorable. Three dollars and fifty cents for a small helping of edamame seemed like highway robbery, but the bento box combinations ($13.75) are a decent value. Sushi rolls and nigiri were nothing more than average, although somewhat below average from an aesthetic point of view: cut unevenly with the rice falling apart (perhaps due to the heat) in some instances. The good news is Tona is a quick sprint to the City Club and Brewskis.
SUEHIRO JAPANESE RESTAURANT 6933 S. 1300 East, 255-1089, Closed Sunday. Suehiro.YPGuides.net
TONA SUSHI BAR & GRILL 210 25th St., Ogden, Closed Sunday & Monday. 801-622-TONA, TonaRestaurant.com