Tasty Japanese fast food

We are a nation under the spell of sushi.

Mention Japanese food, and the reaction will more than likely be a flurry of praise for wasabi, sake and their comestible seaweed-wrapped counterparts. At the other end of the Japanese dining experience is the novelty restaurant, where teppanyaki chefs flip shrimp tails onto unsuspecting eaters’ plates, all the while wielding their too-sharp knives with entertaining and delicious results.

But every culture, especially those that place a great value on industrious behavior, has a need for quick, simple meals. I had passed Kazuko’s on Plumb Lane a number of times on my way home but was always in too much of a hurry to stop in. The place advertises fast Japanese food, so when my friend Greg and I were looking for a quick bite to eat, the place immediately came to mind.

Although located in a strip mall, the interior of Kazuko’s overcomes this handicap with some simple decorative touches such as a folding screen in the entryway and some nice paper lanterns hung from the ceiling. We walked to the cash register and, after perusing the menu, placed our order. I tried to sit at a two-top table, but the person who took our order immediately asked me to sit at the larger four-top. I’m still not sure why.

Both of our meals came with soup and tea, which was delivered immediately. The soup was a clear broth with some noodles and green onions. It had a distinctive light, yet earthy, texture that really primes the appetite.

Our meals and side dishes followed closely. Greg ordered the tempura ($5.95), a combination of fried shrimp and vegetables, and a bowl of the udon soup ($3.55). I went with a side order of steamed wontons called gyoza ($3.95) and a main dish of the yakitori ($6.55), a sort of Japanese shish kebab. The plates were overloaded with food. In addition to our entrées, each dish had a heap of rice, a small green salad and some macaroni salad as well.

Greg’s tempura was excellent. Although it is a fried dish, it was hardly greasy, just perfectly crispy while allowing the flavor of the fried item to really come out. The udon soup was filled with thick, meaty noodles and green onions. It had the same earthy taste as our appetizer soup, but with even more substance and would have made a great meal in its own right.

The gyoza I ordered were stuffed with marinated beef and vegetables and, in combination with a vinegar-based dipping sauce, had the kind of addictive taste that any good finger food needs. The chicken in my yakitori was perfectly cooked, interspersed with green peppers and onions and served in a nice sauce, reminiscent of teriyaki.

We probably ordered too much food, as the entrées with all their side dishes would have been more than enough food. Greg and I wondered if macaroni salad is a typical Japanese side dish, but since it complimented the other items so well I don’t think we cared.

The day we ate, the place was nearly empty, which is a shame. Kazuko’s is a really excellent place for a quick lunch, especially for those who are looking for something different. It’s not necessarily as exotic as sushi or as entertaining as shrimp in your face, but for good food fast Kazuko’s, deserves to be the next Japanese food craze.