458 40th St., South Ogden ; 801-399-9536
Unpretentious and generously portioned home-style Japanese fare. No reservations at lunch.
Cuisine: Japanese, Sushi
Hours: T-Th, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; F-S, 5 p.m.-close
Recommended Dishes: Rice bowls, gyoza, udon, grilled mackerel fillets, shrimp tempura.
December 12, 2007
Patience rewarded with the gift of a fine Japanese meal
By Vanessa Chang
SOUTH OGDEN -- There's a sign on the wall of the waiting room at Temari. Actually, it's not so much a sign as it is a treatise. The long and short of it tells you to be patient - only two folks are usually running the place so the whole experience, be it weekday lunch or weekend dinner, may take some time. So if you're banking on quick convenient sustenance, as the sign says, "the golden arches are just down the street."
You have to hand it to a small, family-run restaurant for making it in a chain-happy world where contrived settings and saccharine customer service dot the restaurant landscape. But you can't just love it for being local and family-run alone. "Temari" is a Japanese embroidered ball, once used to entertain kids and now given as a gift for luck. Lucky then, that the Kato family has given South Ogden such a place.
The new location has been around since October 2006. The space is Lilliputian, with 14 seats total -- not a place for big groups, but perfect for couples and smaller families. There aren't any sweets or booze here to accompany the meal. Just soft drinks, green tea and the prospect of visiting one of Ogden's many ice cream parlors after your meal here.
The kitchen takes up half of the renovated bungalow location and the food coming out of it is distinctly unpretentious and generously portioned on disposable plates and big bowls. "Japanese" in most minds entails ribbons of raw fish and rice-encrusted rolls ($6 to $12), which Temari has in a concise selection with the conspicuous use of the beloved (by the Japanese and Korean seemingly) crab with "K."
But sushi isn't home food anyway. Instead of austere servings of fancy knife skill you get substantial pleasures of rice bowls (donburi) ($9 to $12) topped with vegetables, a sesame-spiked sauce, ribbons of scrambled egg and a choice of protein. Or house-made gyoza ($6) that's pan-braised to achieve a balance between crunchiness and tenderness. The ginger-spiked pork filling is far from foreign but aromatic enough to make you pay attention.
This is family food. Some will be immediately appealing, like the tonkatsu ($10), a pork chop, pounded tender and breaded with crunchy light panko (bread crumbs) to dip in a barbecue-like sauce or the festive-looking tempura plates ($10 to $13). The shrimp variety features three shellfish, heavily armored with a slightly heavier, but no less crunchy batter that also manages to make vegetables appealing for finicky kids. I believe if you deep-fry anything, even broccoli, it just tastes better.
Other dishes may be less appealing. The homemade teriyaki sauce was too sweet for me, but perfect for my companions who love anything on the sweeter side. And side salads wilted under the just-deep-fried heat of the tempura. But side salads, be it Japanese or American cuisine, always seem to be more of an afterthought anyway.
And then there are others you just need to try once to instantly love, even if it seems very odd. Like grilled, fat fillets of mackerel ($10). At most restaurants, unembellished fish, save the flavorless farmed Atlantic salmon, is a hard sell. But I need to make a case for the humble and simultaneously luxurious velvety and briny mackerel, something I had frequently as a kid.
Sushi lovers know saba, as it's known in Japanese, for its salty flavor. But when simply grilled it coaxes out succulent oils (hello, omega-3s), basting itself into a well-seasoned piece of meat, a sort of deep-sea steak. When the edges are crisp, nibble on them. The white rice is a slightly sweet and neutral counterpoint for all this concentrated flavor.
If you need to work up to it, concentrate on the udon bowls and your chopstick noodle skills. I asked the server who was working at a frenetic pace and heavily pregnant if they made their own noodles. She gave me a frank look and said, "No, we don't have time for that."
Service is a one person-deal and it's oddly refreshing to have a server gently prod you for being late for your dinner reservation (no dinner walk-ins) or not ingratiate the neighboring table's cultural grandstanding on how certain Asian peoples like to cook their dumplings. The vibe is familial, not rude, the way an older sister would chide you for being caught after your curfew or blabbering on about something you honestly know nothing about.
In other words, much like the food here, efficient and genuine.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.