With a number of 3-star Yelp restaurant reviews and a couple of failures under their belt, I had to go see if the newly opened Tokyo Table in Alhambra is sticking to their same ole formula.
For a multi-million dollar restaurant group to not know how to build a brand, I am not surprised because they have a crazy good ability, although, like most foreign companies, they just do not know anything about the U.S. market.
Tokyo Table in Their Own Words:
“Tokyo is an exciting, fun, and trend setting city. Our name pays homage to our homeland, where we create an entertaining, delicious, and heartfelt dining experience. The menu focuses on Japanese dishes served in an innovative setting, and each dish has a unique creation story, made with love. Just like the city’s diversity, we cater to every palate by offering over 100 menu items. Our interactive menu brings the show to your table.
We believe that a dining table symbolizes an area of the home where family comes together; memories and conversations are shared. The table is the key venue to building relationships, whether with family or friends.”
100 Items or Bust
Yea they’re sticking with the same formula because the mission statement hasn’t changed one bit. I don’t know about you, but I would not want to go to a restaurant where the mission is just to deliver on 100+ items unless they were all good because “more isn’t necessarily better,” especially in the case of Tokyo Table.
If you’re Toridoll dining, the 900+ restaurant group from Japan, you make that your life’s mission to do a 100+ lackluster items versus concentrating on a specialty like so many other restaurants do. That grandiose approach I find very disappointing with Tokyo Table because they do have successful specialty restaurants, but just not here. Their other restaurants Marugame Seimen, Marukame Udon (I’ve been to this location in HNL), and Toridoll Yakitori all specialize in only one core cuisine, but we on the mainland get the short end of the yakitori stick.
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein.
What up Asian People!
Not only did Tokyo Table locate in bougie ole Beverly Hills, but they also opened a spot in what is often touted as the Chinese Beverly Hills which is Arcadia. Even with all that going for them, they unfortunately closed both their Beverly Hills and Arcadia locations for whatever reason. Now their last remaining and their newest location are in two of the most predominantly Asian areas in SoCal which are Alhambra (53% Asian) and Irvine (approximately 45%).
Arcadia, (closed), 3 stars, 265 reviewsStrike 1
- Alhambra, 3 stars, 124+ reviews.
Beverly Hills, (closed), 3.5 stars, 123 reviewsStrike 2
- Irvine, 3.5 stars, 1,661+ reviews
From the looks of things, I’d say they’re targeting an Asian demographic which you might find silly the way they’re going about it. Not that targeting Asians is a bad approach, but the way in which they went about with what they’re offering is just ridiculous. If you’re going to cater to this demographic, you better come with a menu that is better than the 100+ competitors nearby.
I got to wonder if they even know who they’re up against, or do they not care? If you look at the competitors in the neighborhood, you’re up against a lot of good to great spots in the SGV.
- Kosuke Ramen, udon, and sushi bar, 4 stars and 982 reviews.
- Tomomi sushi, 4 stars and 900+ reviews.
- Tokyo Fried Chicken, 4 stars, 894 reviews.
- Shin sen gumi yakitori and shabu shabu, 4 stars, 800+ reviews.
- Benten Ramen, 4 stars, 732+ reviews
- The Kopan ramen, 4.5 rating with well over 700+ reviews.
- Izakaya Akatora, 4 stars, 501+ reviews.
- Kai Ramen, 4 stars, 391+ reviews.
- Mama Lu’s (this is where I went after Tokyo Table), 4 stars, 1,474+ reviews.
All of these restaurants aren’t even all Japanese owned or operated, yet they do an exceptional job at knowing their clientele and the market. As for me, I personally love going to Shin Sen Gumi for yakitori and Kai Ramen which I really enjoyed on my first visit, so I doubt I’ll be going to Tokyo Table when I’m in the area.
The Missed Opportunity
If you’re a multi-million dollar company from Japan, how could you not deliver on what most Americans really want which is a truly authentic Japanese experience (you’re Japanese, from Japan)? That’s how simple it is to me because we already got a bunch of hacks that can’t do Japanese if they tried, so how is that ToriDoll follows suit with those hacks?
I mean, how many people in California go to a Cuban, Russian, Vietnamese, or Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles expecting to get a fusion Chinese hamburger? We already have the Kogi truck, so I think “we coo” on the fusion side of things for now. So no need for another fusion Vietnamese pho or banh mi style pizza either unless you really know what you’re doing, thanks.
“UCLA Yankee Cola”
“Hello chief, let’s talk why not” (another Simpsons reference). Oh Japanese management, you guys (I say “guys” because it’s probably all dudes) just crack me up. I mean, I don’t think the successful Japanese restaurants that are currently here, are here because they took the approach that ToriDoll has taken. The ToriDoll strategy is more on part with the way the Simpson portray the Japanese in their episode “Thirty Minutes over Tokyo.” The reason why I say that, is that chains like Santouka aim to give Americans an authentic taste of how they do it in Japan, but the management of ToriDoll have decided that us Americans want mediocre offerings (got that, it’s called Kabuki). Mediocre embodied in the form of what they think we want which is a “sushi pizza”… I give you premium sushi pizza 100%!
Why does it seem like whoever is coming up with this menu is a Japanese national guessing at what Americans want? Somehow he’s got a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.
The TGIF of Japanese Food
TGIF works if you’re in a very rural or suburban area where there are very few independents, but go to an urban or coastal city, and you’re not going to want to consider going to one amongst all the options.
The only place I could see this approach working in is in Colorado. I mean, before Tori Doll opens in another predominantly Asian area, I’d tell them to pack their bags and head to Colorado. Coloradan’s love their fusion Japanese restaurants because they’re not going to be as discerning as most Californians are. They’re typically not going to demand an authentic experience because there’s not a large population of Asians who expect that. Add in the fact that most of the general population can’t differentiate Korean, Chinese, or Japanese people or the food from one another, and you have an ideal environment where you can lump a bunch of food all in together? (before you say anything, I’ve lived and worked in Colorado in a Japanese restaurant, and I have a number of stories from my homies having to tell people why they don’t have hot ‘n’ sour soup).
Who comes here for Korean kalbi? Oh, I know, they’re expecting that Japanese patron who doesn’t go to Ktown to come here which is what percentage of the population is that? A fat slice of at least .003%
That tempura picture looks bad, and I don’t mean just the shot. I mean the actual preparation because the breading looks too thick and not crunchy. Just from looking at that picture, I think the oil wasn’t hot enough or that batter was terribly done which made me not want to order it.
Why Not at Least Look the Part
What part of this interior says that this is a Japanese restaurant? Nothing does which is a problem since there’s an overwhelmingly large segment of people who don’t typically go out to eat on account of the food *ahem* Rainforest Cafe diners. At least looking the part can really make up for lackluster food (Honda Ya is one such place I can think of).
The entrance is odd because in order to enter the restaurant, you have to go through a narrow semi-circular passage way that follows the curve of the bar. An area that makes entry and exit a hassle if the bar were to ever get busy here.
The Struggle is Real (for the BOH/kitchen)
If you’re going to offer 100+ menu items, your kitchen better be able to handle those many items. Unfortunately, from what I experienced, they can’t. I went on a Thursday, a little after one pm, and they weren’t even busy although the kitchen struggled based on how badly my order had come out.
The easiest thing you can do at the very least in a restaurant is meet the minimum expectation which is to have the final product look somewhat like the picture. See for yourself, but I’d say that’s a fail.
The gyoza filling flavor was quite good, and the only thing lacking was preparation because whoever prepared it, unevenly seared the bottoms of the gyoza for six out of nine of the pieces.
The only thing off tasting was the gyoza dipping sauce because it wasn’t the gyoza sauce, and I’m sure they gave me the wrong one. It tasted like they had used some alcohol base like sake/mirin, shoyu sauce because the alcohol wasn’t cooked off. I didn’t get the typical vinegar and soy sauce and layu sauce combo which I think is there chili oil dipping sauce.
Looks smaller than the one in the picture (again it doesn’t match), but at least it was halfway decent even though it fell short on matching the pic.
Once again another dish that they couldn’t get right. The fresh ahi-avo pizza is supposed to consist of a crispy baked tortilla? Topped with a spread of garlic aioli, and ahi tuna along with avocado, cherry tomato, red onions, pickled jalapeno, and cilantro. Although that does not look or taste like a garlic aioli, and I got some sweet teriyaki sauce instead. Do they not have any kitchen managers? Does the wait staff not know what the dish looks like?
They could have made this work if they had done ceviche style toppings of chopped and diced ingredients. This approach would have resulted in a more evenly dispersed amount of ingredients which would have contributed to the overall flavor. Instead, I bit through the tortilla which then pulled off the entire slab of tuna like I had pulled the rug out from the avocado and the other ingredients went flying off.
After this many mistakes, I just gave up, and I decided to cut my loses and go elsewhere.
I Would Go Back (if You’re Paying)
Yea, I actually liked what I had even though I had issues with almost all the items I tried (that’s bad), but I’d still go back even though there’s 100+ restaurants in the local vicinity that do each one of their dishes a lot better. So if that’s the case, why go back? Well, I’d simply go back only if I were invited to go with friends because this spot is good for large groups who want a wide range of items, but I highly doubt I’d go personally out of my way to eat there again.
They really need to change their strategy, and that they need to put a head on this monstrous restaurant group because they have the money to back it. It’s just that they don’t have the correct vision, or currently the capability to successfully carry it out. That is evident with their 3 star reviews citing poor quality food, poor service, and being short on value.
The best part of my dining experience was when I went directly to Mama Lu’s Dumpling house right afterwards.
- A nice interior which probably can host fairly large groups with ease.
- Expansive menu with a lot of variety, so they have something for everybody.
- My server, I can tell she was new, but she was no slacker.
- Their brand of “Jack of all trades, master of none” due to the inept and sloppy kitchen staff.
Type of foods offered:
- Salads, yakitori, udon, yakisoba, ishiyaki, curry, sashimi, sushi, makizushi, sushi pizza, tempura, chicken wings, ramen, and more.