Teriyaki Time a definite treat

BY BEN VANWAGONER

Published June 15, 2008

The sound of sizzling food cannot be reproduced. A sweet sizzle conjures up images of cast iron pans, flames and intensely flavorful dishes washed in tangy sauces. It comes with its own aroma, always slightly charred and absolutely tantalizing. The sizzle is more than taste, it's a sense of a meal - a meal that's fresh, tasty and unabashedly showy.

Teriyaki Time has the sizzle down.

The restaurant is at the epicenter of Kerrytown, just a block from Zingerman's and right next to the Farmer's Market. The restaurant, with just a few metal tables set up outside, looks modest, and it is. The inside is adorned with colorful paintings and plants, and is refreshingly crisp and clean. It's a good look, straight out of a small Japanese neighborhood.

The owner, Mr. Lee, says that he hoped a lot of students from campus would come to his restaurant, but fewer than expected are making the trek to Kerrytown. He looks a little disappointed and then perks up again. He's proud of his restaurant's fresh ingredients and open-flame cooking, and he says that his customers share his enthusiasm.

He's right. As customers, many obviously first-time visitors, leave the restaurant, almost everyone offers some compliment.

"Thank you, that was delicious," gushed one lady, while her friend asked, "Do you have a card?"

It's no exaggeration - Teriyaki Time serves exceptionally good food.

Served on simple white plates and platters, the food - like the restaurant - is unpretentious while still crisp and attractive. Teriyaki Time specializes, not surprisingly, in teriyaki and its culinary derivatives -foods like Yakisoba (a noodle dish) and Chicken Katsu (a light chicken for dipping in one of many tasty sauces). It also offers a few other Asian tastes, like Korean Bi Bim Bop and a wide variety of sides including sushi, spring rolls and miso soup.

Of all its offerings, the restaurant's namesake dish dominates as an entree. The teriyaki chicken was superb - lightly flame-broiled, flavorful and perfectly tender. In a combo dish served with ginger salad and rice, it was tempting to ignore the sides and eat just the chicken, like you would eat just the frosting on a cake. The tofu is impressive as well. Normally tofu is a love-it-or-hate-it food, but Teriyaki Time's tofu could appeal even to meat lovers. It's so fresh and tangy it leaves you wondering whether it's made from scratch in the back (it isn't, but you'd never know it). The Katsu, while good, was not great. It's simply bland when compared with the rest of the entrees, even with the sauce.

The teriyaki sauce served with chicken, beef and tofu is in a world of its own, reminding us just how bad Magic Wok really was. It's so flavorful, in fact, that it almost overpowers the rest of the meal - my only complaint with the teriyaki dishes, and hardly a complaint at all.

Still, it's the side dishes that put Teriyaki Time above other student takeout restaurants. The shrimp dumplings (shumai) are small, but packed with so much flavor you can close your eyes and see the cherry blossoms. Few high-end Asian restaurants offer such authentic, bold flavor, and to find it in such a modest establishment is exciting. Lee really lets loose on his smaller dishes, and the dumplings (gyoza) and sushi are truly fantastic. The ingredients make all the difference - everything is fresh, with no oil and little fat.

Teriyaki Time is not fine dining, but for what it is, it's miles beyond its peers, and beyond expectations. Its location is an issue for dining in; although the experience is a good one, the 20-minute walk makes takeout more reasonable. When most dishes run below $7, with a full meal at $8, it's more than reasonably priced given the quality of the food. Lee's cooking would seem natural at an establishment twice the price and half the convenience. On a campus woefully in need of some really tasty Asian takeout, Teriyaki Time delivers an exceptional meal.