A slice of Japan lurks on Barry Road
When it comes to hidden gems, the Northland has plenty. There are hidden diners, tucked into strip malls, dive bars with surprising beer selections and bakeries that should be the envy of the entire metro area. And then there’s Kato Japanese Cuisine, Sushi and Teriyaki. It employs the tactic of ‘hide in plain sight’ by nestling in on the busiest thoroughfare in the Northland: Barry Road.
I say that it hides because this unassuming building nearly fades into the hustle and bustle of the commercial development on the east side of 29 Highway. What may seem to be a detriment has always seemed like a benefit as I can sneak into Kato and have a quiet and relaxing lunch or dinner here with great service and superior food.
Being on the third coast (the Missouri River) means that many don’t think that quality sushi is really possible in the Midwest. I’ve found the opposite to be true at Kato. While most people do come for the sushi, they also have a wide array of more traditional and terrestrial dishes reminiscent of Japan.
On a recent snowy lunch, I decided to try one of these options. Lunch is one of the best deals in town with generous bento boxes featuring a choice of 12 main course options along with salad, rice, crab Rangoon and vegetable tempura for $10.95 or specials ranging from $8.95-$11.95. You can also choose any two rolls with a house salad for $9.50. Either way you go, you aren’t leaving with empty pockets or an empty belly.
My choice was of the lunch special, Katsu Curry. Katsu is a very traditional dish of lightly breaded and fried pork cutlet served with a Japanese curry sauce full of vegetables. While curry is mostly associated with Indian or Thai food here in America, it is also wildly popular in Japan. Japanese curry more closely resembles brown gravy flavored with onions, carrots and potatoes. It is immensely satisfying on a cold winter day.
My special ($9.50) came with a house salad, which is iceberg lettuce and a mayo-based sauce, an inauspicious beginning but standard fare at most Japanese restaurants in the States. The curry, however, was perfect, calling back memories of lunch counters in Kyoto. The pork retained its crispiness and crunch despite the liberal dousing of curry sauce.
At the same lunch, I tried one of their signature rolls, the Oceans roll ($11.00). The spicy crab and avocado roll was topped with fresh, raw tuna, salmon and a honey wasabi sauce. While it sounds like it would have a fair amount of kick, the heat never really materialized, leaving me able to actually taste the components, which I consider a good thing.
On another lunch outing with colleagues, I tried the Sushi and Sashimi Combo ($13.95). After switching the house salad for the onion soup, I was presented with a beautifully composed plate featuring a California roll, four pieces of sushi and four slices of assorted sashimi. It was the perfect light lunch.
Perusing the rest of the menu, I see many things that I’ll go back for. While ramen is hot right now on the culinary scene, udon and soba have always been staples for Japanese noodle lovers. Both are available at Kato, as well as fried rice and hibachi favorites such as teriyaki chicken, steak and shrimp.
One of the best times to go to Kato has to be for their happy hour from 4:30 pm.-6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. They feature a laundry list of maki rolls, nigiri, and appetizers for prices around $3.95-$5.95 with the purchase of a drink.
The component that keeps me coming back to Kato, beyond the food of course, is the friendly and consistent service. I’ve always been greeted with a smile, served promptly whether at the sushi bar or in one of the tables and had nothing but pleasant conversation. During one of my lunches, I observed the sushi chef engaging with patrons at the bar jovially, all the while slicing away.
If you’re looking for a consistent product with a welcoming atmosphere, then Kato should surely be on your list of must-try places. I know I’ll be back. The soba is calling my name.