This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Kyoto has been a fixture on a Salt Lake City neighborhood corner since the mid-'80s. It's like an old friend: familiar, comfortable and able to withstand a few flaws that might strain a less hardy relationship.
It hasn't changed much since being acquired in 2014 by the LaSalle Restaurant Group, which also owns Oasis Café and Faustina, and co-owns Caffe Niche and Current Fish and Oyster. Perhaps most notable was the addition this spring of sushi chef Peggi Ince-Whiting, a Utah native who trained in Japan before opening Ichiban Sushi, which she has since sold.
She and fellow chef Steve Park have refreshed the Kyoto sushi menu, adding a selection of new rolls that include the Lobster (crab, asparagus, avocado, baked lobster, tobiko and kaiware sprouts, $16); and Pink Power, a delicate and pretty composition of shrimp tempura, cucumber, asparagus, avocado and spicy mayo, all rolled in pink tofu paper ($7). Unlike some rolls with tempura innards, the shrimp isn't dominant. Each ingredient asserts itself while still working for the team.
But nobody's messed with the old standbys, including tempura, sukiyaki, tonkatsu and udon, that earned this iconic restaurant a loyal following. And nothing has changed in the cozy arrangement of window-side booths, some with wraparound bench seating that the less agile among us will find challenging. Fortunately, Kyoto also has traditional tables, along with counter seating where diners can watch the sushi chefs in action.
An east-side patio is shaded from the sun, and a small fountain provides a soothing burble. One evening, our family party of nine took up most of the patio, which we had requested, after the staff hurriedly moved our place settings from an inside table. Despite that service mixup, we had a grand time, crowned by the kitchen's gratis contribution of some surplus mussel shooters ($5), one of nearly two dozen appetizers on the menu. We were almost too full by that point, but these little bites of shellfish crowned with a quail egg and spiked with spicy ponzu sauce were too good to skip.
That was also the night I discovered hamachi kama ($13), a grilled fish "collar" that was blackened and bony and pocked with delicious little tidbits of fatty yellowtail. On a more recent visit, I ordered it again, but it wasn't available. So I tried the sake kama ($10), or salmon collar. Along with the bony part came a small fillet that was moist and tender. Fish collar is the ultimate slow food because you have to hunt for the lovely morsels among the bone.
We also tried the gyoza ($8), an expert rendering of this familiar dumpling, stuffed with a beef filling that was just firm enough. The dough was slightly crisp but still tender. It's good for sharing, as is the maguro kimchee ($12), a plate of pickled napa cabbage topped with tender slices of raw tuna. The kimchee was only moderately spicy, but that was a good thing because it didn't overwhelm the delicate flavor of the fish.
Kyoto offers a selection of sashimi and nigiri, most of which is familiar to those who like their fish raw. But it is fresh and high quality ($4 to $8 for two pieces).
If you like tempura, the seafood combination ($19) is a very large serving of shrimp, white fish, salmon and vegetables that could easily satisfy two normal appetites. It's tempura the way Kyoto has always done it, with a batter that doesn't overwhelm the protein and veggies inside.
If you have trouble choosing from the generous menu, combination dinners allow you to sample two of a number of entrées for $22. One member of our party chose beef sukiyaki and tonkatsu, but the latter arrived 20 minutes after its predecessor. The sukiyaki was outstanding, a stout and slightly sweet beefy broth with plenty of noodles and tender beef. The tonkatsu, a piece of sliced breaded pork, was moist and tender, but not worth the wait, one of those irritating things that can strain a relationship, like a good friend who always shows up late for everything.
I won't sever the tie for a few service misses. It's the charming space, the reliable, familiar food and the family-friendly atmosphere that will bring me back. With good friends, you forgive and forget.
Food • HHhj
Mood • HHH
Service • HH
Noise • bbb
Kyoto is a Salt Lake City classic that has endured for decades, serving traditional Japanese cuisine in a traditional setting. A recent change in ownership prompted a slight update of the sushi menu, but regulars who come here for udon, teriyaki and tempura will find their old favorites unchanged.
Location • 1080 E. 1300 South; 801-487-3525
Online • kyotoslc.com
Hours • Lunch, Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner, Monday-Thursday, 5-9:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5-10 p.m.; Sunday, 5-9 p.m.
Children's menu • No
Prices • $$-$$$
Liquor • Beer and wine
Reservations • Yes
Takeout • Yes
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • Yes
On-site parking • Yes
Credit cards • Yes