Takumi brightens Madison's East Towne area

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By Bill Livick, Special to The Gazette
Wednesday, April 23, 2014

MADISON—When it's done right, sushi is close to a perfect food. We love the simple presentation and clean flavors. We also appreciate the health aspects of a roll that uses fresh ingredients, with no processed foods or additives.

I point that out because until last weekend, it had been a long time since I'd eaten sushi. I had forgotten what a pleasure it can be to sit at a sushi bar and watch chefs at work, and how pure those flavors can be.

It was our first visit to Takumi Japanese Restaurant on Madison's east side, near East Towne Mall. The restaurant is a gem, with a handsome dining room, good food and great service.

All the tables were taken at 6:30 p.m. on a Friday (next time we'll make a reservation), but a few seats were open at the sushi bar. They turned out to be the best seats in the house. We enjoyed watching the food being prepared and appreciated the sushi chefs occasionally stopping to chat with us.

Takumi's dining room features lots of natural wood—tables, chairs, hardwood floor and bars that all match—with small touches of Japanese art throughout.

The room has a small bar near a front foyer, the sushi bar and a separate hibachi room for private parties that's available for reservation.

An extensive menu includes hot and cold appetizers, soups and salads, sushi and sashimi, rolls, kitchen entrees, sushi entrees, signature rolls, hibachi and a bento box for take-out orders.

From the hot appetizers list, a friend and I shared orders of edamame ($5) and gyoza ($5). The latter are savory, pan-fried Japanese-style pork dumplings. Besides ground pork, these pot-stickers contained cabbage, green onion and hints of garlic, ginger and sesame, with a bowl of soy sauce on the side.

Edamame—steamed soybeans with sea salt—are tasty, nutritious and slightly addictive, particularly when you're hungry and waiting for the main course.

After the first round, we shared three sushi rolls and a kitchen entrée. The sushi rolls are perfectly presented and served with the traditional sides: wasabi, fresh sliced ginger and soy sauce.

The California roll ($5.50) is famous for increasing sushi rolls' worldwide popularity. Known as an inside-out roll because the rice is outside of an inner seaweed wrap, the California roll contained avocado, cucumber and crabmeat. A tuna roll was also inside out—or uramaki—and came with avocado and tuna ($5.95), while the unagi roll ($6.50) combined fresh eel with cucumber. Spiked with a bit of wasabi and ginger, these basic rolls are a real treat.

We passed on the more expensive and intricate rolls from the signature category. They are prepared with the nori (seaweed) on the outside and contain more ingredients. For example, the angel roll ($12.95) has spicy tuna and asparagus inside the nori and is then topped with yellowtail, salmon, eel and avocado. The rainbow roll ($13.95) is essentially a California roll wrapped with tuna, salmon, shrimp, whitefish and avocado.

From the kitchen entrees list, we shared an order of yakisoba with chicken ($10.95), a Japanese derivative of Chinese chow mein. Sobas noodles are made from wheat flour, similar to ramen, and flavored with a sweet oyster sauce. The dish included carrots, onions and plenty of white chicken meat.

Another draw of the restaurant is its full menu of specialty drinks and chilled sake.

For dessert: ice cream (regular or fried), fried cheesecake, fried banana and mocha ice cream, ranging from $2.50 to $3.95.

Madison's far east side does not have many good restaurants. They tend to be more centrally located, so discovering Takumi amid the sea of concrete in the neighborhood felt like a stroke of good luck—a good thing to keep in mind if you find yourself near East Towne Mall with an appetite.

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