As far as he knows, the original Kyoko was the first to bring real Japanese cuisine to Syracuse, even before Buffalo or Rochester had it. He moved to the Fayetteville location in the 1990s, and last year changed the interior of the space into something more light and calming, with pale green walls, a silver-colored tin ceiling (circa 1889) and some booths to accommodate larger parties.
Make sure you look up when you get inside. And then look around—while we dined for three hours, I noticed the wide variety of customers. There was the solo diner at the sushi bar, the group of 20-something men, the family with the recalcitrant teenager, and the congenial gathering of older couples. Every one of them knew Yusuke and the other sushi chef Phong by name.
And Yusuke is as loyal to his regular customers as they are to him. When he found out one had recently been released from the hospital, he brought him lunch. When another received a worrisome diagnosis, he sent her flowers.
He is invested in the community, too. On Sept. 23 he’ll have his turn as one of four chef-hosts taking part in a fundraiser for the American Red Cross’ Central New York Disaster Relief Fund. You can call Cazenovia College and register your child for a sushi-making class, held at the restaurant, that emphasizes fun and introduces the kids to Japanese culture and etiquette.
When you dine at Kyoko, here is my advice: Put yourself in the chef’s able hands. Forget the menu and let Yusuke work his magic for the night. There is no problem for him to avoid any real dislikes (or in the case of our group, a scallop allergy), but then the night turns into an adventure and not just a meal.
We each started with one of the appetizer specials. Don’t miss the spicy shrimp, fried and then bathed in a pungent cream sauce. The coconut soup with lemongrass tasted sharp and delicious. The gyoza was served with a dipping sauce that was more vinegary that I am used to but it was perfectly complementary. Finally there was a gazpacho shooter served in a cool glass shaped like an upside-down pyramid.
Upside-down was a theme for the night, when the kitchen sent out an upside-down martini glass with two items to enjoy. On top of the bottom of the glass was the “Kyoko mix” of various seafood bound with mayonnaise and topped with roe. Once that was devoured the glass could be lifted to reveal a concoction of avocado, asparagus, tuna, octopus and clam in a light and creamy sauce. OMG.
Next came a platter with two lengths of Japanese goodness. On one side was nigiri, including tuna and snapper that melted in my mouth. The other length was a tempura roll, followed by a volcano roll and a nameless third roll since Yusuke made it up just for us. Wonderful, but what you can’t miss is the diced salmon placed on top that had the most fabulous flavor; when it fell off the roll I raced around with my chopsticks to pick up every dropped piece.
For the less adventurous, the menu offers a wide selection of options including nine different salads, Bento boxes, tempura, teriyaki, udon and soba noodles and pages of specialty rolls, sushi and sashimi dinners.
Stuffed to the max but not willing to end our fun, we sampled the tempura ice cream, bananas Foster, and homemade hazelnut flan, not just the typical green tea ice cream you sometimes see at Japanese restaurants.
Kyoko serves dinner Sundays through Thursdays, 5 to 9 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays, 5 to 10 p.m. Happy hour is Mondays to Thursdays, 5 to 7 p.m., featuring half-price appetizers and sake. On Wednesdays, Kyoko offers 15 rolls for half-price. Do inquire as to his tasting nights, although they are generally by invitation only to his regular customers. These are special events, usually held on Sundays, that involve 12 (!) or so courses often with wine pairings. Yusuke gave me some copies of menus from events past that included any manner of sushi but also lobster tail with truffle butter cream sauce, duck breast with foie gras served with berry sauce, wild boar, deep fried frog lollipops, and kara-age (Japanese-style fried chicken with garlic honey glaze). Wow.
To contact Kyoko, call 637-9000 or visit sushykyoko.com.