The specs: #0646
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JM ate the hibachi chicken with clear soup, salad, and a lemonade.
Jesse ate the Milwaukee roll and the Packers roll.
Maddie ate the active volcano roll and the chirashi.
Nichole ate the Takara roll.
We split some edamame and sake.
The bill was $104, or $26/person, plus tip.
JM gave Takara a B+; Nichole gave Takara an A- (see our grading rubric).
Takara (emphasis on the first syllable) was the first of a pair of Japanese restaurants on the List. We'd had two months to get our sushi appetite back after the gluttony of the Black Friday Mystery Progressive Dinner, so we were ready to try some of the "Chef's Yummy Treats" so charmingly labeled on Takara's expansive menu.
We found quickly that one can spend a lot or a little at Takara, but either way the dishes will be prettily presented and filling. Our four-top got four theme sushi rolls, a plate of chirashi, a hibachi, soups, salad and soybeans and we were stuffed. It would have been a good night for udon, soba, or tempura, too. On this cold and snowy evening, the big bowl of warm, not-too-salty edamame with a cute carrot star hit the spot.
JM's clear soup with mushrooms was light and even a little slight, as was an iceberg salad in curried house dressing. His customary shrimp and chicken hibachi was all white meat, a little too salty, with more variety in the vegetables than usual. The mushrooms and bean sprouts were good, but there was too much zucchini and broccoli for his non-i-ending-vegetable palate.
The special sushi rolls we chose were elaborate, almost celebratory. Most were some variation on an inside-out roll, each arranged differently, and garnished with an eye to complementary textures and colors (panko, shredded radish, and little red crunchy things all made an appearance).
"Who knew Milwaukee could taste this delicious?" asked Jesse, who's usually skeptical of asparagus with sushi, but paired with a slice of salmon draped over each piece this worked really well. The Packers roll had goalposts made of shrimp tempura, and inside the roll was spicy tuna with a fresh crunch.
Maddie's active volcano roll looked the part. It towered two layers high and was deliciously spicy. Likewise, each piece of the always-available Takara sushi (an assortment of eel, salmon, tuna, and yellowtail) got a kick from horseradish mayo.
We had previously visited the Takara on State St. for hibachi for a friend's birthday, and we can attest that they do put on a good show there as well. Takara, along with Ginza, provide a good standard for Madison's Japanese cuisine even if they aren't the best in town.