TOKU is a sleek, gorgeous new Asian restaurant with big-city sophistication. It opened in late August in the Americana Shopping Center in Manhasset, where Millie’s Place had been, and it fits right in with its fashionable neighbors: Prada, Fendi, Escada and Kate Spade.
Its family tree is also top-drawer. The owners are George and Gillis Poll, who run Bryant & Cooper in Roslyn, one of the island’s best steak houses; the more casual Majors Steak Houses in Woodbury and Merrick; and Cipollini, a stylish trattoria, which is also in the Americana Shopping Center.
Peeking through the chain-mail curtains that line the entrance, diners at Toku see an elegant, illuminated onyx bar. Farther back is a long, candlelit dining room with clean lines, geometric woodwork and a striking, rough-textured slate wall. Warm touches include rows of colorful sake drums over the bar and hanging wooden bells from a 19th-century Buddhist monastery behind the sushi bar.
The servers, in black pajamalike outfits, are extremely friendly and efficient. After asking if we were first-timers, our waiter offered helpful suggestions. Dishes come from the kitchen when they are ready, he said, so it’s a good idea to share. He also mentioned that the salads were enormous.
Those salads have entree-like prices ($17 to $29) but can serve four as a starter at dinner or two for lunch. (The menu is the same at both lunch and dinner.) I loved the Asian Caesar, with its crunchy won tons, cashews and spirited ginger aioli. The calamari salad was tasty and the seafood tender, but the squid rings were limp, not crispy as promised on the menu.
Diners can easily shoot the budget when ordering appetizers. Nine of them are priced over $20. We found four good picks in the $11 to $12 range. Pork gyoza, seven pan-seared juicy dumplings filled with flavorful Berkshire pork, were beautifully arranged on a banana leaf. Another attractive and delicious starter was lettuce cups (each leaf trimmed into a perfect cup) paired with a hot minced chicken mixture and hoisin sauce. Also splendid were the three gossamer shrimp dumplings atop a flavorful egg-drop broth and the crisp tuna spring rolls teamed with a spicy chili mayonnaise.
Many entrees are familiar Western dishes given Asian spins. Take the filet mignon. It was a thick, nicely charred, velvety steak served on a mushroom ragout flavored with a Japanese mustard sauce. Succulent braised short ribs were accompanied by pad Thai noodles. The best meat dish sampled was braised Berkshire pork belly, which was meltingly soft and quite lean for pork belly, served over pickled red cabbage blended with coconut juice.
Chilean sea bass, black cod and salmon were all fresh and lightly cooked. The seared salmon had crisp skin and was complemented by Japanese eggplant and baby bok choy. The steamed sea bass was accompanied by maitake mushrooms and Asian salsify in a lush black bean sauce. The broiled miso-flavored cod was paired with a shishito pepper salad. The latter was a Lincoln Log-style construction of finger-size sweet green peppers.
Since every entree arrived with an accompaniment, additional sides were not necessary, but we did give the Toku fries a try. Though the potatoes (Yukon golds) should have been crisper, their wasabi mayonnaise dipping sauce was addictive.
Three desserts hit the spot: Fuji Tatin (a warm apple tart Tatin); warm, chewy brownies with green tea whipped cream; and crunchy banana won tons served with an airy passion fruit cream and a scoop of litchi sorbet. Though the mango tofu pudding ($10, compared with $8.50 for other desserts) had a spectacular presentation – a tiny cup set upon a teapot filled with dry ice, with vapor flowing from the spout – it was really just a small bowl of pudding crowned with a dab of minced mango and a splash of coconut sauce.
2014 Northern Boulevard (Route 25A)
Americana Shopping Center
THE SPACE Sophisticated and modern. Wheelchair accessible.
THE CROWD As stylish as the surroundings. Few children.
THE BAR Illuminated onyx and lovely. A few tiny tables for two in front of French doors, which open onto the sidewalk in warm weather. There are exotic cocktails, 12 sakes ($20 to $156) and 12 beers ($6 to $14). List of 85 wines ($35 to $275), only one under $40; 11 by the glass ($9 to $16).
THE BILL Same menu at lunch and dinner. Entrees, $19 (chicken) to $47 (lobster). Sushi combination plates are $35, $75 and $100. All major credit cards accepted.
WHAT WE LIKE Asian Caesar salad, tuna spring roll, chicken lettuce cups, shrimp dumplings, pork gyoza; short ribs, filet mignon, pork belly, salmon, black cod, Chilean sea bass; banana won tons, Fuji Tatin, brownies.
IF YOU GO Open Sunday, noon to 10 p.m.; Monday to Thursday, noon to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, noon to midnight. Reservations are necessary.