It had been years since I’d dined at Toku in Manhasset, the granddaddy of Asian fusion restaurants on Long Island. If the experience wasn’t quite as thrilling as my first, it was still a great dinner. The place looks like a few million bucks, the food is consistently good, the service top-notch. (Although I never have liked those white getups worn by the bussers; they look like attendants in a mental institution.)
Apparently I am not alone in my admiration. Recession? What recession? As at Gillis and George Poll’s other Manhasset-Roslyn restaurants (Bryant & Cooper, Cippolini, Bar Frites, Hendricks Tavern) they pack ’em in like sardines and turn the tables like pancakes.
In addition to such made-in-America fusion classics as miso black cod and lobster tacos, Toku’s menu borrows from Japanese, Chinese (and to a lesser extent, Vietnamese and Korean) cuisines, and it mostly does these traditions proud. My Kurobota pork gyozas were meaty and perfectly pan fried — better than the gyozas I’ve had at most local Japanese restaurants. Better than what I’ve had at local Chinese restaurants: elegant shrimp dumplings in egg-drop broth. Also terrific, a low-carb dumplinglike assemblage of cabbage-wrapped sea bass rolls.
Our red-meat mains, braised Berkshire pork belly and a seared filet of beef on a mushroom ragout, were rich, forthright and almost (but not quite) too generous. Kung pao chicken was a bit of a bore, and jhap chae, a Korean dish of sweet-potato noodles, was listless, but redemption came in the form of a side of kimchee Chinese broccoli, seasoned with the great Korean pickle marinade. Even better were the thick-cut “Toku fries” with spicy mayo. It’s hard for any broccoli to compete with a potato.
Back in 2007 when Toku opened, there were a handful of Asian fusion restaurant on Long Island. Baang in Woodbury had opened in 1999 and then came, among others, Wild Ginger in Great Neck, Thom Thom in Wantagh, Azuma in Greenlawn, Asian Moon in Garden City, Sweet Basil in Commack, Blue Ocean in Bethpage.
Over the next few years, the trickle became a stream, with Asian fusion restaurants often replacing traditional Chinese restaurants under the same ownership. But the floodgates really opened in 2012 with Monsoon in Babylon, Taku in Garden City, Ruby in Woodbury, Opera House in Roslyn Heights, Chopstix in Carle Place, Ten Ten in Mount Sinai and Ting in Huntington (itself a successor to Legacy and Dao).
With some notable exceptions — like the 4-star Monsoon — few of these places can compare with Toku. I often find myself lamenting the triumph of Asian fusion over actual Asian cooking — especially authentic Chinese, of which there exists precious little on Long Island.
Toku is in the Americana shopping center at 2014C Northern Blvd., Manhasset, 516-627-8658.
Shrimp dumplings in egg-drop broth are among the appetizers at Toku Modern Asian restaurant in Manhasset. (Jan. 10, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday Marjorie Robins