I can’t remember the last time a restaurant opening in the southeast part of the Valley generated as much interest as the recent debut of Lucky Foo’s. Helmed by chef Shawn Giordano—who’s served in the Wolfgang Puck organization and worked in New York with David Bouley—it bills itself as an “American izakaya.” (Izakayas are casual Japanese drinking establishments that serve food—the Land of the Rising Sun’s answer to the gastropub.) The menu combines various Asian, American and other influences, with everything from sashimi to steamed buns to a hamburger.
This Eastern Avenue location was previously occupied by Xtreme Sushi & Sterling Steakhouse. But I remember it better for its earlier occupant, the Melting Pot. That restaurant featured several small dining areas, each with just a handful of communal fondue tables. The new owners have tried to open up the space a bit, while also infusing each room with its own distinct modern Asian theme (although some of the remodeling is still a work in progress). Some segments of the restaurant are geared more toward a younger, late-night lounge crowd, while others are better suited for those enjoying a sit-down meal.
Small plates meant for sharing dominate the menu. There are such standards as charred shishito peppers, vegetable or pork dumplings, and crispy spring rolls. More original options include Foo Dogs, kurobuta pork sausages wrapped in potato chips, and fried balls of battered shrimp that taste like the shrimp toast I remember from my neighborhood Chinese takeout joint in New York.
The restaurant also boasts a robata-style grill, which burns Japanese binchotan charcoal at 1,000 degrees. It’s used to prepare yakitori-style skewers of meat and vegetables. Lucky Foo’s offers a half-dozen varieties that can be served traditionally or in fusion tacos. The meats I’ve sampled have been well prepared, but some skewers of asparagus were overly seasoned and salty. Also avoid the taco format—at least for now. I’m told it’s evolving, and even members of the staff were unable to identify some of the ingredients on my plate. (Moreover, an experiment with cotija cheese crema on the night of my most recent visit was a disaster.)
If you’re looking for a salad, check out the kale with Asian pears, a sprinkling of blue cheese, candied walnuts, grilled shallots and a light drizzle of maple vinaigrette. And for something really interesting in the noodle section, try the cheese mazemen (broth-free ramen) made with thin noodles and a thick, rich combination of smoked Gouda, Monterey jack and Parmesan cheeses topped with bright, crisp scallions.
My favorite aspect of this restaurant is the sushi bar. I’m not one for the crazy rolls that many Americans love. Given the experimental nature of the menu, however, I wasn’t surprised to see a fennel roll, made with crab, pickled fennel, cucumber, yellowtail, tobiko and pico de gallo. I’ll leave that and all the other rolls to the sake bomb crowd and will stick with the true test of a great sushi chef: sashimi. Finding high quality fish that’s respectfully and precisely prepared by a chef with serious knife skills is tougher than it sounds. But the samples I’ve had here are top notch, at a reasonable price.
Lucky Foo’s still needs to work out a few kinks. It has yet to institute their promised lunch service (set to begin December 1). Service can be slow, and the staff still seems to be learning the menu. But management and the chef spend a lot of time in the dining room seeking customer feedback—a sure sign things can only get better. Given the enticing menu, inviting setting and the high quality of the food, it’s worth bearing with them as they do.
Al’s Menu Picks
- Cheese mazemen ($8)
- chicken and scallion yakitori ($7), kale salad ($8)
- sashimi ($10-$29)
8955 S. Eastern Ave., 702-650-0669. Open for dinner and late night daily 4 p.m.–3 a.m. Dinner for two, $25-$60.