Nipponese, If You Please

Why didn't anyone think of this before? Although inexpensive quick-service Chinese places dot every other street corner and strip mall you see, and a small proportion of them were either primarily Vietnamese to begin with or added on a selection of Vietnamese dishes as their popularity grew, only recently (with places like Crazy Bowls & Wraps and its precursor, Banzai Express) has the concept of quick-service Japanese taken hold locally.

So now comes Kikko Teriyaki, with one side of its menu Japanese and the other Vietnamese -- and nothing more than six bucks. It does both well, and in addition to the tried-and-true formulas of lots of noodles or lots of rice, it doesn't skimp on the main ingredients, so you end up with a good value for your relatively small investment.

The restaurant is located in the Grasso Plaza, an aging Gravois shopping center that's gone from a grocery-store anchor to Mexican furniture, a discount mattress store and other eclectic tenants. Carryout is a major part of the business, but there is also waitress service at about 15 tables in a room perhaps a bit busily decorated with red-patterned tablecloths and two distinct patterns of wallpaper adjacent to each other, along with a collection of Oriental paintings, needlepoint and other artwork.

On the night we visited, all sit-down diners were greeted with a complimentary bowl of miso soup, a mild, tasty Japanese broth with a few vegetables, a touch of sesame oil and small cubes of tofu. There are appetizers on the menu, but be forewarned that the entrees are sizeable, so you might want to consider constructing a full meal out of two or more appetizers if they appeal to you.

Vietnamese spring rolls ($2), also known as goi cuon, are best judged by the texture of the translucent rice paper that envelops them and the freshness of the internal ingredients, and Kikko Teriyaki's version passed with flying colors on both these accounts and had the added bonus of a distinctively fiery variation on the traditional peanut-soy dipping sauce. The Japanese dumplings known as gyoza ($2.50) came in an order of five, prepared much like Chinese pot stickers with pan-fried browning on one side, served with chopped scallions and a sweet ginger-flavored soy dip. We also tried the udon ($2.50), tiny round Japanese noodles with slivers of carrot, but especially given the boldness of the sauces on most of the other items we sampled, these were a bit bland.

Both of our main entrees arrived in heaping bowls and featured such extra touches as carved pieces of daikon radish for ornamentation. The bun ga hoac bo xao, or spicy lemongrass with a choice of beef or chicken (we chose beef), was not really "spicy" according to most Vietnamese standards, but the various flavors of grilled, thin-sliced beef, carrots, scallions and the lemon grass blended together very well, especially when topped off with a thin red sauce that had a touch of fish taste. The bowl was lined at the bottom with a sizeable portion of thin rice noodles. The teriyaki combo B ($5.95) offered a tremendous amount of food for the money -- a skewer each of sliced beef, sliced pork, grilled chicken and five medium shrimp, served over rice with sesame seeds and teriyaki sauce, with broccoli, sliced carrot and cabbage on the side.

No alcohol is available, but the made-to-order lemonade is definitely worth a try. Our service was no-frills but definitely friendly and efficient. Kikko Teriyaki is a must for those in Affton and the environs who are looking for an alternative to the standard oriental quick-service fare -- and it's worth a special trip for Japanese- and Vietnamese-food fans.

21 Grasso Plaza (Gravois at Rock Hill/Tesson Ferry)
Hours: Daily, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Entrees: $3.75-$5.95

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