Teikoku is a bit of an island in southern Willistown. The Japanese and Thai restaurant and bar is the only dining establishment—the only building, even—along a very green stretch of West Chester Pike near the Edgmont border.
We entered past the brown leather chairs and tables arranged for leisurely conversation to find two young greeters at the front desk. We asked to sit at the sushi bar with the intention of trying some Japanese appetizers then exploring the Thai side of the menu for entrées.
Our plans changed when we saw that a sushi chef who had worked at a center city Japanese restaurant that we frequented was now behind the counter at Teikoku. Like any skilled sushi chef, he remembered the two Americans who embraced the traditions of sushi and had allowed him to guide us through many meals of discovery.
Our server saw the cooler we brought for the B.Y.O. Sunday and asked if we wanted bottled or tap water, but didn’t inquire further about drinks. We asked for a small sake glass when he returned with water, and he brought a sherry glass. We told him we would order from our sushi chef, rather than from the menu.
The chef soon presented us with a special appetizer of crab, asparagus, and cucumber wrapped in a sheet of Daikon radish, topped with crunchy bits of Panko crumbs set on an artistic swirl of sweet and spicy chili sauces—a great start to our meal.
We asked about several of our favorite dishes, and the chef was happy to oblige. The first was Usu Zukuri ($12), which requires great skill to properly execute. Paper thin slices of hirame (fuke) are fanned out over the plate and served with a citrus-soy ponzu sauce. Our plate was elevated by a dollop of uni (sea urchin), red tobiko (roe) and minty shiso leaves.
Our second special request dish was Ika (squid, $12) which was formed into a white nest with a quail egg yolk in the center. Fine strips of shiso and nori (toasted seaweed) dusted the perimeter. We were instructed to add some wasabi and mix it all together. It made for a wonderful combination of salty seaweed and tender, slightly briny squid “noodles” enriched with the egg yolk.
The Tai (red snapper, $4 per piece) had tart umeboshi (plum) paste and a shiso leaf tucked between the warm seasoned rice and the cold, tender fish.
Rich Hamachi (yellowtail, $4 per piece) was served sashimi style, wrapped around threads of jalapeno pepper. We’d prefer it without the filling, although there was not enough pepper to overwhelm the fish.
Kampachi Sushi ($4 per piece) was a firmer and less rich version of the Hamachi family. Bigeye Tuna Sushi ($4 per piece) had the perfect firm yet melt-in-the mouth texture.
The chef suggested one of the House Rolls ($10 - $18) but we asked to end the meal with one of our old favorites instead. The Spider Roll ($10) was made “inside-out” with black sesame seeds and rice stuffed with a tender tempura soft shell crab, avocado, cucumber and orange tobiko.
We each received a carved orange half, strawberries and cream for dessert.
Although we never got to experience the Drunken Seafood ($20), Pad Thai ($20), or Green Curry Vegetable Fried Rice ($12), we enjoyed being transported by the warm wooden paddled ceiling fans, bamboo plants and tea house fixtures. Our next visit to this exotic land may reach past the sushi bar, and into the extensive sake list. The restaurant was closed for a number of weeks recently for renovations. During that time, owners recommended on the outdoor sign that hungry customers try , which they recently opened just up the street.
5492 West Chester Pike, Newtown Square (Willistown Township)
Hours: Lunch, Mon – Fri, 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m.; Dinner, Mon - Thurs, 5 – 10 p.m.; Fri, Sat, 5 – 10:30 p.m.; Sun, 5 – 9:30 p.m.
Cost: Appetizers, soups, $4 to $20; sushi rolls, $4 – $18; entrees, $12 - 30
Credit cards: VISA, MasterCard, AmEx, Discover
Alcohol: Full bar, sake list
Special Features: Sushi bar, tatami room, vegetarian options, free WiFi, B.Y.O. Sundays