Restaurants have all kinds of reasons for existing: ego, vision, ambition, the simple desire to be hospitable. Takata-ya, which serves up teriyaki plates and basic sushi in the space formerly occupied by the short-lived Amaro, doesn’t convey a sense that it has any of these driving forces behind it. It isn’t a particularly bad restaurant, but it seems somehow unnecessary, though well-suited to a utilitarian, workaday lunch clientele.
Occupying the same block as Fish Face Poke and Shoki Ramen may make for tough sledding for another Japanese concept, though Takata-ya casts a wider net with its big range of combinations, plus curries, salads, and sushi and sashimi. Not all of it has much personality, though some dishes are more distinctive than others and all will fill you up for a modest price.
The restaurant seems to be pulling in an area lunch crowd in a hurry, with quick counter service and affordable lunch plates. The casual, basic fare is somewhat at odds with a jarringly grand setting.
Amaro, the previous tenant, was a much more ambitious Italian restaurant with a splashy look. When it closed abruptly, it left in place its elaborate red-and-gold, Florentine-renaissance décor: antique-bronze-look pressed ceiling tiles, chandeliers, high shelves lined with vintage books and wide cushy chairs fit for a Borgia.
Owners Daniel Takata and Jennifer Joo — who also run an I Love Teriyaki franchise not far away — added vintage hats, dolls and a pair of zori, as well as other colorful touches, and installed cash registers for counter service rather than Amaro’s table service. The result is a slightly awkward mashup, but it’s comfortable enough.
The counter service, in my experience, lacked for graciousness. Order takers seemed uninterested, if not downright surly. But interactions with them are brief, and the food comes out to the tables with alacrity.
Like the service, the food does the job without a lot of frills. Teriyaki plates, combos, noodle plates, and curry rice make up the bulk of the offerings, plus appetizers and a sprinkling of sides and sushi. One day, there was a ramen special, but I’m unclear on why anyone would come here for ramen when Shoki is right there.
Similarly, the sushi was ho-hum. If I were in the mood for raw fish, I’d step next door to Fish Face, where the offerings are more inventive and taste fresher. However, cooked rolls — such as the kanpai with shrimp tempura, crab, avocado and tobiko — were decent.
Gyoza, pan-fried to crispness, were a pleasant, easy-to-munch appetizer. Edamame were the same as they are anywhere, but they provided a welcome splash of green on a menu that skews to simple rice-and-protein pairings. That said, among my favorite menu items at Takata-ya were the modest selection of salads and fresh vegetables, which often taste like an afterthought at comparable restaurants.
Sunomono, a side of cucumber salad, was bright and crunchy, with a pure jolt of vinegar. The cabbage salad, a side on the combo plates, was light with a subtle tangy-sweet dressing, and even the basic green salad, with crisp iceberg, had a good, lightly applied soy dressing. A generous hand with the salads made the lunch plates feel relatively healthy — though mounds of rice increase the carbs, if that’s a concern.
Proteins, which can be mixed and matched in combos or ordered on their own as a teriyaki plate, varied. Deep-fried strips of breaded chicken (katsu) were crunchy outside but dry inside. The chicken teriyaki, not too sweet, was a good rendition of the basic.
Salmon teriyaki, on the other hand, was chalky and flavorless, with almost no sauce. Seafood lovers may want to try the garlic shrimp instead. It lived up to its name, with a very garlicky sauce and sweet flesh.
The honey chicken, not surprisingly, was overwhelmingly sweet, with a chemical sour note lurking beneath the syrup. Thai chicken, on the other hand, had a balanced sweet-spiciness and a good hit of char on the dark meat.
Likewise, spicy pork was not too fiery, but had a good rounded zing. Chewy and savory bulgogi beef, with its dusky notes of sesame and soy, was a perfectly passable version of the Korean classic.
Many of these proteins can also come in inexpensive bowls (with just rice) or on a salad plate or noodle plate, so the menu has a mix-and-match sameness. Lightly fried tofu, which was pleasant on a fresh salad plate, gives a good option for vegetarians.
Tempura, a bit thick in the batter, is also on offer, as is the mild, saucy Japanese style of curry with various add-ins: chicken, chicken katsu, tonkatsu, ebi-katsu, vegetable, and tofu. I didn’t love the curry, though it should have been a warm, comforting bowl for this time of year. It tasted too strongly of cloves, a flavor that is aromatic and soothing in small doses but with a heavy hand can turn as bitter as truants smoking such cigarettes in a high school parking lot.
Takata-ya was full-ish at lunch service and quiet at dinner on my visits, and I’m not surprised. Its casual, unambitious vibe perfectly matches up to the need to get a reasonably priced, reasonably quick and unchallenging lunch. If that’s your goal, you’ll do fine here. If you’re looking for something more gastronomically exciting, you may want to look elsewhere — which isn’t hard on the R Street corridor.
1100 R St., 916-706-0280
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
Beverage options: Limited beer and wine list, sodas including the all-cane sugar Stubborn Soda line.
Vegetarian friendly: Somewhat; most of the combinations feature meats, but there are tofu dishes and a vegetable curry.
Gluten-free options: Yes.
Noise levels: Not especially loud, but a full dining room means chatter can get noisier.
Ambiance: The surprisingly grand setting, with big comfy chairs and a towering ceiling, is a holdover from the previous tenant, the short-lived Amaro. It’s a nice space, but despite the addition of Japanese rather than Italian décor on the high shelves (favorite: the zoris) it feels out of step with the casual menu and service.
Essentially an inexpensive, basic lunch counter housed in an unusually good piece of real estate, Takata-Ya will fill your belly with teriyaki combos but won’t exactly open up new worlds of flavor.
The food is serviceable, but not particularly distinctive. Highlights include the cabbage slaw, which means more fresh salad than most bento-box places, and the zippy Thai chicken and spicy pork.
Counter service is efficient enough, but sometimes a little glum or brusque. Food comes out fast and accurately.
Teriyaki plates and specials are well priced and filling, with nearly all under $10. By contrast, sushi rolls, which are not terribly inventive or interesting, seem costly, with most at $8 and up.