Wednesday, April 23, 2014 · 7:28 a.m.

Date Night Dining: Totto Sushi and Grill

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Lauren's glass of Gnarly Head zinfandel was bold, spicy and the perfect drink to accompany grilled steak. (Photo: Staff)

The idea behind this series is fairly simple: My girlfriend and I will go out to eat at a Chattanooga-area restaurant and then describe our dining experience there. Keep in mind that this is not a food review per se, but instead an attempt to relate to readers our single, one-time experience at a restaurant. It just is what it is, as they say. There will also be pictures. Lots of pictures.

About us
I am a 30-year-old voracious eater of anything weird, while my girlfriend, age 25, is the complete opposite. This makes dining for us a strange affair. I enjoy a tremendous amount of flavor and complexity, but her M.O. is "simple, no frills." These dining adventures will test both of us at various restaurants around Chattanooga. This week, we visited Totto Sushi and Grill on Frazier Avenue for half-price sushi rolls.

The restaurant
Nooga.com’s then-restaurant reviewer Roman Flis gave Totto Sushi and Grill a solid 3 stars shortly after their grand opening in May 2012. Lauren and I recently moved to the downtown area and were craving some Asian cuisine—sushi, in my case—so we decided to brave the chill and walk to the North Shore for dinner. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that Tuesday night is half-price sushi roll night. The crowd was dense, but we were able to get a table after a short wait. I’d eaten at Totto for their fantastic lunch buffet, but never for dinner. Lauren noted the small size of the space and counted no more than 50 seats if every table were at capacity. The first thing I noticed was the professional aspect of the sushi chefs behind the bar. If I had any doubt as to the quality of sushi we would be receiving—a problem I’ve had at other popular sushi-heavy establishments around town—those feelings were assuaged after walking through the door. We were seated in a booth on the left side of the restaurant.

The service
The dinner menu is elaborate, with hibachi, bento boxes, grilled options, noodle soups and—of course—a variety of sushi nigiri and specialty rolls. Ashley was our server, but everybody on staff pitched in to help with food delivery and refills. Half-price sushi night is a hot ticket, apparently. Throughout the night, a party was always waiting at the small entrance for an available table. Ashley was hurried but a consummate professional throughout the entire meal. Our food was also served very quickly, considering the crowd. We were in good hands with Ashley and the rest of the Totto staff.

Edamame and miso soup were a great start to our Totto meal. (Photo: Staff)

The appetizer
We placed our entire order upfront to help out the serving staff and to ensure our food was delivered in a timely fashion. It’s a pet peeve of mine to lollygag in a restaurant when people are waiting. Is that stupid? I hate to make hungry people wait, even if I’m hungry myself. Lauren and I ordered our favorite appetizer, edamame, and placed our dinner orders. Lauren went with the hibachi steak (single) with fried rice and grilled veggies. She doesn’t like sushi, folks. I do, though, so I ordered three specialty rolls, as suggested by Ashley. Typically, if it weren’t a busy night, I’d sit at the bar, give the sushi chef a budget and let him go crazy. Our edamame arrived, and we devoured it in just a few minutes. There are two things in life that I could eat constantly without growing tired of the flavor: pistachios and edamame. The slight saltiness and the flavor of the immature soybeans just work on my palate—Lauren’s too—although the beans were not salted as much as we would’ve liked. That’s what table salt is for, though. We are edamamiacs. Ashley brought me a complimentary salad and miso soup because the sushi orders were backing up. Very thoughtful on her part. 

The specialty rolls at Totto are masterfully crafted by obvious experts. Look at that layering! (Photo: Staff)

The entrées
Lauren’s dinner arrived a few minutes before mine. The steak chunks were served in a generous portion beside grilled vegetables and fried rice. Lauren also ordered a delicious glass of red wine (I know because I drank half of it)—a Gnarly Head zinfandel—which paired well with both our entrées. My sushi rolls were extravagant, spicy and wonderful. The three rolls ordered were the Totto Crunch, North Shore and Ocean Pleasant (Nos. 3, 12 and 16 on this list). They were all different, beautifully prepared and an absolute steal at half-price. You really can’t beat the price on Tuesdays, and I’m eager to try other rolls. Lauren had a few complaints about her dinner. She writes: "The steak was in pieces that were just too large to eat comfortably ... no knife was provided, and there was no good way to bite off a piece (this was tried with both chopsticks and a fork with no success), so that's probably my biggest gripe of the meal." I discovered that three rolls of sushi is far too much sushi, and I left with more than half of my dinner in a to-go box.

Lauren's steak was served in large chunks with fried rice, grilled veggies and noodles. (Photo: Staff)

Would we go back?
Totto is a great option for dinner on the North Shore and a much-needed change of pace for the burger-heavy area. Is it the best sushi/Asian fare in town? I don’t think so. Lauren and I found ourselves comparing the meal to our favorite sushi restaurant—Brainerd’s Kumo—which still gets my vote for best sushi in town. Lauren writes: "It's relatively convenient, and the food was all right, but I doubt it will ever be a first choice or that I'll crave the food. If we take advantage of half-price sushi or other deals, then it could be worth another visit." My feelings exactly. Totto is a good option for its location, but nothing special. Our meal set us back $50.76 before tip. 

The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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