By Amy L. Carlson   Published Feb 21, 2005 at 5:41 AM Photography: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography

{image1} With the steady influx of Japanese restaurants popping up around Milwaukee, it's no surprise that Brookfield, too, now has its own in Yokoso Japanese Restaurant, 20101 W. Bluemound Rd., which opened in mid-November.

Yokoso, the brainchild of owners Sam Saengphaphat and Kenichiro Shimbawa, features plasma televisions and a hip, contemporary décor reminiscent of RA Sushi (the famed Arizona-based chain known for its atypical trendy décor and bass-beat songs). The music is a little more conservative, and instead of flashy red walls, Yokoso is decked out in a soothing shade of green.

And the menu complements the atmosphere. Yokoso features a sake list beyond compare in this area. This place is a Japanese rice wine connoisseur's dream, so if you're up for a night of sampling some fantastic sakes, Yokoso is definitely worth the trip.

We visited Yokoso on a Friday for dinner and were pleased to note that in addition to standard sushi selections, the menu showcases distinctive appetizers and entrées to please even non-seafood eaters, including teriyaki steak ($19), tonkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlets covered with panko, light, flaky Japanese bread crumbs, and served with katsu sauce, a tomato based sauce with a tangy ketchup, $14), and several bento box choices (quite literally, a Japanese box lunch, $7-$8) with chicken, beef, vegetarian, fish and shellfish options.

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We started our meal by sharing a smoked squid salad (marinated in mirin, cooking sake and sesame oil, $4.50) and the maguro no tataki (seared sliced tuna steak on a bed of onions and shitake mushrooms with unagi, eel, sauce and roasted sesame oil, $7). Both were exceptional, although we waited quite some time for them to arrive. The squid salad was very fresh and flavorful, and the maguro no tataki was truly a culinary highlight with its perfectly seared tuna and delicious vegetable and sauce combination.

We ordered two bowls of miso soup and several pieces of nigiri (a slice of fish or other topping atop rice prepared with mirin) and some maki (rolls of fish or other items surrounded with rice and nori seaweed) for our entrees. Unfortunately, our waitress forgot our miso soup, and the wait for the sushi was again quite lengthy, so we didn't fuss over the mistake and started in on our sushi.

But much to our chagrin, we found that our rolls were not carefully assembled, and both the soft shell crab maki (deep fried soft shell crab with julienne cucumbers and daikon, Japanese radish, served with ponzu sauce, a combination of soy, lemon juice, and sake, $6) and the caterpillar roll (eel with avocado and eel sauce, $9) too easily collapsed while we were trying to eat them. The rolls also contained a notably less amount of seafood then we were accustomed to at other sushi eateries. While our pieces of nigiri were fresh and flavorful, we were served pieces of broken maguro (tuna, $2.25), which I consider a major sushi faux pas, and our ama ebi (sweet shrimp, $3.25), which we had specifically requested with heads, came alone without their fried counterparts. In direct contrast, the shiromaguro (albacore tuna, $2), not readily found in many Milwaukee Japanese eateries, was a delectable treat.

Due to their extensive non-sushi options, many of which are prepared traditionally with sake and soy based preparation or in other traditional Japanese sauces, I would definitely try Yokoso again, but I would not return strictly for sushi. The appetizers were excellent and as a result I expect that to be true of the myriad of entrées Yokoso offers to satiate the palate with tempuras, teriyakis and donburis (rice bowl based dishes). Besides, the atmosphere at Yokoso is fun and relaxed, one that fits perfectly with Japanese tradition and an evening out with friends.

Yokoso is open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 11 p.m.; and Saturday, 4:30 to 11 p.m. They have a good vegetarian specials selection. For more information, go to yokosorestaurant.com or call (262) 782-8880.