The Cuisine: Taiwanese/Chinese
The Place: Tomi
7741 Colony Rd.
(corner of Colony and Rea roads)
$$, L, D. Closed Monday
"You're here for takeout?" the man behind the counter asks. We arrive at seven on a Friday night. Only one other table in Tomi's stylish, red-paneled interior is occupied. Now in its fourth year, the restaurant seems to be doing fine on takeout business. But patrons who never venture beyond the front counter are missing out.
The difference between Taiwanese and Chinese cuisine is hard to define due to waves of immigration from mainland China, as well as South Asian influences. Owner Kevin Cheng describes Taiwanese food as lighter and less spicy than typical Chinese food. Most menu items showcase just one or two ingredients. This strategy requires freshness and skill in preparation—and Tomi excels at both.
The hot and sour soup bears no resemblance to the gloppy, bright orange concoction I have had elsewhere. Instead, its flavors and textures are subtle and pleasing—no food coloring required. White miso egg drop soup is plain but pleasant, while the steamed dumplings are exquisite—shredded chicken and cabbage inside the thinnest of wonton skins. Duckling breast, crisp but not greasy, is beautifully presented with slivers of caramelized orange zest. For entrées like basil chicken and miso chicken, a single flavor carries the dish, infusing every bite with its essence. The only disappointments are the seaweed salad (too salty) and Tomi Shrimp, with its unimaginative sweet-and-sour red sauce. Even here, careful execution saves the dish. Shrimp in this stir fry are tender and just done, without the rubbery texture resulting from even a few seconds too long in the wok.
I still don't know exactly what Taiwanese food is supposed to taste like. But I can say with confidence that this is what real food is supposed to taste like. In any cuisine, that is a discovery worth sitting down for.