Arts & Entertainment

Restaurant Spotlight: Maneki Neko

neko001For diners looking for a unique Japanese cuisine experience in Falls Church, Maneki Neko says come on in.

neko001For diners looking for a unique Japanese cuisine experience in Falls Church, Maneki Neko says come on in.

Maneki Neko, or the beckoning cat when translated, is a Japanese figurine of a white cat with a waving paw meant to bring good luck. This Broad Street restaurant is in no short supply of its namesake figurines, as dozens of the tiny white cat statuettes peer out from around the sushi bar. The playful collection gives the restaurant a fun, friendly atmosphere, where customers are invited to relax and enjoy their meal.

The fun continues on the menu, right from the start, as the available appetizers offer delights for adventurous diners. Dismissing the egg roll appetizers that seem to come standard with area Asian restaurants, Maneki Neko serves up such curiosities as grilled Japanese smelt along with favorites such as dumplings and tempura on the $3.95 – $12.75 menu. Of particular note are the fish jaw teriyakis. No, this isn’t a clever name – these are actual fish jaws, yellowtail and salmon, grilled up and served with a basting of teriyaki sauce. The sauce is excellent, with an ideal lightness of salt and flavor that allows the taste of the fish to shine through. Customers can pick pieces of flaky, buttery fish from the jaw, becoming more familiar with the anatomy of a fish’s face than they thought they ever would.

But for those who want more fish and less bones and fins, the restaurant offers a sushi menu. While the sushi menu features an extensive list of expected fish-and-rice pairings (salmon, yellowtail, tuna) and go-to combinations (like the classic California roll) that are reasonably priced, the special roll menu falls short, offering only a handful of clever rolls. The quality of the sushi further disappoints. The rice is flavorless, and the fish, while not necessarily of poor quality, simply fails to leave an impression. While interesting combinations of fish, vegetables and sauces could pick up the slack, the menu lacks that creative flair. neko003

Despite the uninspiring sushi, the noodles portion of the menu serves up some excellent fare. Offering both noodles with and without broth from $8.95 – $12.95, the menu features excellent noodle dishes served with chicken, pork or beef, along with some delicious vegetables. In the brothless options, a wonderfully savory sauce coats the noodles, picking up the flavors of the vegetables (especially the mushroom) that accompany the dish. The crunch of the vegetables, along with the chewy noodles, makes for a dish that delivers in both taste and texture.

Other kitchen entrée offerings include tempura, teriyaki and donburi dishes between $8.95 and $17.95. While diners can hardly go wrong with foods that are deep-fried, or coated in Maneki Neko’s teriyaki sauce, the donburi will disappoint. Donburi serves up various meat and vegetable combinations over a bowl of rice. In the oyako-style donburi, pieces of chicken and onion lay over the rice, coated in cooked egg to form a kind of loose omelet. While the sweetness the onions impart to the dish blends well with the chicken, the combination is hardly sufficient to deliver the right degree of flavor to the incredible amount of rice in the bowl.

Though a hit-or-miss menu detracts from the restaurant, the quality of the noodle and teriyaki dishes, and the entertaining menu and décor, should be enough to convince hungry diners to listen to the beckoning cat and stop on by.

Maneki Neko is located at 238 W. Broad St., Falls Church. For more information, call 703-534-8666 or visit mneko.com. Restaurant hours are Monday –Thursday: 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., 5:30 – 10 p.m. Friday: 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., 5:30 – 10:30 p.m. Saturday: Noon – 2:30 p.m., 5 – 10:30 p.m. Sunday: 5 – 9 p.m.