1552 Commerce St, Tacoma

TWOKOI: Sushi for the Senses in Downtown Tacoma

I would no more invite just anyone to enjoy sushi with me than I would visit just any sushi place. That sounds a bit vain, I know, but I love the details of Japanese cuisine: The prelude in a handleless cup of genmaicha, the chopsticks tucked crisply into the napkin, the snap of the sticks separating, the little mound of wasabi, mixing my personal ratio of wasabi to soy sauce… I love this ritual. When my dinner companion is similarly taken with such fine points, the server presenting the food is in tune with the details, and the ambience is thoughtfully composed, I feel as though I’m living inside my own perfect little haiku.

TWOKOI—TWOKOI Japanese Cuisine, to be exact—has taken me to that place on a number of occasions since it first opened in 2006. One recent frigid evening, my friend Rebecca and I shrugged off our coats at the bar, took our seats, and were immediately asked, “Would you like a cup of hot tea?” Of course that was exactly how to begin.

I’m far from being an expert on Japanese cuisine, but happily, TWOKOI diners don’t have to know everything, and questions are met with gracious smiles and definitive answers. So we asked, Rebecca and I, about the sake. We were looking for something to take the chill out of our bones, “the Mondays” off our minds, and to set the tone for the meal we were both anticipating.

The sake samplers provide generous tastes of three sakes, ranging from sweeter to drier. The choices were formidable—the menu featuring ten sake samplers from which to choose—but we settled on the number one and the number four: The number one because the Murai Nigori Genshu promised “a hint of coconut,” which always piques my interest; and the number four because each of the descriptions used the word “refreshing,” and, as I said, it was a Monday.

And as we talked, we came to this conclusion: TWOKOI may just be the perfect place for two friends to meet and rejuvenate. There is something about the atmosphere here that invites lingering conversation and contemplation of the food, rather than mere enjoyment of the meal. TWOKOI is serene with its creamy Japanese lanterns, dark wooden surfaces, up-lighting, and strategically placed bamboo, yet contemporary and fun with a digitized aquarium near the sushi bar and its view over the “minimalist” Tollefson Plaza to Tacoma Art Museum and beyond.

After comforting bowls of miso soup, we realized that we’d both been craving sushi for some time and were in the mood for simple, clean, honest, raw fish. Neither of us is one to splurge on a big dinner, so we agreed on three choices from the sushi menu—hamachi, maguro, and sake (yellow tail, tuna, and salmon: two pieces each)—and when our server presented them, we both actually sighed.

We also ordered a dish to share called the TWOKOI Tower. When it came to our table, the word I finally found to describe it was “confection.” Spicy tuna and salmon alternate with layers of rice in a tall cylinder, which is topped with tiny crisp rice noodles, set atop drizzles of richly savory and sweet sauces, and sprinkled with three different kinds of tobiko (flying fish roe).

After enjoying mango and strawberry mochi ice cream balls split into petallike fours and adorned with reasonable poufs of whipped cream, we were happy, full, relaxed, and somehow transformed by what we both agreed was more a dining experience for the senses than simply a meal.

Kristy Gledhill