Friendly, tasty Japanese fare | January 3, 2014 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Eating Out - January 3, 2014

Friendly, tasty Japanese fare

Homey Dohatsuten has something for everyone

by Sheila Himmel

Japanese restaurants can be so intimidating. All the rituals, the untranslated lists of menu items, the feeling that everyone but you knows what to do. Welcome to Dohatsuten, where they may not know your name, but you'll get a greeting, a thank you and any explanation you need.

Another thing not to worry about: Dohatsuten's menu is not carved into arcane specialties. It's all about finding something you like. If you don't like cold seared white tuna you might like fried chicken or a soul-warming noodle soup.

Your favorite dish could very well be yakimeshi: rice cooked in an iron pot so that it acquires a fabulous crust, sort of an inner bowl that you break up and stir into the rest of the sticky rice and whatever toppings you've selected, from pickled mustard leaf to grilled eel. At Dohatsuten they give you two metal spoons with which to scrape the sides — which you will want to do.

You also will want to share, or bring home the leftovers. Portions are large.

Dohatsuten is a good place for families, groups and people dining alone. Look for the little pitched roof and chimney among bland flattop buildings on San Antonio Road. At lunch and in the summer, about 20 people can sit outdoors at picnic tables, far enough away from traffic that they're not eating exhaust.

Rush hour occurs precisely between noon and 1 p.m. on weekdays. Even then, the staff is nice about it. "Sorry for your wait," a server said recently to those of us who had waited maybe 10 minutes.

The signature Dohatsuten ramen ($9.95) reflects the owner's roots in Nagoya, a city known for its unusual style of comfort foods. Choose your broth (among them are both soy and vegetarian soy) and your fillings include types of pork (grilled, belly and spicy garlic pork ground into balls), half an egg, shredded chili, carrots and green onions. Bean sprouts sprinkled on top stay crisp. Korean-style spicy Napa cabbage (kimchee) gives it a kick, but not too much kick. The kimchee works perfectly in slightly sweet miso ponzu broth.

You can also make a meal of tapas, small hot and cold plates such as fried chicken karage ($6.95), boiled spinach ($3.95), fried tofu in dashi broth ($4.95) and white tuna tataki ($8.45) seared with ponzu.

We especially liked the tender licks of grilled beef tongue ($8.45) and onigiri ($4.95), which the menu calls rice balls, but actually are triangular blocks of sushi rice, your choice of fillings such as grilled eel and garlic beefy miso, held together with thin, slightly crisp nori seaweed. Sesame seeds are sprinkled on top. Add julienned strips of pickled ginger or a tiny spoonful of crushed garlic from the condiments on the table.

Dohatsuten replaced a previous Japanese tapas restaurant, Hattoriya, about four years ago. Dohatsuten means ... nothing, really. Manager Seiko Alba explained the name as a combination of Chinese characters adding up to something like "Angry Here Sky."


799 San Antonio Road, Palo Alto


Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5:30-9 p.m. daily

Reservations: yes

Credit cards: yes

Parking: parking lot alongside

Alcohol: beer, sake, soju

Children: yes

Outdoor dining: yes

Party and banquet facilities: no

Noise level: fine

Bathroom cleanliness: excellent


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