We finally got around to trying Ippei Japanese Bistro at Scottsdale Rd. and the 101. It's in the large center that also houses Harkins 101 and numerous chain restaurants. Ippei is the first of what they hope will be a chain of Japanese Restaurants.
The decor is very Scottsdale by way of Japan. Medium dark woods separate the large room into smaller areas, each housing a few tables. The hostesses were pleasant, if a little too casual and familiar for a nice restaurant. I told my wife that was the idea...this place is supposed to be casual despite the good looks and obvious investment.
We arrived about 5 minutes early for reservation, and the hostess said they expected our table to ready in a few minutes. We said we would wait in the bar. The bar area, that you have to walk past to get to the restaurant, includes several 4 seat rectangular bar tables with stools, and a small bar with 8 stools. We sat at the corner of the bar, and asked for a wine list. Ippei offers several types of cold saki in different sizes as well as bottles. It also offers a regular wine list and several Japanese and American beers. My wife was in the mood for red, and ordered a glass of Gundloch Bundshu Pinot Block 13 ($12). I got a Kirin Light ($5). The hostess reappeared just as our drinks were placed in front of us. She asked if we had settled with the bartender yet, and then said we would have to because they can't transfer the bar check to our table. This is one of my pet peeves. I always tip the bartender when we transfer the check, although I can understand that some people don't and the bartenders may prefer patrons pay there. But it should not be a restaurant policy to immediately say, "we don't do that" before I even ask.
In any case, we paid the bar tab, and were taken to our table. It was a large, long booth, easily long enough for 6. The waitress arrived quickly and asked if it was our first time. She then explained the menu, and that regardless of headings on the menu the food would be brought out as it was ready. In other words, we could order appetizers, but it may come out after everything else. All the food was meant to be shared, and she described it as Japanese tapas.
We perused the menu, which includes headings of Appetizers, -Salad, Rice, Soup-, Nigiri Sushi, Maki Sushi (rolls), Sashimi, Kushi (skewers), Katsu, From Shiro's Menu, Seafood Entrees and Desserts. Quite a bit to look over. We had sushi the night before (Hiro, our favorite little place in town), and we wanted to try the whole Japanese tavern experience, so we stuck to the other sections.
We ordered an appetizer of Age Dashi Tofu ($5.95), fried tofu with ginger and daikon in a light broth. Sasami (1.95) Kushi, 5 chunks of chicken breast on a skewer; filet mignon (4.95) Kushi; cherry tomato Kushi (1.50). For Katsu, we went with the pork tenderloin (11.95), fried with panko breading. We also tried two Seafood entrees including the black cod ($12) and Poke ($10). The waitress said we ordered a good amount for two.
The food started coming out fast. It was all hot and fresh. The Katsu and Kushi each came with 3 dipping sauces including orange marmalade, spicy mustard, katsu sauce, teriyaki, etc. I don't remember the order, but it was pretty random.
The poke was phenomenal. Incredibly fresh and great quality, it was cubed with a little spice. The black cod was also great. My wife commented that it was better than the steamed black cod at Wild Fish, but not as good as Nobu. It was very moist with a light soy/miso broth. The pork katsu was also excellent. I love panko, and this was crisp, not greasy and very delicious.
The fried tofu was ok at best. My wife loves fried tofu, but this just didn't have a lot of flavor. The kushi was disappointing. The chicken was a dry. The filet had a great taste, but it was a little tough. I could see ordering it with a beer at happy hour, but it wasn't good for dinner. Of course, the idea is a light bite with a drink, so it works for that. We decided to do without dessert, but the ones mentioned were totally American.
The dinner bill was $51 before tip and without drinks. The setting was very nice, and the service was passable. If you go in thinking of it as a casual restaurant to get something to eat and drink with a group, you'll probably leave happy. If you're looking for a more meaningful meal, you'll be disappointed. Overall, we thought it was good before a movie, but it would have been more fun with a group.
As an aside, I forgot to call for a reservation until 6:45 Saturday night. When I called and asked if we could still get in at 7:30, the hostess said no problem. It was relatively full when we arrived, but certainly not what I would expect at a new restaurant in Scottsdale on a Saturday night. There was no one waiting in the bar (except us for 2 minutes). I wonder if this is working, and whether the concept will be successful nationwide. I guess we'd go back, but I doubt it will be near the top of our list.