Nearly twenty years ago, the movie “Wayne’s World” left us with endless off-the-wall quotes from its hilarious dialogue. At one point, a conversation about a studio set that resembles Wayne’s basement leads Wayne to proclaim, “Garth, that was a haiku!” In the age of Twitter, it might seem that we’re all engaging in some amateur attempts at short-form self-expression. In between all those tweets, texts, and emails that might occupy a typical office worker’s day, there’s always a need for quick meals nearby. That’s the niche filled by Tempe’s Haiku Grill.
|path from the light rail station|
What a witty tweet, or even a “twaiku,” is to traditional Japanese poetry is what Haiku Grill is to traditional Japanese food. In other words, neither is strictly authentic, but both can offer quick satisfaction on their own terms. Haiku Grill is a fast food restaurant, one of half a dozen in a plaza at the corner of Priest and Washington and just across the street from that intersection’s light rail station. The restaurant shares outdoor seating with its neighbors. There’s some in front and more in back.
On the inside, Haiku Grill is clean, modern, and minimal. It’s essentially a quick teriyaki place that has branched out into sushi rolls,along with some noodles and salads. The food is primarily Japanese with some Korean and Hawaiian influences, but the decor is not strongly oriented toward any of those cultures. Instead, expect basic furnishings and soft music. Order at the counter after studying the overhead boards, making sure to take a look at the sushi menu written by hand on a whiteboard.
|shrimp tempura bowl|
The most obvious place to start at Haiku is with a chicken-and-vegetable bowl. It’s a mix of white and dark meat marinated in teriyaki sauce and then served over rice with steamed broccoli and carrots and more of the same sauce. The marinade here is flavorful but restrained with sweet, salty, and smoky tastes most prominent. Teriyaki is also available as a plated entree, augmenting the meat and rice with a green salad and a side of Hawaiian-style macaroni salad with peas and green beans.
|chicken and rice bowl|
Yakisoba dishes are another specialty here with abundant noodles in a gingery sauce topped with a choice of chicken, beef, or jumbo tail-on shrimp with napa cabbage, and bell peppers. Tempura shrimp are also a good choice. Four large prawns come over rice with teriyaki sauce and another sauce for dipping. A less successful option is the bulgogi, in which the beef seems tough and underflavored compared to the rest of what the restaurant has to offer. For the most part, Haiku Grill is at its best with chicken, seafood, and vegetarian dishes.
Bowls full of rice or noodles are a natural match to the steady stream of weekday lunch visitors; however, Haiku has also found a way to bring some rather attractive sushi to the midday office crowd. To be sure, this is not a place to sit at a counter and choose something that has come in fresh that day. The menu is all rolls, no nigiri or sashimi, and is fixed on a few popular protein sources: shrimp, tuna, eel, and plenty of imitation crab. All of these are artistically presented, eight rolls to an order, on a plate with a side of edamame. The results are filling and appealing lunch entrees.
California rolls are the workhorse here. They’re fine in their original form, but Haiku reinterprets the unabashedly Americanized classic with a “Red Ruby Roll” in which spicy minced tuna sits atop the usual assemblage of “krab” and avocado. If you’d rather follow the Offspring’s advice and “keep ’em separated” when it comes to types of rolls, try the 2-in-1 rolls, which is really just a plate with four California rolls and four spicy tuna rolls. The most visually appealing option is Haiku’s caterpillar roll, which combines eel meat with creamy avocado and crunchy cucumber in a green motif.
Other greenery includes the seaweed salad. Most places serve this dish in a small vessel as a side or appetizer. Haiku put a generous quantity in a big bowl over a larger bed of lettuce. It’s a hearty serving for a price just under five dollars. Other sides and appetizers include meatless egg rolls, three to an order, with thick, crisp exteriors and julienne vegetables inside. The potato croquettes are another good choice as far as fried foods go. These feature minced spuds inside a crunchy coating. Think of them as oversized Tater Tots.
Since Haiku caters to cubicle dwellers who inhabit mostly alcohol-free workplaces, there’s no beer, wine, or sake here. Instead, it’s all about the soda fountain, iced tea, and some bottled fruit drinks for liquid refreshment. Dessert is limited to small containers of chalky Japanese ice cream made off-site; the flavors are red bean and green tea. For more sweets, there’s a Starbucks a few doors down with coffee and pastry that Wayne and Garth would have enjoyed. Garth’s unintentional haiku may not have been 100% authentic, but it was enjoyable. The same can be said for lunch at Haiku Grill.