Seinfeld character Elaine Benes was notorious for her dating exploits, and her most memorable adventure was probably her infatuation with a gay man in “The Beard.” In that episode, she plots to seduce her friend by persuading him to “switch teams.” Restaurants don’t have love lives per se, but their locations might qualify as allegiance to particular teams. It has been over three year since Nobuo Fukuda switched teams by leaving his legendary Sea Saw in Old Town Scottsdale and bringing his Japanese tavern cuisine to Downtown Phoenix’s Heritage Square.
Regardless of one’s civic loyalties, it’s easy for anyone with a taste for the bold and inventive to cheer for Nobuo at Teeter House, a restaurant named after the historic building it occupies. The building, previously home to a tea and sandwich place, has been redone in a way that respects its Victorian origins while adding subtle touches of modernity and Asian decor. Like any old house, the building is broken into numerous small rooms, and each one serves a clear purpose. The tiny counter overlooking the open kitchen is best for observing and interacting with the chef.
|the Teeter House|
The restaurant is near the Third Street / Washington (westbound) and Third Street / Jefferson (eastbound) light rail stations. If struggling to find its hidden location among the museums in the area, look for the Arizona Science Center or ask someone for directions to Pizzeria Bianco, which is located right across from the Teeter House. Unfortunately, Heritage Square lacks obvious bike racks. There are some on Washington Street under a pedestrian bridge leading to a colossal parking garage and others built into parking meters on Monroe Street.
The food is most enjoyable when understood as Asian tapas. Some of the best starters are presented in small bites or hors-d’oeuvres.The nasu bacon miso is really mostly about eggplant, an acquired taste for some, but this dish has two compelling traits: First, the light-colored Japanese eggplant manages to remain firm without being leathery or bitter. Second, the sprinkling of bacon on top of each slice enhances the smoky, earthy flavors of eggplant and miso without overwhelming them. It’s a refreshingly restrained use of an often overplayed ingredient.
|watermelon radish sunomono|
Contrast is important here, and nowhere is it more dramatic than with the grapefruit and hamachi combination. Call the fish amberjack or yellowtail; either way, it’s buttery texture is amplified by avocado and then offset by the tartness of fresh citrus. It’s a refreshing, summery dish best paired with something from Nobuo’s adventurous selection of Japanese beers. The sunomono salad skips the usual cucumbers and instead pairs the sweet flavor of watermelon with the slight bitterness of radishes, garnished with sesame seeds.
|soft-shell crab sandwich|
If these dishes sound light, be assured there’s plenty of meaty fare that can easily satisfy most appetites.The pork belly buns are served two to an order and are best approached as a hand food since they look almost like street tacos. Equally filling is the okonomiyaki, a Japanese treat best classified somewhere between a pizza and a pancake. It’s thick and a little gooey with minced pork and shrimp nicely blended in an even mix of flavors. It’s artfully topped with bonito, bits of shaved fish that appear to dance, and drizzled with Japanese mayonnaise.
Individual entrees at lunch include crowd pleasers such as the soft-shell crab sandwich on foccacia. The tonkatsu sandwich is a similar concept built around breaded pork. The slaw served on the side with both sandwiches is perfectly good but unadventurous by Nobuo standards. Meal-sized salads are built around marinated tofu or grilled prawns. In the evening, warm, hearty dishes such as seabass and mushrooms baked in parchment paper with a garlic butter sauce combine elements of earth and ocean in a single package.
Nobuo’s beverage selection includes beer, wine, sake, and a few specialty cocktails such as the Grog, a tropically flavored treat made with rum, orange blossom honey, lime, and Angostura bitters from Trinidad and Tobago. For dessert, regular choices include a trio of pastries from Arai Pastry in Tempe and a chocolate mousse with green tea ice cream. Although it’s not obvious from the taste or texture, this dish is made with tofu, keeping with the restaurant’s Asian emphasis, rather than the cream, butter, or eggs usually associated with a mousse.
|chocolate mousse with green tea ice cream|
Nobou no longer offers omakase, an elegant multi-course chef’s choice menu, but the restaurant still has a variety of special events that involve departures from the daily menu. There are occasional barbecues on the front patio, special tasting menus on weekends, and Sunday brunches. One recent weekend meal featured options ranging from a simple omelette stuffed with chicken and mushrooms served with miso-dusted breakfast potatoes to a traditional Japanese breakfast of grilled mackerel, rice, tofu, seaweed, pickled vegetables, and miso soup.
|chicken and mushroom omelette|
Nobuo, along with the legendary Pizzeria Bianco just across the way, has had the effect of creating an impressive miniature restaurant row of James Beard award winners on Adams Street. Thinking again about “the Beard” episode from Seinfeld rather than James Beard for a moment, one note of caution is in order: Elaine’s conquest went back to his own “team” at the end of the episode. We can only hope that diners from all over the metro area show Nobuo enough support to make it clear the chef chose the right team in coming to Downtown Phoenix.
622 E. Adams St., Phoenix AZ 85004
Jefferson / 3rd Street (eastbound) and Washington / 3rd Street (westbound) stations