I knew nothing about Domo Café in Fort Walton until Beachcomber Editor Chris Manson dispatched me there a few weeks ago. It’s off the main path on Hurlburt Road, tucked away in a mixed-residential neighborhood, one of a row of small businesses.
My family and I went there for lunch on a Saturday. We got there just after they opened. It was about two-thirds full. We grabbed a table in the back (under a greenish neon sign reading “Domo Vibes”) and were grateful for it. It was standing room only in about 20 minutes.
Domo Café is small, with a high ceiling, making maximum use of space for tables, booths and stools. It’s part sushi bar, part Asian-fusion cafe, part manga-anime gallery. Lighting is cool and industrial style. It’s busy, lively with a comfortably hip and friendly vibe.
The menu offers sushi and sashimi, rolls, Bento boxes, bowls, dinners, salads, soups, and the makings of snacks and meals both great and small. As you enter, there are laminated copies of the menus at the door. You get in line and use the waiting time to make your decisions.
It’s hard to go wrong. The trick is knowing when to stop pointing and saying “give me one of these, one of those, etc.” Thanks to some diligent repeat customers, there are copious photos of Domo Café menus to be found online. We did some preliminary reconnaissance and had a general idea of what we wanted.
We started with a Cowboy Roll—grilled steak and avocado, rolled in rice. I had to have fish, so I ordered chirashi, pieces of raw and cooked fish and seafood artfully placed on a bowl of rice and raw vegetables. For our daughter Grace, it was a bowl of fried rice with chicken.
I went Korean with a Bento box of beef bulgogi and kimchi, with fried pork and vegetable dumplings. My wife also got a Bento box, with fried pork (katsu), pork dumplings and vegetable spring rolls. After I finished placing the order, the cashier gave me a big smile and held up her fist. “Fist bump!” she said, and we sealed the deal. Must be the house custom.
I got drinks at a soda fountain—there’s also a big cooler with assorted Asian soft drinks, as well as sake and beer. I took our order number tag back to the table, where we passed the time figuring out how many cartoon characters we recognized on the wall art. My wife and I scored zero, but our kid knows Pikachu, who is present in the form of a large balloon.
Both servers and customers were friendly. One diner handed me a cup of sauce—“I saw you have a child, and kids love this sauce,” she said.
The food arrived. Bento boxes are a double blessing—they keep the food cleanly separated while maximizing its eye appeal. A PB&J would look like a painting in one of those boxes. Cowboy rolls are sushi for carnivores, and hot grilled beef goes great with creamy avocado. The chirashi was gorgeous, fish and shrimp layered colorfully on rice, which was laced with fish roe, and both fresh and pickled vegetables, including seaweed salad.
My wife’s katsu was crunchy and tender, with a sweet aioli sauce. The beef bulgogi was like sweet, spicy barbecue crossed with beef stew, offering the best of both. Grace barely made a dent in her chicken fried rice, and a lot of it went home (feeding all of us later). The spring rolls and pork dumplings were crisp and hot.
Just a sampling of the rest of the menu includes small dishes (edamame, tempura), soups, noodle bowls, teriyaki, curry, Mongolian, grilled or stir fry meat, fish or chicken entrees, Bento boxes and bowls, fish and vegetarian sushi rolls or individual pieces, signature and house special rolls, sushi or sashimi dinners and combos, Japanese and domestic beers, boba milk teas, assorted sakes, and ice cream desserts. Daily specials are listed on blackboards. Everything is fresh, colorful and hard to resist.
But we had eaten or boxed all our food, so we had to leave. There was a small family eying our table politely but attentively. We made our way out through a line of hungry looking young people. A woman standing next to me in the drinks line had said she comes to Domo Café every time she gets her car’s oil changed. I don’t think I’d want to wait that long.
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