There’s delight to be slurped up on East Main Street in Bozeman. Chef Daniel Wendell of The Food Studio, a catering and special events venue, quietly opened Tanoshii a few weeks ago. In Japanese, tanoshii means delightful or pleasant. Wendell had hoped to open this Japanese soul food restaurant last year, but the COVID pandemic delayed the restaurant’s debut until recently.
In Japan, small intimate eateries like Tanoshii specializing in one item are showcased in food courts in department store basements or intimate establishments on side streets. Though the galley-style kitchen is located in the back of this long space, it’s open to the dining area so the sounds of cooking blend with conversation.
My husband and I sat down at a table for two right next to the wood-topped bar. In this brick-walled building, elements of wood with colors of black and grey honor the culture of the Land of the Rising Sun.
Wait staff Will Barrett immediately appeared with paper menus after we sat down. Enjoying a change of pace from his journalism background, he offered suggestions and helped interpret the menu.
We had a hard time deciding on what to order from the packed and diverse offerings. For lunch, there were seven categories with some two dozen dishes to choose from.
We ordered from the top of the menu,“Okonomiyaki waffles" — a play on the traditional Japanese dish, typically a savory pancake made with “a batter of red and green cabbage, Japanese mountain yam, egg and (gluten-free) flour, served with pickled ginger, furitake seasoning, scallions, Kewpie mayo and okonomiyaki sauce” with fried chicken. In essence, Japanese-style chicken and waffles. As a tofu lover, my husband selected the "crispy agadashi" with tofu “dusted in potato starch, fried and served with sweet dashi.” Finally, the vegan ramen appealed to us, as did the Japanese curry.
Sous chef Austin Johnson, who has worked at the Food Studio for four years, brought out a small dish of Spicy Sansho Chili Crisp, a condiment with chili and oil — a spice for the senses.
The crunchy texture comes from peanuts, fried garlic and shallots, with spicy heat from Adobo chilies, Sichuan peppercorns, ginger, and green and black peppercorns. This is Tanoshii’s version of the sauce, Lao Gan Ma, that my father added to everything he ate.
After we had finished eating, Chef Wendell came by to ask us how we liked the food. In my mind, I was thinking: I am full, but I want to keep eating.
He shared of what he was doing with the menu and of what he wanted his customers to experience. “I want to bring in Olive-fed Waygu, from Shodoshima Island, an imported Japanese beef that is fed olive mash exclusively, translating into incredibly marbled meat that is lusciously tender.
“I will frame the certificate that comes with a nose print of the cow,” he said enthusiastically. When Japanese Waygu beef is sold to consumers, it comes with a nose imprint and information including origin, grade, harvest date and marbling score. Wendell said, “I am not going to make any money. I just want people to try it.”
“I want to bring in seasonal vegetables. Most people don’t do vegetables,” said Wendell, hoping to show off his finesse with Mother Nature’s bounty. In his greenhouse and garden just outside town, “I want to grow taisoi, mizuna, mitsuba and negi. I am doing my own microgreens. I am hoping to supply all my own things.”
Private chef and owner of The Hummingbird’s Kitchen, Linda Huang grew up in Shanghai and later lived in Thailand. Now in Bozeman, she said, “I have been to Tanoshii quite a few times. Daniel and I had lots of conversations about how to improve the flavor and quality. So far, I like the food there because it's all very fresh, and not sweet like the usual American Asian food.”
"Daniel is his most prominent critic, so he works hard to do the right thing,” she added. In doing the right thing, Tanoshii is a delightful addition to Bozeman.
Stella Fong, author of 'Historic Restaurants of Billings and Billings Food' hosts 'Flavors Under the Big Sky: Celebrating the Bounty of the Region' for Yellowstone Public Radio.
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