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Tomo specializes in dinner-and-a-show fare

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FARMINGTON — Starting next month, restaurant patrons looking for a meal where preparation is as engaging as flavor and presentation will have a unique option.
Tomo Japanese Sushi and Steak House, which specializes in raw fish fare and teppanyaki-style meals prepared and served by performing chefs in front of diners, will open at 3500 E. Main St. in Plaza Farmington near Best Buy and Safeway on Oct. 15.
The new restaurant occupies a space that was, for three years, the location of My Big Fat Greek Restaurant, which belonged to a chain of Arizona-based restaurants.

Originally from Hong Kong, Tomo owner Kun "Jackie" Lin has owned and operated a Japanese restaurant in Long Island, N.Y., and three in North Dakota. But now he calls Farmington home.

"It's a lot sunnier and much warmer than North Dakota," Lin said. "I'm really happy to be here."

Japanese fare also may be taken with the Four Corners region — another Japanese sushi restaurant, Sumo Grill and Sushi run by De and Melissa Ly, opened down the street in June.

Tomo’s General Manager Ross Palmgren was born in Posabina, Bulgaria, but was adopted at age 8 by a family in Grand Forks, N.D., where he met Lin. The two said they hope to open a second teppanyaki-style restaurant elsewhere in New Mexico if their Farmington venture suits the gastronomic and entertainment appetites of San Juan County.

“We thought it would be fun and exciting to open something special that’s just not done in this area,” Palmgren said.
He said the eatery’s eight “hibachi” or teppan tables — set up on four islands around which diners are seated — will encourage parties to sit alongside each other.

Unlike hibachi grills, which are closer to what Americans associate with barbecuing — metal grates over charcoal fires — teppanyaki grills are flat, solid metal grills heated with gas. And while food cooked with theatrical flair will take center stage, they say it will be the quality of food that wins customers over.
The style of cooking has been popular in the U.S. since 1964 when Benihana Inc. introduced Americans to Japanese cuisine using showman chefs in red toques tossing knives and shrimp into the air or lighting a volcano — a stack of raw onion hoops — on fire.
“It’s all cooked in front of you. The chefs will do a show for you where they will flip the spatulas, do a volcano for the kids. They get very engaged with the customers,” Palmgren said.
He said that the real difference in this dining experience happens at the island tables, which can seat a dozen or more customers at one time allowing strangers to get to know each other as they watch the show.
“And they’ll leave friends, exchanging their numbers and maybe help each other down the road,” he said. “That’s what I love about this restaurant. It’ll get people together.”
He and Lin said the restaurant will offer a unique experience for local residents.
“(In Farmington), they have the sushi at some places, but they don’t have the hibachi style in front of the guests,” Lin said. 
The steakhouse and sushi bar can seat approximately 200 inside and a dozen or more outside on an adjacent patio, he said.
Palmgren said Tomo will employ four sushi chefs, four “hibachi” chefs and about 20 others.
But Palmgren emphasized the idea of perfect strangers making lasting friendships from a memorable dining experience.
“And if a customer can tell me the name of his neighbor (sitting at the teppan table),” Palmgren said. “It’s free dessert.”
James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.

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