In 2003, Eunkyung “Jane” Kim opened what she called “M Totoro” on S. State just up the street from the State Theatre. Named for the classic Japanese anime My Neighbor Totoro, it’s now known just as Totoro, a venerable source of sushi, sashimi, and Japanese cuisine.
Kim herself moved on in 2008, selling the restaurant to concentrate on raising her two children. But as they grew older, she itched to get back into the food game.
“It felt so boring,” Kim says of being on the sidelines.
She did some catering and began brainstorming with former Totoro staffers and her friend Esther Kim (no relation) about opening a new place. The goal: an affordable restaurant with both Japanese dishes and Korean fried chicken, which was growing in popularity.
For years, Kim looked at every available space near campus, including the former White Market on E. William, now home to the Detroit Cookie Company. But she eventually concluded that it wasn’t the right place for what she had in mind. “We can’t go there, because there’s no place to park, and it’s crowded,” she says.
Instead, she and Esther headed to Lower Town, leasing the former Yourist Studio Gallery, which moved from Broadway to Jackson Rd. last spring (Observer, June 2021).
The extensive renovations suffered construction, permitting, and supply delays. A row of lights, at $5 each, came from a restaurant auction in Detroit. When a bench seat failed to arrive, they bought a church pew, painted it yellow and added the name Plate, and installed it instead.
They missed their hoped-for Thanksgiving opening, but in December the partners welcomed the first customers to Plate Sushi & Chicken. It’s an open, contemporary space with polished wooden tables and about thirty socially distanced seats. And the yellow bench became an instant selfie spot.
Kim says she is confident the location can draw business from nearby homes, condos, and apartments, including the still-growing Beekman on Broadway, as well as workers at the U-M Medical Center, where her husband Bhumsoo is a neurology researcher.
For now, Plate is only using half of Yourist’s space. But when the weather warms up, Kim says they’ll turn the other side into patio-type seating–it has a garage-style door–and add coffee drinks.
In her mind, she says, “Everybody will be relaxing and dancing.”
For now, lunch customers order at a counter, then servers deliver their food to the table. At dinner, diners are seated and scan a QR code to order.
Along with traditional Japanese dishes, including a full selection of sushi, sashimi, and rolls, there are riffs on other Asian flavors, such as fries topped with kimchi, the fermented Korean condiment.
Crunchy chicken wings start at $10 for five pieces, and nuggets of popcorn chicken are $12 a serving, dressed in a variety of sauces such as soy garlic and sweet and spicy. Kim cooks some dishes herself, while her sushi chef handles raw fish and rolls.
The menu includes a variety of bento boxes, which are $12 to $16, depending on the protein. I tried a $12 vegetarian /bento, which begins with a small appetizer and miso soup.
The box has a generous selection of small dishes, including agedashi tofu–small squares, lightly fried, which quickly dissolve in the mouth. There’s also tempura and pieces of California roll (a vegan version is available).
Kim wants to get Plate up to speed, but she already sees the potential to expand elsewhere in Ann Arbor. “I’m thinking about that for a couple of years later,” Kim says.
Plate Sushi & Chicken, 1133 Broadway St. (734) 369-6127. Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Closed Sun. platesushi.com