Iki Iki’s slogan is essentially “Good, fun gyoza,” and I agree with the second adjective much more than the first–to be blunt from the get-go. This was my second time at this hole-in-the wall (with a fancy porta-potty for a bathroom) standing boldly between a myriad of hostess bars and other red-light storefronts, so despite this initial semi-criticism, please keep reading on.
Iki Iki is definitely a place to try with a group of friends. The “fun” in the name holds true–they boast to serve over 600 types of different gyoza, and just looking at the wall filled with panels and panels of different gyoza types and names is dizzying. It gets even more so when you try to decipher what the names mean–names like “First Love” and “For Sake-Lovers” and “The Monkey Gets Angry.” (Make sure you bring a friend who knows Japanese as well, since nothing at all in the restaurant is written in English.) To simplify things for the customer, they offer several pre-determined sets, which is what I have gotten each time. Unfortunately, each set only comes with one gyoza of each flavor, so if you intend to share without each buying your own plate, you will need to maneuver your chopsticks to cut each dumpling in half.
First you have the “Tea-time Set,” which is mostly sweet dessert gyoza: chocolate, fruit, potato, tea, pumpkin, walnut, “first love”, rice, yogurt, and a few others (I believe they switch out a few of these every so often). Honestly, some of these worked (I especially like the “first love” dumplings, which have citrus in them), some of them didn’t–and unfortunately, it gets a bit complicated when you try to figure out which dumpling is which. They give you a sheet of paper along with your platter listing off the order and location of each gyoza, but sometimes, especially if you split them up with a friend, they get a bit mixed up. The reason I’m so apathetic to this plate is that they’re so simple–they list them as they see them, essentially. I mean that, for example, the chocolate gyoza is just a chunk of chocolate put inside a gyoza wrapper and boiled. Chocolate is good, but being stuffed inside a gyoza wrapper doesn’t really add much to it. The same idea goes for the corn, and so on, and some of them, like the yogurt gyoza, just were not meant to be eaten warm.
The above I ate several months ago, and to be honest, I didn’t even remember that we also ordered the “Japanese-Style Platter,” which I’m only beginning to recall after pulling up this picture again. This plate contains cheese, curry, ume shiso, mushroom, glass noodles, kampyo (dried gourd, a Tochigi specialty), asparagus, “Mr. Eggplant,” “Mr. Egg,” and sausage boiled gyoza. Sorry, but I’ll just leave my lack of memory as it is. Maybe it speaks for itself.
My second round I had even more to try (and a better memory, as it was just last week). My friend and I split the “Mixed Platter” and the “Interesting Platter.”
The Mixed platter was 6 traditional, boiled meat dumplings paired up with 6 of the staff pick pan-fried. Honestly, even after eating them, I still don’t know what most of them were. One we decided had miso in it, but that is all that comes to mind now. Since I had only had their unorthodox gyoza until then, I had been looking forward to seeing what their traditional gyoza were like–however, they aren’t anything to rave about. I normally say it’s hard to make very good gyoza precisely because it’s hard to make very bad gyoza–it’s hard to mess up–but honestly, these were some pretty bad gyoza. Sorry.
The Interesting platter was just as interesting as the Tea-time platter above. The lineup was comprised of dumplings with names such as “swimming,” “many children,” “just born,” “the monkey gets angry,” “the wolf gets angry,” “mountain man,” “wasabi,” “ton ton,” and “super spicy.” The monkey one contained the bulb of what I think is a leek or similar onion-family vegetable; the wolf one contained what upon investigation I now know is shark fin, and which I now regret eating. The “swimming” gyoza has a tiny sardine stuck right in the middle of it with the head poking out. One had a bit of a soft-boiled egg in it, and, as with the mixed platter, most of the rest were just a mystery. Most were okay, but none were strikingly good. One got cold and tasted like cardboard–make sure you eat them while they’re warm.
My friend and I were still hungry, so we ordered a bowl of miso gyoza soup, which, as with the other gyoza above, was just meh. If it were cheaper, I would be fine with it, but at nearly 1000 yen for the bowl, it is quite pricey for the quality.
Which brings us to the main issue: the price. It’s logical to sell the novelty gyoza at a higher than usual price (about 1200 yen for the platter), but the rest of the gyoza, despite just being “meh” (or “bleh”) are just as expensive, and they’re not too filling either. Despite how harsh I’m being with my critiques, the place is still fun to try with a friend (maybe randomly order a few of the specially named gyoza and try to figure out what they are, or do a Russian roulette sort of gig), but go to it after drinking a bit as an after-party (or something of the like) or before your real dinner, as it’s not worth filling up on.