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San Francisco Bay Area

Sumika in Los Altos - Get a reservation NOW


Restaurants & Bars San Francisco Bay Area

Sumika in Los Altos - Get a reservation NOW

Melanie Wong | | Oct 15, 2006 08:19 PM

Thanks to alice's post that it had opened,
William and I had a very pleasant and highly delicious dinner at Sumika on Thursday night. Open just a week, the entire kitchen is on display in the middle of the room with the grill chef front and center. Separated from the seating by a glass partition an enormous hood drafts the smoke away from the grill, yet the aroma of the bincho charcoal still perfumes the air and is quite tantalizing when you step inside. We had reservations for 8:30pm, and were directed to the end of the 8-seat counter. This gave us a great vantage point for everything going on in the kitchen.

Our tiny waitress, Mashu (sp?), was a darling kewpie doll with apple cheeks, girlish voice and diction, and so eager to be helpful. When she came back to us with the bad news that the tsukune was sold out, so profuse was she in her apologies, we felt we needed to soothe her!

From the counter we could watch the cooking and also see what's in the display case. It has some chicken parts --- hearts, skin, liver --- not listed on the menu. But no gizzards or white meat to be seen. Pacing for the grilled items was just right for us, allowing us to eat them while fresh off the grill. Here's what we tried:

pasta salad - amuse bouche of spiral pasta with a spicy mayo dressing

momo (thigh) - pretty big chunks of boneless thigh meat, very juicy and delicious with the tare sauce, just a bit of carmelized grill marks, cooked just right for us but some might find it too rare and soft-textured, preferred this to the smaller bits of breast meat served elsewhere

teba (chicken wings) - done to a turn (bones still pink), very succulent and juicy again, might have liked the skin and fat rendered more

tsukune (chicken meatball) - sold out

hatsu (heart) - sliced in half then skewered, more tender than expected with only a bit of chewiness, very good with the sauce even though we'd ordered it with salt only

kawa (chicken skin) - rich essence of chicken flavor, again would have preferred this more rendered and browned and with salt as ordered instead of sauced

shishito pepper - nothing wrong with this, but I decided I prefer these peppers seared in oil with more salt instead of grilled dry as they didn't pick up much from the smoke

cherry tomato roll - three cherry tomatoes wrapped in thin slices of kurobuta (black pig) belly, loved the sweet and melt-in-the-mouth quality of the pork, but the cherry tomatoes weren't top notch or fully ripe, would order the asparagus or enoki versions next time

"chicken risotto" (ochazuke) - soft-cooked rice topped with shredded nori, big flakes of shaved bonito, chopped scallions, and pickled plum plus a dab of fresh wasabi root on the side of the bowl, savory and intense chicken stock added from a teapot (no tea in this one), tons of flavor and a bargain at $4, we loved this!

fried chicken (kara age) - added this appetizer at the end when we needed one more dish to feel satisfied, excellent version with subtle ginger and garlic tones, softish greaseless crust, and ultra-juicy chunks of dark meat

tempura fig with vanilla ice cream - good concept, but the ice cream was grainy and poor quality, nice figs and frying job, needed a bit of tart sauce such as balsamic or strawberry to unite the elements and bring out the sweetness of the figs, overall impression was dull and flat. From his vantage point, William could see that the figs were fried in the same oil as the chicken, which he said shouldn't be a problem tastewise as long as the oil is fresh but vegetarians might object to the mixing.

Besides the tsukune, the other item we wished we'd tried is the onigiri. Seeing these on the grill bathed in white smoke, they've got to be fantastic. Our waitress strongly recommend the oyako-don for next time as her favorite of the rice dishes.

When we asked for the bill, we were offered hot tea. It was nice to linger a bit longer with our tea and not feel rushed. It also gave us a chance to observe the staff training in the kitchen on knife skills by slicing and trimming daikon. Watching the master chef correct their hand positions and body postures was very interesting as well as the respect he demonstrated for the tools of the trade.

One of the principals stopped by to ask how our meal was and where had we heard about Sumika. She told us that the figs were dry-farmed from her own backyard. She explained that currently reservations are requested while the staff is in training mode and getting up to speed. However, a few walk-ins have been accommodated each evening.

The tab for the two of was $54 with tax, tip and a generous pour of Harushika sake ($9). This was the same as the bill I noticed for the couple sitting next to us. We thoroughly enjoyed our first exposure to a yakitori bar and think this place is going to be very popular. Call for a reservation and go now before Sumika is discovered.

Sumika slideshow -

Larger view of menu -

Kushiyaki & sake
236 Central Plaza
Los Altos, CA 94022
Monday through Saturday
Dinner only

More about bincho white charcoal from a manufacturer -

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