Not sure what's gotten into me with a spate of chowing on Japanese small plates lately. Gochi, Tekka, Minako in the last few weeks, and then Thursday night at Yume-ya. Whatever the reason, they've all been good meals, and I credit my chowing colleagues on this site for helping me become more adept at ordering this style of food.
My brother met me in Sunnyvale for a first visit to this small izakaya for both of us. Guided by the two threads from last October, shortly after opening, we knew to avoid the sushi and sashimi even though our waitress asked us twice if we wanted any. We also skipped the grilled items which had disappointed "vwoo". We lucked out with our young server who was happy to translate more than a dozen specials written in Japanese on the white board. To make it easier for her, I asked her to just read them off in Japanese, and I surprised myself by having some inkling of what each dish was! Actually she was shocked that non-Japanese would know anything about this cooking style. Other details were fleshed out by asking for more details on anything that sounded interesting.
Two set-backs right off the bat were to find out that the tsukune (chicken meatballs) on the board and the kakuni (pork belly stew) on the English menu were already sold out. Doesn't that just make you want them more? I'll mention that when we asked what other pork dish she'd recommend, she shook her head at anything else we pointed out on the menu and we switched to beef.
Our first round included three fried dishes -
Kabocha (pumpkin) croquettes - This was on the specials board and highly recommended by our waitress. It was our favorite too. William chided me for not taking a photo of a cut cross-section for more visual clarity, commenting, "the whole pieces look like fish sticks". The panko breading was quite stiff and crackly, making them seem far more formidable than these delicious little patties turned out to be. Once you crunched through that golden brown, greaseless exterior, the soft savory filling was very creamy and smooth contrast on the palate. Pale orange and flecked with bits of green peel, the silken puree tasted of potato and sweet kabocha. A dip in the tart and savory tonkatsu sauce cut through the sweetness and fried richness.
Razor clam tempura - From the English menu, it seemed odd to be served a small dish of razor clams out of the characteristic shell. The tempura coating here is light, but not as frilly and airy as the best. William said he preferred the clam bellies at Old Port Lobster Shack but said these were good. What was great though is the dipping sauce. The kitchen has a fine hand with dashi.
Mystery wild vegetable tempura - From the specials board, we're not quite sure what green vegetable this might be. Our waitress described it as a green leafy mountain wild vegetable. Since it was only $3.75, we ordered it. These had a thinnish, non-stringy central stalk with slender leaves and what looked like buds or perhaps flower heads. William was glad that it wasn't bitter. The taste wasn't particularly strong and we enjoyed having some greenery in our meal. Again, I was impressed by the refinement of the dipping sauce.
Image of fried dishes -
The next round had two dishes served in in bowls with brothy sauces -
Beef tendon stew - From the English menu. My brother loves beef tendon. We had confirmed with our server that it was cooked soft. However, these chunky pieces were firm and then some with one that was too stiff to eat. Yet, the flavor and braising juices were deliciously spiced and balanced, neither too salty or sweet as too many are. If only this had more time on the fire, it coulda been a contender.
Agedashi mochi - From the Japanese specials board, the aroma of the dancing bonito flakes was assertively smokey when the dish was presented. The crusted mochi balls gave us a chewy work-out, not a dish for anyone who's worried about loosing a crown. What was surprising was how much of the seasoning soaked into the mochi, also garnished with shredded nori, chopped scallions and grated daikon. Once again, the well-tuned dashi was masterful, beautifully nuanced and delicious to the very last drop, which I drank from the bowl. It was as subtle and haunting as Kiss Seafood in the City. We loved this dish too and want to try the other dishes prepared in this way.
Image of beef tendon stew and agedashi mochi -
We weren't quite full and opted to share one of the housemade desserts. The mango mousse was on the rubbery side with a texture closer to a grainy custard than mousse. The canned whipped cream didn't add much, but the garnish of candied citrus was surprisingly good.
Image of mango mousse -
Our bill for food, tea and tax was . . . $29 for the two of us. Stunningly low and just goes to show how much you can save by abstaining from alcohol (and the nice sakes offered here). Prices for dishes are on the low side here and the serving size a bit smaller. But we liked that because it allowed us to order more variety without overspending. Our food cost was about a third less than what we'd spend at Tanto. The items we ordered ranged in price from $3.50 to $5.75 each. We rounded the bill up to $35 for the tip, considering she was patient enough to read the Japanese menu for us. The two other women who helped take care of our table were quite solicitous as well and couldn't be nicer.
All the other customers looked to be Japanese salarymen. I was the only female customer in the room.
The restaurant is a bit hard to see, tucked behind a construction project in a shopping mall anchored by Trader Joe's. It's in the strip with Radio Shack between Big 5 and the frontage on El Camino.
October 15, 2005 Yumeya thread -
October 24, 2005 Yumeya thread -