This mention by “ankimo” in 2010 was my intro to Gaku in San Jose, sibling to Sumiya.
With 5+ dinners in two years, from shortly after opening to present, I’ve watched Gaku evolve and define itself. Housed in the former Sumiya location, Gaku offers more of an adult, drinking environment with small tables and more complex specialty dishes. Sumiya serves lunch and caters to families and groups with slightly lower prices. Here’s the rundown spanning from favorite items to good dishes and those that we probably wouldn’t order again.
Mi (aka momo) with salt skewer, $3 - Juicy, perfectly salted chunks of chicken thigh. Crispy on top side, a few charry points, I eat these as soon as served to enjoy the crisping right off the grill before it softens. Ippuku achieves same level of medium-rare juiciness but doesn’t crisp it on one side like this.
Tori sasami senbei, $5 - One of the most curious things I've been served. One of the cooks said that this stack had been a foot taller when the evening started before so many orders were sold.
He explained that the tori sasami senbei is made by pounding filets of chicken breast tenders, flattening with a rolling pin, and then deep-frying to a bubbly crunch. The senbei is served with a creamy remoulade-like sauce flecked with fresh and pickled vegetables and a dab of spicy potato salad. Some other views of the giant chicken cracker,
Spicy chicken wings, $7 - Deep-fried chicken wings separated at the joints into two single bone pieces about the length of pretzel sticks. Better than Buffalo wings because the skin stays crunchy under the thick layer of chili powder rub and doesn’t get damp. Extremely hot!
Crispy chicken skin “chip”, $7 – Greaseless, crackly crisp fried chicken skin served with a salsa-like dip of tomato, onion, chile pepper, and bits of sweet calamari par-cooked by the acidity. This has been dropped from the menu here and is served at Sumiya.
Jidori tatsuta with koumi dare, $8 – Deep-fried dark thigh meat coated in light greaseless batter. Each piece had an end nub of crunchy cartilage attached, and we decided this was an intentional lagniappe. Served with a medium-spicy, sweet and sour sauce and kewpie mayonnaise.
Tsukimi tsukune, $6 for 2 grilled skewers, an autumn moon special of seasoned ground chicken and pork flattened kabobs served with dipping sauce enriched with a coddled egg.
Special eel rice bowl cooked in hot pot, $14 – From the summer special unagi (fresh water eel) menu. Served in two parts, the eel and rice in a stone pot on a sizzling plate.
Plus a separate tray with a pitcher of chicken soup plus condiments (scallions, nori, wasabi) for the eel rice bowl.
Thick slabs of buttery unagi and here’s the gorgeous crunchy rice crust on the eel bowl. A fantastic rendition.
Mini ramen, version 1, $5 - Crystal clear shio chicken stock, bouncy thin noodles, roasted pork belly, and negi. Simple, clean, delicious. Unfortunately, not on the menu anymore.
Mini ramen, version 2, $5 - Roast garlic, roast chicken stock with pork belly cha shu. Richer and deeper with caramelized savoriness. Also dropped from Gaku’s menu but available at Sumiya during lunch time.
Garlic pepper chicken wings, $4.50 – Mid-wing sections split into two bones and grilled on skewers. Richly flavored chicken skin and smooth, silky meat.
Tori zosui, $7 - Rice porridge in chicken broth with chunks of chicken poached in soup, egg, green onions, daikon sprouts, slivers of fresh shitake mushroom. Such wonderful chicken soup stock again.
Closer look at the tori zosui, big enough to serve both of us with some to take home. The essence of comfort food.
Yuzu and honey rare cheesecake, $6 - In this case, "rare" means raw or uncooked. Very light and refreshing dessert, delicate in taste and texture. Some might not like the layer of clear gel over the top.
Garlic kalbi skewer, $4 - Not much inherent taste to this beef. Garlic paste was ultra-delicious. Not sure if the green part were scallions or maybe green garlic.
Higashi Matsuyama pork neck meat skewer, $3.50 each - Firm and fatty jowl meat, too much sauce, very tasty but very intense.
Garlic teba, $3 – Charred on the high points, delicious seasoning. Interesting how the meat of the middle wing section are scored and then splayed on the skewers. The skin and flesh cooks evenly.
Fried buckwheat noodle salad, $8.50 – Crunchy but hard to manage crispy noodles topping a romaine, bean sprout, nori salad tossed with a tart sesame-spiked dressing.
Kimo (chicken liver) with sauce, $2.50 – Cooked just a bit too long and needed a stronger flavored saucing.
Grilled jack mackerel hiraki, $8 - served skin side up, started out crispy but the skin softened soon. Oily and rich.
Bitter coffee jelly, $5 - Curious name, no? We asked and found out that this is made with espresso. The jelly has no sweetener. Sweetened cream is served alongside to pour over to smooth out the concentrated espresso taste.
NOT ORDERING AGAIN:
Calamari, tofu and mountain yam okonomiyaki, $8 – Topped with a fried egg, sticky, gooey style, with some crisping around the edges.
Tsukune with sauce, $2.50 – Chicken meatball, on the dry side and needing more fat mixed in.
Miso kimchee fish hotpot, $10 - Loved the intriguing flavors, vegetables, broth and everything about this hotpot except for the pieces of fish itself. Cottony, spent, overcooked white fish.
Many more hits than misses, clearly I like the place. The food bill for two including tax has never been more than $60.
More Gaku photos (click “slideshow” and “show info” for captions)
GAKU JAPANESE CHARCOAL GRILL
5152 Moorpark Ave, Suite 40
San Jose, CA 95129
While Gaku no longer serves ramen, the examples I had here earned it #7 on the rankings.
PERSONAL RAMEN RANKING
1. Ramen Halu, 375 Saratoga Ave Ste M, San Jose
2. Himawari, 202 2nd Ave, San Mateo
3. Orenchi Ramen, 3540 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara
4. Santouka, 675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
5. Maru Ichi, 368 Castro St, Mountain View;
6. Izakaya Mai, 212 2nd Avenue, San Mateo
7. Gaku Japanese Charcoal Grill, 5152 Moorpark Ave, San Jose
8. Ajisen Noodle, 47890 Warm Springs Blvd, Fremont
9. Maru Ichi, 530 Barber Lane, Milpitas
10. Ramen Dojo, 805 South B St, San Mateo
11. Tanto, 1063 E El Camino Real, Sunnyvale
12. Izakaya Restaurant, 1335 N 1st St, San Jose
13. Alexander’s Steakhouse Lounge, 10330 N Wolfe Rd, Cupertino
14. Santa, 1944 South El Camino Real, San Mateo (post-move)
15. Do-Henkotsu House of Tokushima Ramen, 4330 Moorpark Ave, San Jose (closed)
16. Ramen Tenma, 487 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
17. Ryowa, 859 Villa St, Mountain View
18. Orson Restaurant Bar + Lounge, 508 4th St, San Francisco (closed)
19. Sumiya, 2634 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara
20. Gen Ramen, 47890 Warm Springs Blvd, Fremont (closed)
21. Hana Japanese Restaurant, 101 Golf Course Dr, Rohnert Park
22. Ken Ken Ramen, pop-up at The Corner, San Francisco (closed, moved)
23. Kyora Japanese Restaurant, 1217 Wildwood Ave, Sunnyvale (closed)
24. BY Grill, 3226 Geary Blvd, San Francisco (closed)
25. Norikonoko, 2556 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley
26. Dohatsuten, 799 San Antonio Rd, Palo Alto
27. Hana, 4320 Moorpark, San Jose
28. Ozumo, 2251 Broadway, Oakland
29. Muracci’s, 244 State St, Los Altos
30. Katanaya, 430 Geary Blvd., San Francisco
31. Tadamasa, 34672 Alvarado Niles Road, Union City
32. Masa's Sushi, 400 San Antonio Road, Mountain View
33. Ippuku, 2130 Center St, Berkeley
34. Nombe, 2491 Mission St, San Francisco
35. Gochi, 19980 Homestead Rd, Cupertino
36. Oyaji, 3123 Clement St, San Francisco
37. Ame Restaurant, 689 Mission St, San Francisco
38. Yu-Raku, 104 S El Camino Real, San Mateo
39. Namu, 439 Balboa St, San Francisco (moved)
40. Halu Restaurant, 312 8th Ave, San Francisco
41. Sanmi, 3226 Geary Blvd, San Francisco (closed)
42. Hatcho, 1271 Franklin Mall, Santa Clara
43. Kahoo, 4330 Moorpark Ave, San Jose
44. Tomoe, 810 3rd St, San Rafael (closed)
45. Ringer Hut, 1072 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
46. Noodle Theory, 3242 Scott St, San Francisco (closed)
47. Watami Shabu Shabu and Ramen, 5344 Geary Blvd, San Francisco (closed)
48. Where’s Buta by Elgin Espiritu and June Lee, Eat Real Festival, Oakland
49. Kumako, 211 E. Jackson Street, San Jose
50. Japanese Restaurant Hoshi, 246 Saratoga Avenue, Santa Clara
51. Ramen Club, 723 California Dr, Burlingame
52. Ryowa, 2068 University Ave, Berkeley (after ownership change)
53. King Won Ton, 1936 Irving St, San Francisco
54. Tazaki Sushi, 3420 Judah St, San Francisco
55. Ramen Rama, 19774 Stevens Creek Blvd, Cupertino (closed)
56. Ogi-San Ramen, 10789 Blaney Ave, Cupertino (closed)
57. Kaimuki Grill, 104 S El Camino Real, San Mateo (closed)
58. Tanto, 1306 Saratoga Ave, San Jose (now Dan Izakaya)
59. Okazu Ya SF (Noriega), 2445 Noriega St, San Francisco
60. King's Garden Ramen, 39055 Cedar Blvd, Newark (closed)
61. Sushi Bistro, 445 Balboa St, San Francisco
62. Genki Ramen, 3944 Geary Blvd, San Francisco
63. Mitsuwa Hokkaido festival booth, 675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
64. Dan Izakaya, 1306 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
65. Lakuni, 325 E 4th Ave, San Mateo
66. 100% Healthy Desserts, 1155 Taraval St., San Francisco
67. Mifune, 1737 Post St, San Francisco
68. H2A Noodle, 42318 Fremont Blvd., Fremont (closed)
69. Iroha, 1728 Buchanan St, San Francisco
70. Miraku Noodles, 2131 N Broadway, Walnut Creek
71. Manpuku, 2977 College Ave, Berkeley
72. Tanpopo, 1740 Buchanan Street, San Francisco
73. Sushi Yoshi, 39261 Cedar Blvd, Newark
74. La Shang Niang Ramen (OEC), 42 Dixon Rd, Milpitas
75. Oidon, 71 E. 4th Avenue, San Mateo
76. Taraval Okazu Ya, 1735 Taraval St., San Francisco
77. Suzu Noodle House, 1581 Webster Street, San Francisco
78. Bushido Izakaya, 156 Castro St, Mountain View
79. Fresh Taste, 2107 El Camino Real, Palo Alto
80. Asuka Ramen, 883 Bush St, San Francisco (closed)
81. Sapporo-ya, 1581 Webster St, San Francisco
82. Tokyo Ramen, 678 Barber Lane, Milpitas (closed)
83. Kamakura, 2549 Santa Clara Ave, Alameda
84. Mama-san!, 312 8th Ave, San Francisco (closed)
85. Katana-ya Ramen, 10546 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito
86. Hotei, 1290 9th Ave, San Francisco
87. Bear's Ramen House, 2521 Durant, Berkeley