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Restaurants & Bars

Kampai House (Japanese fusion, sushi, sake bar) Sunnyvale

KK | Jun 2, 200612:17 AM

I remember driving by this place when it had a "coming soon" sign to it, and immediately dismissed it without further thought. The signage seemed a bit wacky, and the name was to me a giveaway that it was either not run and owned by Japanese, or was not some place where you would get some authentic eats.

Earlier this Wednesday I was treated to lunch at this restaurant, and can form an opinon or two.

Ate at the sushi bar, which was spread wide. I lost count of the # of seats but it was as long as Yoshida's in S. De Anza Blvd. Basically every 4 seats or so has a counter in front, with the same variety of sushi neta/fish toppings across. The interior decor is super modern with no hint of tradition. A wide flatscreen hangs above the edge of the bar, and "House of Flying Daggers" was playing with no audio. The bathroom had some retro elements to it with an out of the box design for the sink/faucet (but this is not bathroomhound, which I loved rating restaurant toilets as a kid...but anyhoo, I will stop there).

Our itamae wore the modern garb of sushi chefs seen in some restaurants in Hong Kong and Japan. Basically a black tie, white shirt, a much larger hat (almost like a Chinese house painter's shape). Within 3 minutes of sitting down and conversing with him, we learned that he was from Hong Kong. There are Japanese chefs that work in the kitchen, and one of the sous sushi chefs was from Taiwan (as are the owners).

But fret not, this is not some average place. My dining companion and I proceeded with nigiri, as the rolls and "modern fusion" sashimi seemed a little pricey and risky to try for the first time.

Not in any particular order but here's what I remember:

hamachi - surprisingly very decent for a non Japanese run place. Not the frozen low grade / what you can get at 99 Ranch kind of color (yellow bordering on brown) but a nice bright piece of belly that was not as buttery as I had hoped, but chunky/meaty/hearty.

aji - Decent piece, good size. Not melt in your mouth soft like Ino Sushi. Garnished with the usual ginger and green onion, and a dash of sauce (similar to what Sushi Sam's uses). These were pre-sliced and treated, unlike the upscale HQ sushi restaurants that slice aji to order (from the whole fish, via deboning, de-skinning etc).

Scallops - These were served with a dash of what looked like Japanese mayo but had the color of thousand island dressing (not spicy though). Soft but with a mild bouncy texture. Likely the frozen kind, but still quarter decent.

Salmon - served with thin slices of lemon in between. Not terribly impressive but it was a good sized chunk and meaty. Did not have that oily texture and the "fat" lines seemed rather thin on the piece I had (the above two paragraphs are for you, Sushi Monster! :-) )

Saba - I'm really picky about saba at any sushi restaurant. Some really use this to measure the success or failure of a sushi restaurant (vs tamago-yaki). Control of marination is the key....you can't marinate too long, or with too much salt or vinegar. This piece at kanpai house was at the borderline of failure. It was too salty (gasp) and still had a wee bit of moisture in, but any longer in the marination and it would have been way too chewy (and perhaps dry). Served with a pinch of green onion and what looked to be a dash of sesame seed.

Unagi - Normally I wouldn't order this but someone else wanted it for dessert. Absent was the usual suspect for heating unagi for sushi (aka the microwave or the toaster oven). I actually think the chef put our pieces in the oven, as it took quite a while for this order to arrive. Slow heat/oven "roast" really can do wonders even to frozen unagi from China. The other option is to do it like Kirala, and charcoal BBQ it to make it smokey and nutty (a la Giada De Laurentis), or a stone grill...but I digress.

Can't remember what else I had, but that seemed to be pretty much it.

This place takes reservations via opentable. The "fusion" dishes on the menu do seem very interesting, at least the approach is recognized. The "fusion sashimi" however doesn't seem terribly original, as I spotted mild variations of Aji Tattaki and stuff like white tuna tattaki, except they phrase it differently on the menu, use similar ingredients (ie Maui Onion instead of regular onion). Perhaps this combo might work, I don't know.

Service here is excellent. I may try their fancy rolls and see how they compare to their standard nigiri offerings sometime down the road.

Link: http://www.kampaihouse.com/

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