My wife and I decided to eat at Lakuni in San Meteo tonight after reading some of the older reviews, as we haven't had a nice dinner at an izakaya for a while, and wanted to see how this one compared to our favorite Tanto in San Jose.
When we first walked in, we saw that the counter chairs were empty. The owner looked at us, and I told him "2 people". His response was "is this your first time here?" and I said "yes". He then asked "oh we only serve small dishes and sake here" (as if I didn't have a clue). And I said "yes I understand, like izakaya, we eat but we don't drink." Then finally we sat down.
We ordered most of the items that Tida had written from her review, such as the Kake Nabe (oyster nabemono with cabbage, miso paste soup, mushrooms, tofu, and a generous amount of oysters). This was done very well. We started with the maguro butsugiri, which was marinated in the chinese soy sauce (light soy), some green onion, and perhaps a bit of sugar (the sauce was on the sweet side), but this was a nice appetizer to start with. The tuna is not top grade, but mixed in with the ingredients and the sauce it is a nice touch.
We also ordered two of the special items on the white board in Japanese (which we had the chef translate). One was the short pea sprouts "chinese style", which was stir fryed with soy sauce and white pepper (this came out quite well). When we asked the chef to explain the items on the board, he walked further away from us (trying to do something else) and there was something he was doing that made more noise, so we could not hear him very well. We had to ask him to repeat what he said a few times on different occassions, simply because he couldn't stop what he was doing and came closer to explain the food items to us, plus his spoken English had a very heavy accent.
The pea sprouts were very tasty and juicy, at just the right sodium levels. The other was their home made shu mai, which were practically pork meat balls. nothing else inside, with outer wrapping. The chef took out something from the refridgerator, then set up a steamer on the stove.
Although the shu mai were larger sized than at dim sum restaurants, $5 didn't seem like a good deal to us. We felt that the version offered by the San Jose Tanto chef (when available) are much more delicate.
The grilled stuff was quite good, especially the salt + pepper chicken with green onion (the best), especially the green onion which had an amazing taste to it. The shitake mushrooms were on the dry side unfortunately and weren't worth ordering, but the shishamo was very tasty especially the meat near the bones (also edible).
What happened next was quite annoying. One customer walks in about 3/4 of the way through our dinner and sits down (obviously he has been there before). The chef asks him if he wanted sake and he replied yes but a cold one. Then later his dinner date companion walked in a few minutes afterwards and she also got sake. Then the owner's wife came over and brought over hot wet towels to them, and the chef came over with two cold dishes appetizers, both items of which my wife and I did not get. We then wondered if we got this mistreatment because the chef was perhaps insulted that we didn't order sake, even though the bill came to $50+ for us two. Then again this is very simple basic service and decency. Even though this is small quibbling, we felt something was missing. (Note, the two that just sat down did not speak Japanese)
Then when dinner was over I asked for the check in Japanese. The owner's wife took the money and gave me my change WITHOUT SAYING THANK YOU. I even gave them a nice tip, and said "gojiso samadeshita" to the chef and although he responded somewhat in kind, his wife did not.
What initially turned out to be a potential go-back again type of experienced suddenly turned very sour from the service and attitudes we perceived. Perhaps it was a cultural thing, I don't know, but we did our best. Typically Japanese people are known to be very polite (especially most restaurants since they regard service to be very important) but we did not feel like we were treated that well.
So unfortunately despite the decent food we had, the service we got was a bit appalling. Since when do owners wives of Japanese restaurants not say thank you, let alone "domo arigato"? I know she doesn't speak much English or at all, but c'mon not even a smile? :-(
Sorry to say that it would take quite a bit to get us to go back again. If we didn't receive similar treatment because we are not regulars and did not order sake, then something is really wrong here.