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Leichi opened a few months ago, taking over Hoshi's spot. The neon sign for Hoshi is still up. Inside, the interior is now sleeker and more modern and urban in feeling than Hoshi, and the cooking is as well.
I had a seat at the counter. In the display where a sushi chef would showcase his fish inventory, the space is now devoted to the colorful mise en place of sauces, condiments and garnishes for making magic. I think I counted 21 different items.
My reason for seeking out Leichi was to try the housemade soba --- only 10 orders per day. However, after admiring the jewel-like plates created by the chef, I added the omakase trio of appetizers, $20. Chef's choice, and usually different that the single items available on the menu. I put in a request for uni, if possible. For my trio, the uni application was atop a square of goma tofu (made with sesame seeds). But coated and fried like agedashi tofu, rather than served cold like the version on the menu. The creamy, almost gooey sesame custard was sublime seasoned with the carefully balanced dashi, and crowned with uni and wasabi. The patty of housemade fish cake was clean and fresh, studded with bits of crisp carrot. Inside the green leaf wrapper, duck nigiri, made with a slice of rare, barely smoked, skin-on duck breast was lovely as well. A very good start.
The soba menu has both hot and cold preps. On this chilly night, the idea of steamy hot soup was more appealing. The first few mouthfuls of the tori nanban, $14, were best, but soon the noodles softened too much in the hot smoked bonito-chicken fat dashi. Chunks of skin-on boneless thigh meat and scallions bobbed on the noodles, more than I could finish in truth. I liked adding the red chile flakes for some spicy contrast. I think my next soba order from here will be a chilled version when the weather is warmer.
For dessert, soba pudding, $7.50. Silky flan and deep dark caramel sauce were barely sweet and flecked with crisp, cracked buckwheat. This was accompanied by caffeine-free roasted grain tea for a fine ending.
When I called earlier to confirm that Leichi was open for dinner on Mondays, the hostess was very firm that I would need to make a reservation, even for a single seat at the counter. And indeed when I arrived at 7:30, all seats were full or set aside with reserved signs. This is a small place and reservations are essential for dinner hour.
The chef/owner arrived from Japan four years ago. His English is very good and I was able to ask him about various preps. He worked at Dan Izakaya for three years, but wanted his own place to have a different style of cuisine. He uses organic vegetables and no added MSG, making as many things from scratch as possible. Leichi is a drinking establishment with a long list of sakes and shochu, yet the food here is lighter and more finessed than the other Japanese bar eats in town. I liked the intimacy of the room and found the crowd more sedate than at local izakayas.
Leichi serves lunch and dinner. I'd like to try the lunch offerings next time.
246 Saratoga Ave
Santa Clara, CA 95050
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