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A review of Saizo

KK | Dec 22, 200410:07 PM

After reading one or two internet reports and a few raves from chowhound we were really looking forward to tonight's dinner at Saizo in Sunnyvale. The restaurant bills itself as a Japanese tapas bar.

We were seated at the counter close to the front entrance door where it was rather drafty. We asked for a table but apparently there were "no available tables for two", so we moved to the corner.

The decor was very plain. Maybe 7 to 8 tables total, some seating larger parities but mostly 4 seaters. The counter section could hold about 10 people and was rather spacious. We could see the kitchen, the chef, and the grill from where we were. Our server was Japanese but the grill chefs were all Mexican.

There were two menus tonight. One regular menu with different kinds of salads, entrees (your typical grilled mackeral, teriyaki beef, chicken, salmon fare, and various udon/soba). The regular menu also had ochazuke which we didn't try (with various toppings from sashimi to seaweed), and onigiri (mentaiko, salmon, yaki onigiri).

The specials menu was a separate piece of 8/12 x 11" paper with Japanese in the back and English on the other side. Today's date was printed on the paper, so my guess is that the contents change daily. The more interesting items were temari-sushi (basically nigiri sushi but the piece of fish is wider and rounder, and wraps around the rice all over), various yakitori, and hot + cold small dishes.

We order gyu tan (grilled ox tongue). This was around $7 or so. Up to 7 slices of thin ox tongue, I suppose the usual salt and pepper seasonings, accompanied with a slice of lemon on the plate. I have to say this is the best gyu tan shioyaki hands down I've had so far. Definitely better than the portable stone plate grill version at Fuki Sushi (and cheaper). The ox tongue was cooked just right and the seasoning dead on. I do remember on the menu that they claim to use natural salt in the cooking, perhaps that was why the flavor came out good on this one.

In the Yakitori section we had (prices are per skewer):

- Unagi-kimo - Eel liver grilled skewer. This was dipped in the soy based sauce (rather sweet) but it came out great. The eel liver texture was similar to the ribbony part of a scallop (called himo in Japanese), soft but does have a little chewiness to it. I liked this one a lot. $2

- Gyu-Negi - Big piece of green onion (maybe tokyo negi) with beef wrapped around it. Pretty good, although I suspect the same grill sauce was used (the sweet soy based sauce). $2.80

We shared a sansei udon (mountain vegetables) $8 and it is as good, if not better than Gombei's offering. The udon's texture was just right and the soup base flavoring was subtle, not watering or too strong.

Also ordered a side dish called gyu shoga (~$6). Basically very thinly sliced beef stir fried with ginger, soy sauce (with a lot of sugar/sweetness in it), and bean sprouts. Fantastic dish...somewhat similar to the chinese style stir fried dishes offered at Do-Henkotsu ramen, but better.

Finished up my part of the meal with a mentaiko onigiri ($3). Seemed to be a wee bit smaller than Tanto's offering, and included three small slices of Japanese pickles. Not bad, but not superb.

Maybe we didn't quite order all the right things but bottom line was that we thought Tanto Saratoga (when the owner chef Ryu was still working there, now he is in Sunnyvale about 10 mins down the street) topped Saizo tonight in terms of variety and flavor. Have to go back to Tanto again to see how they are doing now.

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