Our original plan was to meet for dinner in the City. However, my friends late return from Dallas redirected us to Burlingame where I was able to make use of the recent tips for Sakae. This was my first time and a repeat for my sushi benefactor. We slid in the door before 9:30pm, just as two seats became available at the bar.
As recommended we focused on the offerings handwritten in English on the white board for both sushi and small cooked dishes. I asked Vince whether the specials listed in Japanese on the adjoining board were the same, as I had noticed the prices were different. He assured me they were, just in a different order, thus the price differences. But I was still concerned that I would miss something as I counted one more dish on the Japanese listing. Vince placated me with a quick audit of the two lists and identified the extra item on the Japanese menu, which turned out to be shiro maguro (white tuna).
The sushi was good, but the fish was not as good as I expected from the reviews on this board. We had tai, Hokkaido scallop, kampachi, shiro maguro, bluefin o-toro, Santa Barbara uni (only one piece left), okura, and aji. The tai did not have the black and white skin, the kampachi was stringy, the bluefin o-toro was the same price but not as rich and meltingly tender as Id had at Hama-ko the week before, and the aji lacked its special delicacy. Only the scallop and the shiro maguro were truly satisfying and of the quality Im routinely served at say Hama-ko, Ino, or Tomi Sushi.
I liked the two-bite size of the sushi with small rice pads and they had the right amount of wasabi for me. The rice had a lovely firm and pearly texture, but on some of the pieces the rice was too warm and in a couple spots the vinegar was not mixed in thoroughly. One rice pad broke in half when I picked up the piece with my fingers.
The cooked dishes were more impressive than the sushi. Deep-fried sweet river prawns were oily and salty, cooked in the shell and were delicious enhanced with just a squeeze of lemon, although after a while, the shells started to soften and werent as easy to crunch up. The chunks of steamed ankimo were served hot with a ponzu-type dipping sauce. This monk fish liver was exceptionally rich with lots of orange shading. My favorite from the board offerings was the organic chicken yakitori. Offered with a choice of condiments, Vince ordered it with ume paste. It was a bit oversauced, but after wiping off a bit, the sour plum in combination with the fragrant chiffonade of shiso was just the right accent for the incredibly juicy and succulent chicken pieces rolled on skewers.
From the printed menu we tried gyoza that had the soft textured filling I like, but were too mushy for Vince. The agedashi tofu was cut into larger size blocks and turned rubbery too fast. The clams steamed in sake showed off the bivalves fresh sweetness beautifully.
We shared a big bottle of Sapporo and I ordered one of the premium sakes posted on the board, Izumi Judan, $14. When Vince indicated that we were done, we were comped one of the board specials, tiny marinated octopus and cucumbers napped with a sweet miso-based sauce that were just delicious.
By now it was closing time and the owner, Hiro Endo, broke out his personal sake bottles to share with his second at the bar as the assistants washed the counter. He came around the counter to sit with us and share some Akitabare Koshiki Junzukuri. We were amused that he would pour a six ounce tumbler for himself and a tiny blown glass cup for the two of us to share as we toasted the evening and refilled a few times. These guys are serious drinkers.
Most of the conversation was in Japanese, which I do not understand, and Im sure I missed many pointed remarks about the local sushi competition as I heard Sawa, Sams, Seto, etc. bandied about. Vince explained to him that I was interested in ramen lore and asked him to open a ramen place. We talked about the current noodle shops. Hiro said that the owner of Santa was his friend and he did not want to compete with him. He said Santa was the best, but I made my case for Ramen Halu and the asari ramen at Tanto. Then he told us hell be opening a Tanto-like restaurant called YUZU in San Mateo on 37th near El Camino Real in May.
Sakae Sushi & Grill
Hiro Endo, owner
240 Park Rd.