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San Mateo Report: Tokyo Star and 231 Ellsworth

Kim Cooper | May 2, 200409:19 PM

Friday night we were looking for a place for dinner; not too expensive but tasty. We started to go to Windy City Pizza for ribs –it’s in Borel Square at El Camino Real near Highway 92. We stuck our heads in but it was very noisy and full of kids, so we ducked back out and walked next door to Tokyo Star.
We’ve been there once before, and the sushi was impressively fresh, but it’s just not a place we think of much….
We started with plum wine and the lamb chop appetizer. The wine was tasty and too sweet for most of you. ($4.00) The lamb chops were tender and good, with a teriyaki-like sauce and a sprinkling of sesame seeds, and a little foil handle on the bone end for neat eating. ($6.95)
For the main course, we ordered one Combination dinner and one a la carte entrée. I’m not sure what the difference is because both were served with salad, miso soup, and rice. The miso soup was very hot and very good, though few tofu bits (ok with me). The salad was fresh and crisp with the traditional gingery dressing, which I love. I think the lettuce was romaine.
The a la carte choice was the tempura assortment. ($11.95) It was very hot and light, with the traditional sauce for dipping. It was enormous too: Four prawns, and two of most of the vegetables: acorn squash, sweet potato, carrot, eggplant, zucchini, and one big broccoli. Plenty for the two of us.
For the combination plate, we chose sushi and calamari katsu. ($17.95) The calamari katsu was very tender and delicious, with light breading and the traditional dipping sauce (that tastes to me like concentrated cola). It had a bit of salad on the plate as well as a couple of slices of lemon with a maraschino cherry on them.
The sushi assortment wasn’t exactly what it said on the menu, but you know how that is – you get what’s fresh today. And it was. The menu claims “Freshest sushi in town” and I wouldn’t dispute it. It included salmon, tuna, yellowtail, and a couple of other fishes we weren’t sure of.
It was quiet and peaceful, with an amusing sparkling ceiling, and the service was very good – our water glasses were always full and when we hadn’t decided when the waiter first came over to take our order, he then came again pretty soon rather than making us wait forever. They have a big selection of sushi rolls, and a sushi boat bar. Joyce says the sushi compares favorably with Sushi Sam’s but with better atmosphere and no wait.
All in all, it was a “why don’t we come here more often?” experience. Total was around $50 – more than ribs would have been, but worth it.

The reason we were really looking for something not too expensive is that Tuesday night we had gone to 231 Ellsworth for dinner. It was our birthday (yes, both of us have the same birthday!). We love this place.
We went around the block two or three times – no luck on parking – so we used the valet parking. The valet turned out to be a patient of mine. Cool. We went in and the host recognized us from last time (at Christmas I think). We were seated in a quiet romantic corner table. We put out the cards we had received that offered us free champagne and dessert for our birthdays.
Usually, we share everything equally, but we ordered unevenly this time, so we shared unevenly: Joyce ordered an appetizer and a main Course, while I had the “Five Course Tasting Menu”. We drank bubbly water with the meal.
Joyce had “Foie Gras Two Ways; seared and confit with fennel marmalade” while mine was “Foie Gras crème caramel with toasted brioche”. Joyce is still sighing over the seared foie gras, which was wonderful and intense. The fennel marmalade was also a delight that sang on the tongue. My crème caramel was enchanting – the interplay of the tastes was delicious and complex – the sweetness of the caramel sauce a surprise with the gentle foie gras flavor of the custard, but relating through the caramelized flavors of both.
Next on my list was “Orange glazed Maine lobster with baby leeks, fingerling potatoes, and truffle vinaigrette”. The orange flavor was all through the lobster, but not overpowering – perfectly balanced for my taste. The baby leeks were a hit. I didn’t particularly taste truffles in the vinaigrette – but that may have just been me – whatever it tasted like it was good! We both exclaimed over the persistant orange taste without it overpowering. How do they do that?
Next was “Roasted squab with Porcini mushrooms and natural jus”. There were several small slices of medium rare meat – tender and good, with a bit of browned skin on each, but there was also a leg. I had given Joyce some of the slices, but when I bit into that leg, I had to share it – very browned/flavorful – absolutely delicious! We did a lot of Mmmmm-ing over that.
Next, Joyce had “Pan roasted seabass with Osetra caviar cream and fingerling potatoes” while I had “Lamb tenderloin Marrow bean ragout and smoked lamb bacon”. Joyce says the potatoes were “tasty as all get-out – cooked to golden perfection”, while the fish was “moist and creamy in the middle and crispy at the edges” but had skin on it, which we don’t like. We lost some of the crispy bits getting the skin off. That was the only disappointment of the dinner. I just tried the middle where the skin came off easily, but it was lovely. The sauce was mild, as befits fish. As to mine – the marrow bean ragout was lovely, the little slices of lamb perfect, and then there were those two little squares – I had forgotten what they were. I took a tiny taste – ooooooh, Joyce you’ve got to try this! And I gave her one of the one-inch squares – “Now take a little taste, don’t eat it all at once!” She took a corner and put it on her tongue – and you should have seen the smile of pure rapture on her face! It was clearly some kind of bacon, I didn’t know what, but it was the best bacon I’ve ever had, and Joyce is a big bacon fan and said it was the best bacon she’d ever had. We slowly savored the little squares, and then asked the waitress what it was. She said it was lamb bacon and they make it there. We asked if they sell it. She went to ask the chef, who said with two days notice they would sell a small amount. Then she said they also have a dish with lamb pancetta at lunch, and she thought it was even better. We’ll have to try lunch, just as soon as our budget recovers….
My five-course tasting menu includes a dessert, but we substituted one off of the dessert menu – no problem with substituting. I had a baba au rhum. Spectacular – so this is what all those other ones I’ve had were trying to be! It was warm and tender and the sauce was deep and warm. Joyce had a flan with a blood orange salad with fresh basil. The slim shreds of basil just lit up that salad like Christmas! What a rush!
This dinner took three hours, but we didn’t feel like we were waiting particularly, rather it felt leisurely and encouraging of conversation between courses and appreciation of each course by itself.
The waitress had given us champagne and there were lit candles in the desserts. And she gave us back one of the post cards anyway because one of the desserts was part of the dinner. We should have gone back for lunch!
When we emerged, our car was already parked out front, and the host had the keys. Cost: about $150 plus $6 for valet parking.
Just a mention – We’ve eaten at Hakka twice in the last two weeks – very good!

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