After watching the circus at HP Pavilion, a friend and I took the bus to try out En in Santa Clara. At 10:15 PM, the restaurant was packed. The decor is quite elegant, and there is this partition that blocks from view the long sushi bar with its row of seats. Last night no one was seating at the bar. I think this is the only izakaya where you don't get to see the open kitchen (unless you stand up and look over the partitiion). The restaurant had this heavy smell from cooking, and I imagine some would love it while others would hate that, but either way your nose would get used to it in minutes. I also met a bunch of familiar faces from the Japanese restaurant workforce in the area.
The menu has as expected a huge variety of dishes and beverages. Prices for shochu and nihonshu are reasonable though not exactly a bargain. I had a $9 glass of mushouhai while my friend had a $8 glass of Suigei. We ordered four dishes: yaki onigiri (two huge pieces for about $7), baby spinach salad with pork belly (about $9), grilled duck (about $7), and meshi with ikura and uni on top (about $12). The yaki onigiri was OK. It came out really quickly, to my surprise. I like my yaki onigiri with a really crispy skin soaked in the sauce, and the inside staying hot. This version met neither of my wishes. The spinach salad was quite good, with daikon at the bottom to soak up the dressing, but the large tomato pieces were just blah. The pork was grilled to almost perfection.
I didn't like the grilled duck, which was overcooked, and the charcoal flavor was so strong that in the beginning I was wondering if the meat was indeed duck. We originally planned to order the duck skewer, but our nice server steered us to this grilled plate. The meshi was the best dish of the night, with rice nicely crusted around the cute little pot. There was also a runny egg inside, which went well with the briny taste of the salmon eggs and sea urchin.
The best aspect of the meal was the portion size, definitely larger than what I had expected from an izakaya. But I think Gochi's food is better.
The restaurant was supposed to close at midnight, but by 11:15 PM the server was already announcing the last order.