Miki is back, baby
(Note: I was previously posting as Cashew, but it wasn't working for me. I am now posting as chowhoundX. I promise not to change again.)
Miki Restaurant, on Balboa at 38th (sign says "Azusa Sukiyaki," but it's just an old sign) re-opened last week. I've been waiting to see how the new owner would change things after the old owner/chef retired.
One change was that Miki was open last night and there was almost no one there. The old owner only opened from Wed-Sat. Perhaps the old crowds just didn't know yet that Tuesday is now a school day at Miki.
The menu is scaled down from before, though there is the same core of sushi and assorted cooked dinners, including grilled fish, soba/udon, and appetizers. There was also a long list of (about 10) daily-special grilled fish dinners. I ordered the Sanma (long, narrow fish) shioyaki (grilled with salt) and chicken kara-age (fried chicken). My friend ordered cold Yamakake soba, which was translated on the menu as soba with maguro. I was sad to see that some of the down-home items like niku jaga (japanese beef stew) and kasuzuke (fish grilled after marinating in sake mash) did not survive the sale of the restaurant.
When the waitress brought our order back to the chef, I heard him talking in Japanese through the kitchen opening: "Yamakake. Do we do that?" The waitress: "Yeah, look it's on the menu." When it arrived, it had the gooey yamaimo (mountain potato, which gets gooey when grated) that comes in yamakake but no tuna. There was also a raw egg on the top. My friend wasn't into raw eggs, and she was willing to eat around it, but she asked about the tuna. The waitress said it was coming. That was a little strange, because yamakake is not usually a two-stage presentation. Then I heard her in the back again: "Is the tuna coming?" Then the chef: "What do you mean, tuna?"
They're obviously getting some kinks worked out. About the raw egg, I don't recall that it's always a part of yamakake, but even if it is they should put it in the English translation of the dish since a lot of people would want to know that it's coming. Given the tuna and egg surprises, my friend asked if she could get instead an order a tori wakame udon (hot udon with chicken and wakame seaweed), and they were very nice about taking the yamakake back and letting her do that.
The Sanma was done very nicely -- crispy and salty on the outside, tender inside, and the traditional pairing with grated daikon and a little soy sauce was a nice teaser for a trip to Japan I'm taking in a couple weeks. The fried chicken was pretty much your good basic kara-age, crispy outside, juicy inside.
There's few Japanese places in SF with as great a variety of grilled fish as Miki, and I recommend it just for that. Still, I missed the bustle of the old regime that forced me to wait 20 min for a table. I hope they get it right with time -- I'll try again in a couple of months.
The yamakake soba I've had in Japan has always come w/ a raw egg yolk and shredded nori. No tuna.
Yamakake as an appetizer usually does come w/ tuna. It has a raw quail yolk on it usually. W/ shredded nori.
Yamakake at a Japanese bar is usually just the yamaimo grated into a froth (like spit) w/ a quail egg, served in a Japanese tea cup. Put a little soy in it, mix it up, and slug it down. Delicious!
By the way, yamaimo grates up to the perfect consistency in a food processor at home.