Does good teriyaki exist?
- David Boyk
All the teriyaki I've ever had has been cloying, goopy and made out of tough meat. It seems to have promise, though - I like the idea of eating it, but not the actual act. Is there anywhere in the area that has teriyaki that's actually good?
Is it a real Japanese dish? Authenticity only matters in the service of quality, but if it's not authentic, that might explain why it's so hard to find a good version. I know it's a thing in Hawaii, but all the discussion of Hawaiian plate lunch joints on the LA board seems to come to the conclusion that what Hawaiians look for when they want to eat nostalgically is processedness and other characteristics that outsiders with no instinctual attachment to the food might not appreciate quite so much.
I can't speak to the question of authenticity -- but the best way to get good teriyaki is to make it at home. It's basically meat or fish cooked in a reduction of soy, mirin (sweet rice wine), and sake (rice wine). Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, by Shizuo Tsuji, has a foolproof recipe that I've used many times. No glop, just a strong clear taste of sweet & salty that is one of my favorite 15-minute after-work meals.
For a local restaurant, I'd try Minako, a nearly unknown gem on a sketchy block of Mission (btn 17th & 18th, west side of the street). They serve organic Japanese comfort food. Though I haven't had teriyaki there, I've had other marinated & grilled fish, and it is perfect every time.
You might also try Tanto, on Cyril Magnin near Union Square. They do a very good job with one-dish Japanese meals.
Teriyaki is authentic. One of the first signs of a good teriyaki is if the meat is grilled over coals, as it should be. Yakitori, the grilled-meat-on-a-stick, for instance, is a version of teriyaki, when you choose the sauce glaze over salt grilled. If you can find a good version of that, you're on the right track. I don't have any recommendations for where to find good teriyaki in the bay area, but look out for these clues and you should be led in the right direction. By the way, teriyaki sauce is kind of like chili (as in texas chili) -- everybody has a different recipe (or their own personal touches to a basic recipe).
re: Eric Eto
Eric is totally right. Teriyaki isn't as much a specific flavor as it is a cooking technique. The idea is to "lacquer" the sauce onto the meat with high heat to make a glaze. Teriyaki in most US incarnations is an excuse for barbecue sauce. Interestingly, one sees teriyaki much more frequently on US menus (though not authentic) as one does in Japan. True teriyaki is highly time intensive, and is only practical in small owner-operated places or very expensive large-kitchen places.
I agree; most places have pretty horrible teriyaki. At my favorite Japanese place (Bonsai, in Oakland) their teriyaki is usually almost inedible -- bad cuts of meat, or really unflavored. Usually I get a bento lunch, but order some sushi to make up for the teriyaki I skipped!
Kamakura in Alameda (see link) was tasty. I've only eaten there once, but both the teriyaki and the yakitori used good cuts of meat and were nicely seasoned.
I didn't care for their miso (with lots of fish bits floating in it?), though, and that's usually top on my criteria. The tempura was also mostly shrimp (not my fave) and... green pepper? Your mileage might vary.
Weekdays they get a huge crowd at noon; get there ten minutes before, if possible. (and search the board for another review of Kamakura, about two months ago?)
If you don't want to make it yourself (and pref. grilled as another respondent said -- or at least broiled in oven, as opposed to baking), any outdoor festival sponsored by a Japanese Buddhist temple or social org. is bound to have great teriyaki, among other treats. Have't gone to such recently, but when I lived in Hawaii, that was always fool-proof. (But in Hawaii, most folks have some kind of grill anyway so they make it at home).
The Korean equivalent in restaurants is much more fool-proof -- never had a bad one there. It's spicier, too, and always grilled.
As I've mentioned here before, I live next door to a church with a Japanese-American congregation and across the street from a Japanese Buddhist temple.
A periodic summer event in my house is "teriyaki torture day" when the neighbors gather at some ungodly hour and fire up the grills for an event (although the church next door seems to no longer start cooking teriyaki at 4 am). I like teriyaki, but I'm not crazy about having the smell permeate my house several days a year (the church has one big event, the temple usually has two, one of which is a whole weekend).
As a chowhound, I haven't been impressed by the church (they usually give us a couple of their dinners out of good will) -- I'll have to try the temple next year.
This got me wondering if Hana Zen in SF's downtown is still good. I really enjoyed dinner at this yakitori house over a year ago, but haven't been back since.