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Oct 15, 2006 08:19 PM

Sumika in Los Altos - Get a reservation NOW

Thanks to alice's post that it had opened,
William and I had a very pleasant and highly delicious dinner at Sumika on Thursday night. Open just a week, the entire kitchen is on display in the middle of the room with the grill chef front and center. Separated from the seating by a glass partition an enormous hood drafts the smoke away from the grill, yet the aroma of the bincho charcoal still perfumes the air and is quite tantalizing when you step inside. We had reservations for 8:30pm, and were directed to the end of the 8-seat counter. This gave us a great vantage point for everything going on in the kitchen.

Our tiny waitress, Mashu (sp?), was a darling kewpie doll with apple cheeks, girlish voice and diction, and so eager to be helpful. When she came back to us with the bad news that the tsukune was sold out, so profuse was she in her apologies, we felt we needed to soothe her!

From the counter we could watch the cooking and also see what's in the display case. It has some chicken parts --- hearts, skin, liver --- not listed on the menu. But no gizzards or white meat to be seen. Pacing for the grilled items was just right for us, allowing us to eat them while fresh off the grill. Here's what we tried:

pasta salad - amuse bouche of spiral pasta with a spicy mayo dressing

momo (thigh) - pretty big chunks of boneless thigh meat, very juicy and delicious with the tare sauce, just a bit of carmelized grill marks, cooked just right for us but some might find it too rare and soft-textured, preferred this to the smaller bits of breast meat served elsewhere

teba (chicken wings) - done to a turn (bones still pink), very succulent and juicy again, might have liked the skin and fat rendered more

tsukune (chicken meatball) - sold out

hatsu (heart) - sliced in half then skewered, more tender than expected with only a bit of chewiness, very good with the sauce even though we'd ordered it with salt only

kawa (chicken skin) - rich essence of chicken flavor, again would have preferred this more rendered and browned and with salt as ordered instead of sauced

shishito pepper - nothing wrong with this, but I decided I prefer these peppers seared in oil with more salt instead of grilled dry as they didn't pick up much from the smoke

cherry tomato roll - three cherry tomatoes wrapped in thin slices of kurobuta (black pig) belly, loved the sweet and melt-in-the-mouth quality of the pork, but the cherry tomatoes weren't top notch or fully ripe, would order the asparagus or enoki versions next time

"chicken risotto" (ochazuke) - soft-cooked rice topped with shredded nori, big flakes of shaved bonito, chopped scallions, and pickled plum plus a dab of fresh wasabi root on the side of the bowl, savory and intense chicken stock added from a teapot (no tea in this one), tons of flavor and a bargain at $4, we loved this!

fried chicken (kara age) - added this appetizer at the end when we needed one more dish to feel satisfied, excellent version with subtle ginger and garlic tones, softish greaseless crust, and ultra-juicy chunks of dark meat

tempura fig with vanilla ice cream - good concept, but the ice cream was grainy and poor quality, nice figs and frying job, needed a bit of tart sauce such as balsamic or strawberry to unite the elements and bring out the sweetness of the figs, overall impression was dull and flat. From his vantage point, William could see that the figs were fried in the same oil as the chicken, which he said shouldn't be a problem tastewise as long as the oil is fresh but vegetarians might object to the mixing.

Besides the tsukune, the other item we wished we'd tried is the onigiri. Seeing these on the grill bathed in white smoke, they've got to be fantastic. Our waitress strongly recommend the oyako-don for next time as her favorite of the rice dishes.

When we asked for the bill, we were offered hot tea. It was nice to linger a bit longer with our tea and not feel rushed. It also gave us a chance to observe the staff training in the kitchen on knife skills by slicing and trimming daikon. Watching the master chef correct their hand positions and body postures was very interesting as well as the respect he demonstrated for the tools of the trade.

One of the principals stopped by to ask how our meal was and where had we heard about Sumika. She told us that the figs were dry-farmed from her own backyard. She explained that currently reservations are requested while the staff is in training mode and getting up to speed. However, a few walk-ins have been accommodated each evening.

The tab for the two of was $54 with tax, tip and a generous pour of Harushika sake ($9). This was the same as the bill I noticed for the couple sitting next to us. We thoroughly enjoyed our first exposure to a yakitori bar and think this place is going to be very popular. Call for a reservation and go now before Sumika is discovered.

Sumika slideshow -

Larger view of menu -

Kushiyaki & sake
236 Central Plaza
Los Altos, CA 94022
Monday through Saturday
Dinner only

More about bincho white charcoal from a manufacturer -

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  1. Slighly off topic, but yesterday at Nijiya Supermarket in San Mateo, right by the frozen food section on the shelf above, there were packages of bincho tan (charcoal) for sale. Probably not the same variety that the yakitori-ya's use, though might be interesting to see how that replicates for a home experience.

    2 Replies
    1. re: K K

      Is the Nijiya Supermarket on El Camino and 20th?

      1. re: K K

        Interesting to watch the grill master refuel the fire, had two metal vessels with smoldering branches of charcoal in them, one on the floor and one at grill level.

      2. Yep though it is right off 92 (closer than 20th but yes that would be the nearest cross street) if you exit on the south side. I forgot how much the charcoal cost, but it is not a big bag (about the size of a bag of chips or smaller).

        1. just mentioned Fleur De Cocoa on the Southbay thread- if you need something beautifully sweet this is the spot.

          1. Three of us went to Sumika for dinner on Friday eve. We had:

            * Sumika salad: Good but one of us thought it was too similar to Chinese chicken salad

            * 2 orders each (one with tare, one without) of:
            - chicken thigh: Delicious, preferred w/o tare
            - Chicken skin: Good but should be crispier, definitely prefer w/o tare
            - chicken heart: So-so, bit dry, no preference for tare or plain
            - Chicken meatball with shiso: Good, preferred with tare
            - Chicken wing: Great!! Both tare and plain were good
            - Kobe beef: Very yummy. Preferred plain
            - One other chicken prep (liver?): Obviously not very memorable

            * Chicken ochazuke: We *loved* this dish!! Quite a kick to it with the wasabi. Price is now $6 (as opposed to $4, mentioned by Melanie)

            * Ume souishi: I mis-read the menu and thought this was ume shiso but out came a small strange dish that looked and tasted like hard cartilege or shark fin with pungent plum paste. I ate the whole thing but think this is an acquired taste to love :)

            Unfortunately they were out of the onigiri, which I generally love to order at yakitori-yas. Their house-made tare was fine but most times I preferred the dishes without it.

            With tea, four medium glasses of beer, tax, and tip, the total came to $116 which seemed a bit steep. We'd go back again (mostly for the ochazuke) but we wouldn't be in a rush to do so.

            1. Thank you all for the Sumika postings - we were there for dinner tonight and loved it. Our highlights were:
              Momo (thigh) yakitori - phenomenally juicy, DH and I fought over the last piece (DH doesn't fight me for food too often - so it was that good)
              Asparagus wrapped in thin slices of kurobuta (black pig) belly - remarkable, much better than the cherry tomato version, I could have eaten 4 orders of this
              Oya-don - well-flavored chicken and egg over rice
              Teba - chicken wings were grilled just right
              Service was good, they had a steady run of mostly Japanese clients throughout. Our waitress Kuniko was lovely. With tea, 3 beers and way too much food, tax & a good tip - we came to about $90 for two people. Will definitely go back soon, with kids in tow.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Pinkster

                We finally tried this out and it is as great as everyone says. The grilled dishes had a fantastic but just right (not overdone) flavor of the fire, be it the momo, kawa, zucchini, or okra. They make a big deal of their Binchoutan charcoal and I can see why. The enoki roll was good, but not as spectacular as the other grill choices.

                And as mentioned, it is not all grilling. Most of these were our first time having these dishes and we thought they were all delicious. People looking for great fried chicken in the Bay area should try the karaage here. The chazuke was outstanding but different than what is listed on the web site, with a seaweed (I believe) broth rather than the chicken broth. We enjoyed the homemade tofu very much as well. The Sumika salad was tasty as well but the menu didn't mention there was yet more chicken in that as well. I can understand the Chinese chicken salad reaction.

                We need to go back and eat through the rest of the menu. It is so nice to have another great restaurant in the spot where Jocco's started the downtown Los Altos dining boom.


                1. re: Pinkster

                  How old are your kids & what do you think they would like? I have 8 & 11 year old girls who are just getting into Japanese food.

                  1. re: ceekskat

                    My girls are 7 and 10 - they like the karaage with rice, some of the grilled chicken skewers (esp the wings) and the oyako don. You can definitely find straightforward food there for the kids and it's fun to watch them grill.

                    1. re: Pinkster

                      Thanks, looking forward to trying it!