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The most satisfing lunch in San Diego can be found at...

...Izakaya Sakura.

Entering the proverbial place with no name -first revealed to me through Kirk's blog and subsequent Chowhound postings- you are hit by the accolades of "Irasshimase."

[My 1st Sakura Posting: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

]

I was quickly seated and two menus were place before me. The familiar and a new hand written one.

The ladder was headlined: "Lunch Special Plate $12" and beneath this was written in both Japanese and English:
'Teriyaki Salmon
Boiled Saury
Oden
Egg Omelette
Ginger Pork
Creamy Seafood Croquette
Spaghetti'

Unable to read the fuller Japanese description, I assumed you picked one of the above. I told the waitress that I would like the saury. She nodded and ran to the back.

Soon arrived my tea - which included Maccha powder that sunk to the bottom of the mug. I cherishly drank this (freezing out) while watching the Itamae setting up the fish case which was framed by 'reserved' signs.

Then! Here I see the very petite waitress coming with this HUGE tray. Nearing, my eyes literally lit up like the kid from A Christmas Story finally unwrapping his lusted bebe gun.

EVERYTHING listed on this bonus menu leaflet IS the 'lunch special plate.'

A bento box encapsulating:

-Oden:
This has been my latest favorite Japanese dish (considering the weather) since my Dinner at Yu Me Ya. In this version, I especially enjoyed the halved quail egg which delighted me with its unctuous, creamy yolk. The baby daikon slice was perfectly tender and the mini-fishcakes and sullen-looking tofu soaked up all the broth.

- Pork Shogayaki:
Oddly, I have never tried this dish before, despite being enticed by the Dotch Cooking Show. It was a treat in that I feel that the ginger is the perfect paring for a rich meat like pork. This has spurred me to try to make a version at home.I relished the Shogayaki and its liquid with the-

-Rice (the 'star' of the bento):
Working at a Japanese restaurant, I have learned to value and appreciate the nuances of perfectly cooked rice. The accompaniments could be prepared by Morimoto himself, but if the rice falls flat, the entire dish was made in vain.
This gohan was amazing - each grain stood up in its own character, perfect 'bite', and a light stickyness -just about to give.
I am not lying when I say that I would be happy to eat this rice alone with the packet of teriyaki nori strips they lovingly accompanied alongside this bento.

I had to ask the waitress as to the type of rice this was - as I did the Itamae looked up and said: "Koshikari."

= Yep, no messing around at the Izakaya.

Takuan & Kuri no Kyuchan:
I love takuan and Sakura actually uses one of my favorites: The Akita prefectures smoked 'iburi gakko' daikon (http://www.media-akita.or.jp/akita-sh... ). Took bites of this in between dishes a la sushi gari.

Creamy Corroke:
A crisp exterior brushed with earthy tonkatsu sauce of this little guy revealed the sinfully rich interior. I wanted to save this for my 'last bite' -didn't last long.

Teriyaki Salmon:
Not bad, strong salt flavor, good with the rice. Perhaps a little overcooked (but it was a thin piece).

Simmered Saury:
I liked this portion the best. I think its the consistency in biting into this oily fish - which I think benefited well from a soy simmering. This is the owner of my restaurants wife favorite thing to eat.

Tamago:
I have been perfecting this dish at home. I liked the minced ham, onion and parsley flavoring. Good layering,hint of sweetness - only reccomendation - a little exterior browning for caramelization.

Tsukemono:
Simple Asazuke.

Salad:
I am really intrigued by the salad dressing - they wouldn't let me buy a salad to go - as I hoped for further inspection of its contents. I think it is a heavily fortified with egg yolk mayo dressing - hence the vibrant color. I'll have to try to recreate it.

As you can see I got my christmas present early this year and could not be happier. Good food makes the soul sing.

Pictures: http://flickr.com/photos/98128783@N00...

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  1. Never seen that plate before, but I love Sakura. In fact, when I was first investigating the place, I had lunches there more than dinners. Unagi donburi there is also great for lunch, and if Kazu is there, the chirashi ($18 if memory serves) is excellent.

    Looking back at your first post, I need to thank you for mentioning the Hayashi Chuka. I never would have tried it without your recommendation, but it was unique & different & tasty.

    ed

    7 Replies
    1. re: Ed Dibble

      I am glad you liked it...I cant wait for summer to have it again.

      Regarding the owner...I assumed he was the stoic looking younger guy, but the Itamae during my visit was an older fellow.

      1. re: kare_raisu

        Kazu is probably in his 40's. One night a week, he has (used to have?) an older gentleman so he could get a day off. I believe it is (used to be?) Sundays. But he also visits Japan about once a year, and then he has a younger itamae behind the counter. Kazu often doesn't arrive at lunch time until after noon. Most evenings he's there after about 6. I've never seen two guys preparing sushi there, but I usually try to avoid peak hours.

        ed

        1. re: Ed Dibble

          Does he oversee the hot food from the kitchen as well or only the sushi?

          I have always noticed the strong-built hispanic cook in the back.

          I would love to spend a week(or half a year for that matter) learning in the kitchen.

          1. re: kare_raisu

            I'm sure he is in charge of everything. Unless he's busy, I usually let him select dishes for me. Last night he served Kirk and me some kind of cold fish head with onion slices in a slightly sweet dashi broth along with some things that we ordered off the menu.

            While not pudgy, Kazu is a bit stocky and broad shouldered. Not a lean skinny type sushi chef. Also he usually has a fashionable stubble.

            Don't know if he would let you into his kitchen, but he really is personable and proud of his dishes.

            ed

            1. re: Ed Dibble

              I think the young lady told me it was Pompano(ebisu-shiira), called Mahi Mahi where I'm from. It was excellent. And don't forget the Sazae(Sea Snail), I've only had that once before...and though there were a few little "gritties", the meat was tender and mildly sweet. And of course probably the best tako I've ever tasted.

              1. re: KirkK

                These dishes both sound enticing. I am interested in how the sea snail was presented to you both. I wonder how common it is for simmered dishes (especially fish) to be served cold?

                1. re: KirkK

                  Yeh, the best tako ever. It was amazing, and before I tasted it, I wondered why Kazu had included it with the sashimi as he never had done that before.

                  I had no gritties in my snails. Don't know how I forgot them.

                  ed

      2. Well i have found where i am eating lunch today. Great report. Sakura is my top place here in SD

        1. Just got back from lunch and had the lunch special. Todays version came with spicy lobster, miso salmon and a chicken meatball wrapped in cabbage.

          The spicy lobster was breaded and doused in a spicy catsup based sauce. Kind of like a cross between sweet and sour and general tso's in Amricanized chinese terms. I liked this as the lobster was cooked perfectly but the suace was a little too sweet for my liking

          The chicken meatball wrapped in cabbage 3was studded with onions. This reminded me of Eastern European stuffed cabbage and was unlike anything Japanese i have had before. I enjoyed this quite a bit.

          the miso salmon is always a fantastic dish here. Very nice

          The rest of my meal was fairly identical to yours. I realy enjoyed the oden especially with the hot mustard. The seafood croquette with tonkatsu was a winner, very creamy and balnaced by the sharp sauce. The array of pickles was very nice, the waitress even comented that most americans dont like the ume, but i love it. The spaghetti was interesting too, the tobiko was a nice addition. The omelette was alright, nothing too exciting, reminiscent of a western omlette. The rice was fantastic, just the right texture, and i loved the teriyaki nori with it. The miso soup was above average.

          As for the salad, i wasnt too impressed as i abhor iceburg lettuce. The dressing was alright, sort of a carrot ginger thing, very thick. I did enjoy the melon though.

          All in all $12 well spent. I had never been for lunch before.

          2 Replies
          1. re: MVNYC

            Thanks for the report Mvnyc....you make me envious & I just ate there yesterday!

            You didnt happen to take any pictures by chance?!

            I am very interested in the spicy Lobster dish...was it panko breaded - heavy or light? Tail portion?

            The chicken meatballs sound like the Yoshoku dish of Rolled cabbage that is pretty popular in Japan...any idea if these were steamed or pan fried? Napa cabbage?

            I'm surprised you like the ume- its not my cup of tea that much.

            Was your waitress the eldest of the three? The one with the glasses or the young one?

            Did you catch anything else being cranked out of the kitchen?

            1. re: kare_raisu

              No pictures, i don't even own a digital camera.

              It was lightly breaded with panko, i think it was panko, the sauce obscured the breading. It was tasty, spiny lobster tail meat. Maybe a third of a tail.

              The meatballs appeared to have been braised, much like european stuffed cabbage. Yes it was napa.

              My waitress was the young one. I enjoy ume, i actually enjoy everything Japanese i have had the pleasure of consuming. With one exception, Natto. It makes me gag.

              As far as anything else, i saw some people eating ramen, but thats about it.

              If you make it there when Kazu is there, make sure to try the ankimo. It is the best i have had.

          2. I drove through the mall this morning (I was in the area) and could not determine which no-name place it was. Is it adjacent to the Army recruiter, or over by Chilies?

            thanks

            fn

            2 Replies
            1. re: Fake Name

              It's between the two military recruiting offices.

              There's a photo of the front of the restaurant...

              http://mmm-yoso.typepad.com/mmmyoso/2...

            2. I stopped by the Izakaya for lunch again today. I ordered the special bento that included the dishes MVNYC enjoyed.

              No digital camera hook up at the moment -- so pictures will come later.

              The Chicken meatball was excellent: napa cabbage wrapped along with simmered daikon round. Its greatest feature was its texture- tender and juicy. Interesting though - was that the sauce was curry based - delicious. Almost like a Japanese interpretation of the Shanghaiese Lion's head Meatball.

              I liked the spicy lobster but it was hardly spicy and tasted a bit like a spaghettei 'napolitan' - as MVnyc reorts a bit sweet. I ate it with the once again -great rice to cut the sweetness.

              It seems that Sakura may be the only restaurant to offer Yoshoku dishes in San Diego (other than corporate Curry House)- at least on the lunch Menu. I will continue to explore these as it is my favorite niche of Japanese cooking.

              One man ordered the "Fried Beef" sandwich which looked fantastic - I wish I got a better look. Almost all other diners ordered the bento except for one Japanese woman who may have got the zosui - not sure though.

              I inquired if Kazu oversaw the cooked food at all - I guess sushi only. There is a separate chef from Japan whose Job is this in the back.

              Short post for now.

              Btw: Itoko is the name of the eldest waitress who has the most pleasant and warming disposition. Not only the food is great but the service matches it in equal -if not more- fold.

              1 Reply
              1. re: kare_raisu

                Ok here are the pictures:
                http://flickr.com/photos/98128783@N00/

                I forgot to mention the Unagi Tamagoyaki - which was a new experience for me. I feared this would be ultra rich but I could not help but be enamored with the textural similarity of the eel and egg. They melded together.

                The Korroke was out of this world.

                My only complaint is that due to the amount of food and time needed to fully enjoy this bento - some portions are quick to cool. (oh well...)