Husband and I met up w/ another couple at Tanto Sunnyvale last weekend. Reservations are recommended since they are pretty popular, the place is small, and they close at 9pm on weekends. We were seated at one of the sunken-in tables wherein you first remove your shoes. This was all of our first time at Tanto and my first time ever trying izakaya-style food.
Unfortunately, I didn't do my usual houndly homework so we ordered what sounded good to us and what was recommended by our friendly, smiley waitress. The menu was pretty varied and had alot of interesting sounding items. We ordered in two waves. I forget some of the exact names of the dishes, so I did my best to describe them.
Pan-fried onigiri stuffed w/ salmon
Asparagus wrapped in conger eel and batter and then deep-fried. Served w/ ponzu.
Lotus root and pulverized shrimp layered and deep-fried. Served w/ ponzu.
Hamachi kama...grilled yellowtail collar
Beef served w/ hot stone bowl
Grilled oysters w/ ponzu
One large sake for the table
Overall, we enjoyed the food quite a bit. Standouts for me were the onigiri, fried lotus root and shrimp, hamachi kama, and beef. The onigiri reminded me of Viet "burnt rice" on the outside, but the rice was seasoned and creamy on the inside. Our friend asked for salmon in the middle, but I think that may deviate from their standard. Loved the crunchy texture of the lotus root against the softness of the shrimp paste. Everything was fried and grilled well.
The beef w/ hot stone bowl was really delicious. Beef (not sure of cut) was very fresh and nicely marbled, and the fine garlic and ginger paste didn't overwhelm. Our waitress rushed off before we could ask her how to cook the beef in the bowl, so we winged it. Dumped the garlic and ginger paste in. Then tossed in the beef and stir-fried. Tasted good, but I'm wondering if we should have laid the beef against the bowl and let it sear instead of moving around so much? Tips?
Photos of our meal:
We ended up eating pretty lightly for a group of 4, but we all left completely happy and satisfied. The total bill including tax and tip was just under $100, but I could see things adding up depending on the items ordered. Service was good in the beginning but got behind when it filled up.
I look forward to trying some of the recs above as well as comparing to other izakayas around. Does anyone prefer Tanto San Jose and why? Fayewolf, how was your experience?
Another dish that is a must-order is yaki onigiri, or grilled rice balls. While this may seem nothing special at first thought, the effort they put into it to make it authentic and homey tasting is amazing.
They are technically not balls but rice molded into large triangular 3d shapes, grilled on a pan on both sides until crispy golden brown and toasty on the inside. There might be some soy sauce in the rice but it really elevates the flavor. It is topped with a little bit of salmon eggs and some baby anchovies (maybe they're not anchovies but small little fishlings). Two pieces per order, so get more if you have more in your party.
I have not eaten there in over a year, but I recall the butter mixed mushroom in aluminum foil (grilled) was great. Another favorite was the garlic steak, that the San Jose Tanto offered at some point as well.
What I don't like is the minimum $35 per table order, they didn't have that before at SJ and Santa Clara Tanto. Reservations highly recommended in advance...
I also enjoyed the tai meshi, used to be a special item but should now be part of the menu. Basically an entire whole but a bit small red snapper, grilled and served with a special rice in some sort of (clay) pot. It should come with some sort of broth (ask for it if it does not come) and the idea is that you mix the broth in with the remainder rice that sticks to the pot. The broth itself is a bit salty. Around $18 but could be higher now.
I don't think Sunnyvale location has this but at SJ I used to enjoy this sashimi and salad dish called Tai to Mizuno salad, basically red snapper/sea bream sashimi with a Japanese leafy green salad in a superb vinegrette dressing. They might have a variation of this.
Dashimaki tamago, if they have it, is great. That's basically a cooked egg omlette in broth (likely in a mix of konbu and bonito flakes). Might not be on the menu.
Lastly one of my favorites, if not the best dish, is kinki nitsuke, basically a deep sea fish (red skin and exterior), insanely boney, steamed in a sweet soy sauce. If you don't mind the bones, the flesh is superb. You can also ask for this prepped another way, which is deep fried then stewed, some sauce poured over it and served with vegetables. Nice but I prefer the steamed version much more. Might be listed as seasonal, and do ask how much before you order, could depend on the size of the fish, in which case one that feeds two might end up costing $20 something.
My memory is fading, I'm sure there are more on my list.