Sushi Sam vs Sakae vs Sushi Tomi
- chowaddict Jun 4, 2007 10:01 AM
Family visiting from out of town - lived in Japan for a couple of years. They want good Japanese food. Which one do I take them to? We will be a table of 4, eating early ~ 5:00pm, one of us does not eat raw fish. Please Help!!!
Sushi Tomi has a good cooked selection.
Might I suggest Kitsho in Cupertino. They have an all japanese "special menu" of cooked items (housemade tofu, hamachi kama, etc) totalling around 70 items or so. You can also ask for the special menu in english also. The imported fish selection is pretty impressive for the sushi eaters. Recent items include suzuki, kinmedai, kawahagi. The rice is hit or miss but for good japanese food in general, Kitsho is excellent.
KK should be able to provide a much more extensive list.
In my experience, a good sushi restaurant does not equal a place that also does cooked food great, though Sushi Sam's and Sakae might come close. I would not recommend Sushi Tomi; the only way to enjoy a meal at that restaurant is omakase at the sushi bar in front of the owner if he is working that night. Cooked food from the regular menu is subpar. I'm partial to Sam's these days, and would not take family there (way too crowded most nights, very pricey and inconsistent although some of the best nigiri fish selections in town). Though if you want to enjoy a good meal at Sam's, concentrate on cooked dishes from the mini menu in the placard holder, white board, and the black board next to the white board behind the counter (avoid the combo teriyaki/tempura/grill/california roll stuff....if you must have tempura, try anago or kisu tempura if they have it).
Sounds like you're on a tight schedule. Not many places open at 5 pm, some at 6 and the average time is 5:30 pm.
If you are not in a hurry, try Kaygetsu in Menlo Park, though the website advises making reservations well in advance (hopefully your dinner is not more than 2 weeks away). You can still partake in dinner menu and sushi, rather than the full blown kaiseki course at $100+ per (which will include sashimi). More quieter surroundings, and not so rushed.
If you are able to eat dinner at 6 pm, Sumika Grill in Los Altos is excellent all round for cooked food, though a friend who knows the owners and chef, told me that the executive chef rarely cooks much these days (only for certain items), which might explain the food not tasting quite the same as it did in Janaury (but still very worthy and superb otherwise).
If you are willing to consider Sakae, I think you'll enjoy sister restaurant Yuzu in San Mateo for more izakaya style type small dishes with a hint of fusion (cooked food here is pretty good) plus the sushi is excellent, although pricier than most (a bit cheaper than Sakae). Best of all very small place and intimate kind of setting.
I too would recommend Kitsho, who I think might open at 5:30 pm, in Cupertino. I suppose all four people can sit at the bar, 3 people get nigiri omakase with cooked food options (do request that with owner Howard when you sit down), and one omakase for everything cooked food (hopefully white board dinner dishes, and some soybean stuff like cold tofu 3 bean appetizer) and specify no raw fish, I'm sure he can accomodate. Expect $70 to $80 per person.
My vote would be strongly for Sakae. Sam's is loud, cramped and more American-style, by way of comparison. Tomi has never struck me as being a particularly good value in the higher tier. While Sakae and Sam's regularly get a lot of special Japanese fish, Tomi has a more limited selection.
The wild-card pick: Akane in Los Altos.
Please see www.emeraldlake.com/sushilist.html for the full rundown on each of these establishments.
As much as I love Kitsho - I wouldn't recommend sitting at a table there. I have had many great experiences at the sushi bar but my 2 times at the table with a party of 4 or less have been disaster - the wait staff is slow and don't know much about any of the special fish the chef is serving.
Sam's cook stuff is kinda mediocre. Very Americanized stuff.
I have to recommend Sushi Tomi for some of their cooked stuff. They have the charcoal grill so many of their grilled items have that nice smokey flavor. Just stay away from their udon - taste store bought. Their sushi at the table is pretty good sometimes and if they have a nice cut of O-toro that day GET IT. Make sure to tell them no veins. They have some of the best I have tasted in the Bay Area.
Yuzu is also a good alternative. The chef there has some interesting cooked items also. The sushi there is pretty standard fresh but I have never sat at the table.
If you don't mind coming down south a little bit you can consider Gochi. They are a full izakaya restaurant with some sashimi. The place is very good but hard to get in at times. Good luck.
Otoro shouldn't have veins. But I think I know what you are talking about. Years ago at Taraval Okazu Ya in SF I had a piece of "toro" that seemed to be meat near the bones or the technical term would be sinews. There were indeed strips of white, but they were more like tendons. If cooked or grilled this is great, but when raw it is like eating sashimi with rubber bands inside.
Sakae's cooked food is not bad (regular menu) though if chowaddict goes, the left side of the white board (cooked appetizers) would be the best way, or ask Jun-san if he's working that day to come up with something not on the menu (non raw fish items). Classically trained kaiseki chef, whose skills are vastly under utilized.
Kitsho can still be a recommendation but sitting at the bar is the only way to go, so long as chowaddict doesn't mind not being able to directly face his dining companions/familiy.
I've been to Kitsho with a party of 12 and they were able to perform fine. They have the special fish of the evening written on the "special sushi list". Just ask. It's also written on the board as you walk in.
For cooked items at Kitsho, it doesn't really matter where you sit. For the optimal sushi experience, the bar in fron of Howard would be the way to go.
So, Chowaddict, a Sakae report is forthcoming? It'll be a vicarious thrill for me. I may not be able to find the financial wherewithal to treat myself to that kind of sushi for a while.
On the other hand, Koma in Menlo Park has been topping $8/plate for me recently. Yuzu's through the roof. Sam's is right up there. So the gap between Sakae, Kaygetsu and the mortal realm has closed significantly. Half of my top 10 is outrageously priced these days. But, fortunately, half of my top 10 is NOT.
if i had to chose between those i'd go with sams or sakae but sams has declined in the recent years.
i suggest Oidon for more authentic japanese cooked dishes. it's right above Suruki market on 4th ave.
izakaya mai on 2nd is good for dinner also. their negi toro don is great.