Hamon Washoku in San Carlos. Anyone been?
Laurel Street Cafe is gone as the owners decided to move back to France. I miss that crepe shop already.
Currently in its place is a brand new Japanese restaurant, and very Japanese looking at that.
I dropped by earlier this afternoon to take a peek. They were not open yet but the door was opened and I was allowed to check out the menu and take a look inside.
A few random notes
- open for dinner only
- menu changes every 2 weeks
- decor and design are very Japanese. Had a semi Zen feel to it, similar to a nice high end place in Tokyo, and some of it felt very spa like.
- Mostly counter seats with a view of an open kitchen (a la Wakuriya)
- they have a raw fish counter, but I did not see anything on the menu that had anything to do with sushi. They had thinly sliced abalone, white fish sashimi, kohada oboro something
- My memory is a bit hazy from studying the menu, but it suggested hints of Wakuriya style perhaps Kappo dining with a bit of Kappa kind of ko-ryori. I didn't ask the manager in charge (okami-san, dressed in kimono who obviously is Japanese. Madai no saikyozuke yaki (sea bream marinated in saikyo miso (kyoto style) and grilled.
These notes should dispel the notion is it just another typical Japanese place. So may be worth checking out for those who are into Kaygetsu, Wakuriya, Kappo Nami Nami, Kappa (SF) and/or adventurous about regional Japanese cuisine beyond the teriyakis tempuras sushis udons sobas etc..
My husband & I went for dinner last night and were very excited to have a high-end authentic Japanese restaurant in San Carlos. Describing it as appealing to those who enjoy Kaygetsu or Nami Nami is spot on -- it focuses on elegant, seasonal foods (hence the menu changes every 3 weeks or so). It's easy to miss the restaurant -- there is no sign, and the doorway is hidden by the long white curtain with the name (in Japanese). Inside is an elegant, long, spare space with dim lighting and darkly-clad male waitstaff and women waitstaff in kimonos.
We sat at the bar which took up over half the restaurant. Behind the bar is the open kitchen. According to the menu, the current season was "88 days" (or something like that) which was the time of snapper (madai) and planting of tea. At the bar were a couple of woven baskets of halved snapper heads and a small selection of raw fish. The menu was divided into a page of cold dishes, one of hot dishes, with beverages on the last page. About half of all the dishes were snapper themed -- we could easily have created a "Battle Snapper" multi-course meal a la Iron Chef. I ordered tea, and my husband had some unique Japanese beer there which he had not tried before but enjoyed very much.
* Amuse. To start we were given a complimentary piece of marinated shrimp, very subtle in taste and slightly sweet. Honestly I wish the shrimp were a bit plumper & more sweet, but hey, one can't complain too much about a free dish :)
* Madai Uni, $16. Four slices of snapper sashimi were each wrapped around a piece of uni and served with real wasabi. The sashimi pieces were elegantly cut so that they looked a bit like a pine cone on the outside (not sure what the technique is called). We both loved the smooth taste of the snapper with the richness of the uni .
* Hon Maguro Sashimi, $20. A bowl of about eight pieces of tuna, served over ice, was served next. The restaurant did not have much of a selection of raw fish -- we asked for toro but they did not have any. However the pieces were a reasonable size and quite fresh.
* Ai-gamo, $18. We did not notice this on the menu but our sushi chef recommended it -- we mis-heard it as Tai (don't ask why) and were surprised when a dish appeared with perfectly seared pieces of sliced duck, plus raw negi onions (white part only), shitake, and shishito pepper. Then came two bowls of dipping sauces (one a very light oil-like sauce, the other a thick creamy white one, perhaps sesame?) which I could not identify, and finally a small ceramic charcoal grill. Although I felt the duck was adequately cooked, we added them to the grill to slightly melt the layer of fat/skin on the outside, and also added the vegetables for a lovely smoky counterpoint. The sauces were both a too subtle for me, but the oil-like sauce did add a nice smooth mouth-feel to the dishes.
* Madai Shirae, $13. A piece of snapper was placed on top of a fresh piece of tofu, and topped with a touch of ume, sliced lotus root, and something that looked like dried flaky seawood but tasted more like bonito flakes. The presentation, as with all the dishes, was simple and beautiful, and I thought the ume lent the perfect counterpoint to the softness/gentleness of the rest of the dish. That said I did wish there was a bit more ume, and the dish without it was a bit bland.
* Madai Arani, $20. Our favorite dish of the night was halved snapper head braised in sweet soy sauce, served with sliced burdock root on the side. We've had similar dishes before (not with head) but this one was not too sweet, not too salty, and the head meat was extremely tender and soaked up the sauce nicely.
The restaurant had been open about two weeks when we went, and service was surprisingly a bit slow considering there seemed as many servers as diners, but the servers seemed content to stand by themselves instead of checking to see if we needed more tea, water, wanted to order, etc. I guess it's more the type of place where you need to flag folks down instead of having them inobtrusively check on you.
We also recognized the head chef from when he served as head chef of Kampai House in Sunnyvale (now closed), which we visited once. When we had gone to Kampai House before, we thought that his skills were wasted on the fusion concept of the place -- he's been trained in kaiseki and obviously prefers more traditional preparations, which is perfectly showcased at Hamon Washoku.
Overall we were quite satisfied with the restaurant and will definitely visit it again, though not everything was a success for me. I most enjoyed the snapper uni sashimi & the snapper head, but am worried that the restaurant may be a bit too subtle in advertising, presentation, and flavor to work out in the long run.
P2, thanks so much for the report. I was in San Carlos that day and had planned to eat at Hamon Washoku. But one dining companion faded, then another. I did stop in to look at the menu thinking I'd just try a couple things by myself. However, it seemed like preps that would be best shared, and the hostess said as much too. I was struck by how much madai was on the menu that night, as well and had to laugh out loud at your suggestion of "battle snapper"!
The exterior is subtle. Are there any outdoor signs with the name on it? I drove past that block twice without spotting it. Look for the black awning. I had to take to the sidewalk and go door to door to find it. While I was standing outside trying to read the menu in the rain, the hostess opened the door and asked me if I'd like to come in.
741 Laurel St, San Carlos, CA
Yikes, just received this:
A dream was realized....but dreams sometimes change....
On May 14th, Hamon closed as Chef Suzuki and I focus on pursuing other dreams.
We are thankful to bring Hamon to life and to have been able to share true Washoku with you.
We thank you for being a part of this wonderful experience that we will cherish.
While ours dreams have changed, we encourage you to pursue your dreams, as we can attest, dreams can find reality.
Warmest regards and arigato.
Bobby and Suzuki-san.