Stellar sushi @ Sakura Garden (Glastonbury, CT)
We recently tried Sakura Garden in Glastonbury for dinner twice, then went back yesterday for lunch. We're convinced this may be our new favorite sushi place in the state. Yes, I still love Wild Ginger in Orange, but this may be one step beyond! Their sushi and sashimi offerings are extremely creative, their cocktails are equally inventive and tasty, and the restaurant itself is just gorgeous. The first time we went, they even got the background music just right--something kind of electronic, yet mellow-sounding (satellite radio) that set a nice tone for dinner.
But, the food! We started with kani salad. You know the drill. It's kind of like the sushi restaurant test for how good the meal might be. It's so simple, yet some people deliver it better than others--this was one of those places. And the portion was quite generous, too.
We shared two specialty rolls--the Othello Roll (tuna, salmon, jalapeno and cucumber, topped with black tobiko and wasabi tobiko) was a stunningly bejeweled roll decked out in all that tobiko and it tasted every bit as good as it looked. We also enjoyed the Ivory Tower Roll (spicy tuna, Japanese ginseng carrot, fresh arugula, sesame seeds and potato crisps with flavorful ginger dressing). Again, the presentation was simply beautiful and we thoroughly enjoyed every bite. I'm afraid my photos simply don't do these dishes justice.
And, as to their cocktails, well, let's just say the deliciousness doesn't stop at the sushi bar. On our first visit, I had a pear sake-tini that was just perfect.
We went back for lunch yesterday (no photos), shared a maki lunch of spicy tuna roll and spicy salmon roll and a specialty roll of spicy tuna and tempura banana that really took fusion to a new level. I love fried bananas and love spicy tuna...never thought to roll them together, but am glad someone did. The spicy tuna had a hint of nuttiness in it (sesame oil?). Whatever it was, it made for a very tasty twist on the ordinary. Their sauces are delicious, as is their ginger dressing. I also enjoyed a lychee martini with the meal.
I cannot wait to get back here with our friends. Since I noticed they have two other locations (Hamden and Evergreen Walk in South Windsor), I asked if the menu varied from place to place. Apparently, the base menu is the same, but the specials are different in each location. Has anyone been to the other locations to say how those compare to Glastonbury?
- dining area within bar
- kani salad
- Othello Roll
- Ivory Tower Roll
Thanks again to geminigirl for recommending Sakura Garden! I'm so glad to have a place like this so close to home. DOMO ARIGATO!
120 Hebron Ave, Glastonbury, CT 06033
One more pic--a nice close-up of the Ivory Tower! Note: I forgot to mention, but see the sesame seeds on the soybean paper wrap? I had never seen that variation. Definitely a nice texture and (again) a real departure from the same ol', same ol'.
I was reluctant to go at first, thinking that this was a formulaic Benihana style faux Japanese trap. But now that I have been (several times), I'd have to say that this is my favorite sushi spot in Central CT. I wouldn't say that the food is leaps and bounds better than other places. But the whole experience, (decor, service, price, music) added to the quality food makes this my "go to" place for a change of pace, healthy meal.
On the basis of this strong recommendation, I tried the Hamden location last night. I'm sorry, Kattyeyes, but it was an enormous disappointment (at least as a sushi/sashimi place), and I certainly won't be going back. I hope the Glastonbury restaurant is a whole lot better....
For starters, the overall atmosphere is much more centered on the bar and the hibachi tables than the small, isolated sushi bar. OK, that's where their focus is, and if the sushi bar produces good stuff, it doesn't matter a lot. But the guy at the sushi bar, all by himself, looked barely out of high school, and wasn't very confidence inspiring. Which turned out to be accurate.
The menu here is really nothing like what is posted on the web (and which may represent what's available in Glastonbury, although I got to it from the web site of the Hamden location). The actual menu has a really limited sushi/sashimi menu, with hardly any really interesting things (and much higher prices than the ones on the web menu). None of the special rolls that appealed to me on the web menu were available here, and what there was was of quite limited appeal.
One thing I had particularly wanted to try was the "eel lover's roll", with unagi inside and out. Turns out it's probably a good thing that doesn't exist at this location: the two pieces of unagi sushi I got had skinny, unappealing pieces of eel, not at all the fat succulent pieces that you get at good places.
The first course I ordered was "sashimi jalapeño", pieces of salmon, tuna and yellowtail with jalapeños and a sauce. The sashimi was not cut at all appealingly: large, uniform slabs, rolled up, with little dollops of a hot sauce on the sides and a huge mound of green salad (with no dressing) in the middle and covering up the fish. The tuna was OK, the salmon almost OK, and the yellowtail (one of my very favorite fish for sashimi) tasteless and quite uninteresting.
The badly cut sashimi was entirely typical. Other sashimi that I ordered were also thin, uninteresting uniform slabs of fish. It goes to show that it takes more than a guy with a knife and a piece of fish to make sashimi. In fact, I might almost suspect that they get it pre-cut....
One interesting thing on the menu was uni, usually a good test of a sushi bar, but of course they didn't actually have it. Which led to the evening's biggest failure, perhaps. They did have amaebi on the menu, and the waitress said they had that, so I ordered it. What came was two raw jumbo shrimp, with very impressive (but inedible) fried head/body pieces on the side. Interesting to look at, but quite tough to eat, and more to the point, not amaebi at all. These are little, very tender very sweet shrimp, quite unlike ordinary shrimp, and what I got bore no resemblance to the real thing. I complained about this, and the waitress went back to ask. Eventually she came back, and explained that this is what they serve at dinner, because it's "more impressive and special." She brought me a plate of what she said they serve at lunch as amaebi -- these were just little ordinary shrimp, still not what was advertised. She explained that these were what their supplier gives them, confirming that no one in the place knows anything about running a sushi bar.
I suspect that a lot of the problem comes from the fact that they're just one branch of a larger operation, so there's no one at this restaurant who actually goes shopping for their fish. Again, perhaps the central location (if that's Glastonbury) gets better attention, but it's obviously not a priority in Hamden.
I can't speak to their cocktails (although I can't say that the cocktail menu is where I focus my attention in evaluating a sushi bar), but I can say that the cold sake "selection" is pitiful. Even the web menu lists only 4, three of them at least being junmai ginjos. But the actual menu in Hamden had only three, one of them a fairly boring mass-producer's product, one a junmai (not ginjo), and one an unfiltered one. Of these three, they didn't actually have the junmai. Frankly, a sushi bar without at least a couple of good cold sakes is not a sushi bar.
Overall, the last time I can remember being so disappointed in a Japanese restaurant was at a place in Charlottesville, VA, where the Japanese menu was an adjunct to the basic Chinese one....
So I certainly won't be tempted to go to another Sakura Gardens location instead of to one of the good places in Orange (East, Wasabi, Wild Ginger) -- or even to my "neighborhood" place in Branford, Yooki Yama, where the sushi and sashimi is lots better than SG, and where Seiko keeps an incredibly good assortment of sakes.
Again, Kattyeyes, I hope your mileage varies a lot and that the Glastonbury location is incomparably better than the one in Hamden.
No pictures, because there was nothing you'd really want to look at.
All I can say is WOW and that is very disappointing. You and I are on the same page re Wild Ginger (and other places, too), so I can only guess Glastonbury is in a league of its own. I trust your judgment re the Hamden location and now I really don't want to go and find out for myself. We are actually going to SG in Glastonbury tonight. At least now we know not to venture to their other locations since that one works beautifully for us (and is closest to home as well). FWIW, there were two or three guys behind the sushi bar on our last visit. It's unfortunate the experience would be so radically different from one location to another, but I'm sure it happens. :(
We had another truly excellent meal at Sakura Garden last night. We are now, for the most part, weekly regulars. I really do think it's a special sushi place.
The top sushi creation of the evening for us both was among the most creative rolls I've ever eaten...and it wasn't even truly a roll. it was called a "Spicy Tuna Sandwich"--the "sandwich" part was sushi rice, formed into triangles (picture the way your mom would cut a sandwich to make it "fancy" when you were a kid). The "sandwich" was formed into four triangles of rice with red tobiko on top, then inside--avocado and spicy tuna with extra spicy mayo (Sriracha, of course!) on top and eel sauce, too. EXCELLENT!
Once again, I had a pear saketini. Those are quite tasty. My dining companion had a green tea martini and liked it very much, too.
Our other roll was (I think) the Santa roll--crab outside, tempura shrimp inside, one of their specials that change monthly. Apologies for not remembering all the details--I was focused on the Spicy Tuna Sandwich. Oh, and the spicy tuna salad appetizer, as usual, did not disappoint.
And, though it may be prefab, I loved every bite of the tempura-battered cheesecake we had for dessert. In my book, it is pretty hard not to love anything tempura-battered and deep fried. :)
One of my friends took me out for sushi and sashimi at Sakura Garden last night. Neither of us had been for happy hour before, but apparently, the word is out on this place for HH as the bar was completely full when we arrived. Seeing that, one of the waitresses seated us in a separate area where the hibachis are, so we had a corner of a hibachi table all to ourselves.
My friend knows I write on Chowhound and insisted (yes, insisted!) that, in addition to my spicy tuna and spicy salmon rolls from the HH menu, I MUST try the sashimi dinner (as she had ordered) so I could write about it. here. Oh to have a friend's support of your habits and hobbies! I couldn't imagine eating a whole sashimi dinner, but my friend said she'd help...so there we were facing down another whole dinner. JW, I'm so very glad you insisted!
The sashimi was fantastic and presented beautifully in an immense white bowl (think of the size of a large mixing bowl), three generous slices each of tuna, white tuna, salmon and fluke...then one long strip of white fish (maybe fluke?) was rolled into the shape of a rose in the middle of it all.
As usual, the pear saketinis were excellent! Once you get to the last sip, there is a concentrated bit of pear nectar that gathers at the bottom of the glass to enjoy.
As we were finishing our neverending sashimi, eventually one of the "cowboy sushi chefs" came to our hibachi table and began to cook for the other half of the table. In he walked, black cowboy hat, holster, jeans, the whole nine...and proceeded to put on quite a show for the other half of the table. What a fun night out, yet again, at Sakura Garden!
120 Hebron Ave, Glastonbury, CT 06033