Chowdown Report: Sumiya in Santa Clara
Last night seven 'hounds gathered for dinner at Sumiya in Santa Clara. About a year ago the old location on Moorpark in San Jose burned down, and they've been since serving at the new location in a strip mall next to Dasaprakesh. A big thanks to Melanie for organizing!!
Although it was a Monday night, the restaurant was quite busy. Since the restaurant focused mostly on charcoal grilled items, we ordered many yakitori skewers as well as other small plates. Some of their skewers had various flavoring options such as salt, sauce, spicy, garlic, yuzu, ume, wasabi, miso -- the one we chose are listed below.
* Mi - Chicken Thigh (spicy)
* Tsukune - Chicken Meatballs (sauce)
* Hatsu - Chicken Hearts (salt)
* Sunagimo - Chicken Gizzards (garlic)
* Hiza Nankotsu - Chicken Knee Cartlilage Bones (salt)
* Teba - Chicken Wings (salt)
* Sasimi - Chicken Breast (yuzugoshou)
* Butabura - Pork Belly Meat (salt)
* Gyutan - Beef Tongue (salt)
* Kamo - Duck Breast (salt)
* Ika - Monterey Squid (salt)
* Chicken Skin (salt)
* Gobo Fries - Fried burdock root
* Tatsuta-age - Fried chicken thigh meat
* Crispy Chicken Skin Dip - Crispy chicken skin served with octopus salsa dip
* Kurobuta Sausage Links - Served with sauerkraut and dijon mustard
* Yaki Onigiri - Grilled rice balls
* Crunchy garlic pork chashu slices
* Ume Chazuke - Yaki onigiri in lightly salted chicken soup with pickled plum, kimchee on side
Overall I thought the food was fine but the skewers needed more charring as they were on the soft side and didn't have enough charring / smokiness. We ordered gizzards twice, and the second time they were better as they were more cooked and had a richer, more charcoal-y taste. My favorite dishes of the night were the squid skewers, the octopus dip, the kurobuta sausage links, and the rice balls. Normally I love chicken skin and cartllage, but the skewers yesterday night weren't smoky/crispy enough.
Overall with a 20% off coupon from Melanie, dinner came out to a very reasonable $18/person including tax and tip. The restaurant also gives copious free fresh cabbage with ponzu vinaigrette, which was nice to contrast with all the meat.
Vincent, Melanie and Vijay also shared a bottle of Izumi Judan "Tenth Degree" sake.
2634 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara, CA 95051
Overall I was unimpressed with the offerings at Sumiya. Most of our selections were under-seasoned and lacked that charred, charcoal taste that can make this style of food so wonderful. Only when we ordered a handful of dishes toward the end of the meal was the seasoning correct and the flavors popped which made our many first round selections seem even less interesting by comparision. There was some good stuff, however. I enjoyed the burdock root with its hard texture and the grilled rice balls had a wonderful smoky char. One of the more interesting bites was the octopus salsa that accompanied the fried chicken skin. The gizzards also stood out for me. Not really sure I would return here unless I was in the neighborhood but, as usual, it's always fun to dine with the hounds.
P2, thanks for leading off. That's a long list of dishes to type! Let me add a link to the photos, then I'll come back with comments.
Here's a link to the thumbnails.
Slideshow view, click on "show info" for the captions.
The specials menu in-house has more than shown on the take-out menu, maybe someone else remembers. There is something called "fried potato mochi with mozzarella cheese". The yakitori selections had a little more color the first time I was there, and that much more flavor. Maybe the Monday night team isn't as skilled though the non-grilled chicken dishes showed pretty well, especially when you consider the price. And even though things weren't quite up to snuff, the food we had at Sumiya is heads and shoulders above the mediocre Nombe that the critics seem to like so much.
There are only a couple handfuls of true yakitori places in the Bay Area, and Sumiya has always been among the top 5 or even top 3. No it wouldn't win any awards in its category in Japan. The menu is extensive (and confusing for people unfamiliar with its format), and for people that don't know where to start, Sumiya has kindly put in recommendations for their entire menu including beverages.
The seasoning and the cook-through skills were expert, as showcased in the tenderness in all the meats--chicken and especially the squid. There was some inconsistency in how crispy or charred the same item would turn out even in the same evening, as we found out in the gizzards. The skin in the skewered chicken could have been much crispier. I suspect all these can be fixed if one sits at the counter and is thus able to give feedback to the chef as the dinner progresses.
The tsukune was obviously homemade, but the rich albeit slightly-too-salty kurobuta sausage links unfortunately were not. A good yaki onigiri requires a distinct soy sauce and TLC throughout the grilling entire cooking process, and the version from Sumiya had both.
Overall the meal was quite good, greatly varied and unbeatable in the quality-to-price ratio.
2634 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara, CA 95051
Interesting to look back on the early reports from the original San Jose location showing the similar variance of opinions. One suggested that it's better to go late rather than early, maybe that explains the difference in grilling. Next time I think I'd like to sit at the counter as you advise.
At the table, you made some comments about style issues. Perhaps Sumiya goes for the softer, wetter textures unless requested otherwise.
I liked the tsukune very much here although maybe with a little less salt. That seems to be a sure bet. Also, these chicken meatballs have been available at both my visits. When I've tried to order them at Kokko, Sumika and Yume-ya, they're already sold out. So if you're a tsukune fanatic, this might be your place.
Just counted the number of items we tried . . . 19 different tastes. Sharing a wide variety of dishes is why I love time at the table with my fellow ‘hounds. I thought I’d add some notes on my top picks from this dinner.
Crispy Chicken Skin Dip - Crispy chicken skin served with octopus salsa dip
This is the second time I’ve had this and I think it was even better this week. The chicken skin was thinner with a more delicate crispiness instead of a hard crunch. As PekoePeony remarked, they do remind you of chicharrones. And the octopus salsa was a little different too. In the summer, the salsa had more really ripe tomatoes, the octopus was firm and “cooked” by the acidity, and a spicier chile kick. This time the salsa was a little sweeter and the octopus was close to raw, more like ceviche. Loading the octopus salsa on the thin chicken skin crisp reminded me of a tostada de mariscos.
Ika - Monterey Squid (salt
)Really liked this one, so tender and sweet with just the right amount of char. Such a treat to have fresh, locally caught squid. And, don’t they look like little bagels in this photo?
Yaki Onigiri - Grilled rice balls
Wow! These were in a whole ‘nuther class and so much better than I’ve had anywhere else before. Shows how good technique can elevate something as simple as a rice ball to something very special.
Ume Chazuke - Yaki onigiri in lightly salted chicken soup with pickled plum, kimchee on side
I loved the clean, clear chicken soup my first visit and again at our dinner. A double treat that Sumiya uses yaki onigiri as the rice component. The balance of salt, chicken meatiness, and salty ume was just perfect.
Kurobuta Sausage Links - Served with sauerkraut and dijon mustard
These little smokies still do it for me. Salty, yes, as Vincent points out, but what a delicious bite with the sauerkraut and mustard. I’m going to look for these at the Japanese markets to cook at home.
Chicken meatballs had a light, almost fluffy texture and the appropriate amount of char.
Crunchy garlic pork chashu slices
We were pretty excited imagining what this might be from the menu listing. A letdown to find out that the crunchy referred to the garlic bits and not the pork. Yet, the belly slices were pretty tasty, and if David Chang has served these on a clamshell bun, we’d be sold.
Tatsuta-age - Fried chicken thigh meat
Lightly marinated and so juicy, I liked the delicate coating. Reading up on this, Japanese potato starch would be the traditional flour for dusting. But I am wondering what the difference is between this and kara-age.
I also enjoyed the sake that Vincent picked from the list. A soft entry, then a dryer finish than most, this was a good counterpoint to our meat-laden meal.
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