Five hounds gathered at the bar at Sakae in Burlingame last night. Only Osho had eaten there before.
The whiteboard was full of interesting treats: wild Alaskan salmon, amberjack, bonito. Noticing a sashimi dinner for 2, we asked for an assortment for ~$45 per person, featuring some of the highlights on the board.
The exquisite sashimi platters included: amaebi (raw sweet prawn), bright orange Cooper River salmon, Hokkaido scallop topped with Santa Barbara uni and a few ikura, otoro (mid fatty tuna), seared katsuo (bonito), medai (butterfish), and kanpachi (amberjack) plus a couple of pieces of maguro.
We supplemented this with nigiri we hadn't tried (ankimo--monkfish liver, aji--Spanish mackerel and saba - mackerel, engawa --halibut fin, and ikura with quail eggs) and a bowl of fish collar and jaw in broth with daikon.
True to form, we talked mostly about restaurants, and stressful dates in restaurants, continuing out on the sidewalk where we managed to nearly close the place.
Total with generous tip was just over $100 each; you could spend much less although not if you were drinking sake.
Thanks to Osho for organizing, even if he is threatening to make me try Ino again.
243 California Drive, Burlingame, CA 94010
It was a real treat for me to experience high-end sushi with such knowledgeable companions. Except for a trip to Japan and one experience at Kaygetsu, my sushi experience has been mostly limited to mid-range or low-end places. As I had hoped, there were a couple of “wow” moments at Sakae.
The first came when I tasted the body of the amaebi. As I held it up to my face and sucked out the body a complex mix of ocean tastes and scents filled my mouth and nostrils. At that instant something very odd happened—I suddenly flashed back to a moment in my childhood when I jumped into the ocean next to a pier in Maryland and was shocked by the intensity of the smell of the sea which in that location was particularly strong, perhaps due to sea creatures living on the pier pilings. The flashback vanished in an instant but the smell and taste of the sea from the amaebi stayed with me for a few precious seconds. I turned to share my experience with osho but before I could he declared that eating the amaebi for him was like “tasting the ocean” which perfectly described my experience.
The scallop/uni/ikura combination (which also contained a thin slice of lemon in the middle) was even more delicious. The flavors and textures worked so well together.
The chef played a little trick with his pairing of medai and kanpachi. They looked almost identical and were served as a pair just like the double pieces of most other items. Until Windy pointed out to me that they were different fish I assumed they were the same. Despite the visual similarity the tastes were very different—the kanpachi complex and delicious, the medai very good but relatively plain by comparison.
The only item in our original order that wasn’t at all interesting was the salmon, which I found pretty bland.
I was eagerly anticipating my first ever taste of ankimo. I enjoyed its creamy texture and its flavor but it didn’t strike me as a really premium item. The engawa was another first for me and was soft and delicious. I later found the following description at sushiencyclopedia.com—
“Halibut has its famous engawa, which means an exterior hallway on the side of a traditional Japanese house. In the halibut’s case, it refers to the thin muscle of the dorsal fin which is located on the side of the Halibut. This part of the halibut is very developed compared to the rest of the body and unlike the regular flesh of the halibut, it has a higher fat content which makes it a delicacy. It is very soft and chewy and more concentrated in flavor.”
The fish head and jaw were good but no more satisfying than similar dishes I’ve had at inexpensive places.
The delicious ikura with quail egg ended our meal on a very high note.
The meal was a real education for me and I was delighted by the high quality of the fish.
While I had no reservations about paying over $100 for high-end sushi, the total experience didn’t leave me with as much of a glow as most of my other meals at that price point. My judgement may be biased by the fact that just a few days earlier I had paid a few dollars less per person for one of the best meals (and best values) of my life (at Acquerello).
Perhaps I have just not developed the level of sophistication and sensitivity in my understanding of sushi to allow me to fully appreciate how special the meal was. But beyond just the food, I expect at that price to have a total experience which is also special in other ways—artistic presentation, beautiful décor, outstanding service or some combination of factors that elevates my spirits. I didn’t feel that at Sakae. The service was actually sub-par
While everything was nicely presented, overall I missed the level of visual artistry I have found at other high-end restaurants or even some mid-range places like Skool. Coincidentally the next day I had lunch at Seiya in San Carlos where our off-menu order of aji arrived in an artful construction of deep-fried aji pieces which formed a platform for the fresh aji pieces. None of the Sakae presentations showed equivalent artistry. One of my companions at Seiya who had been to Sakae expressed a similar reaction to mine—very high quality food but overall not all that special an experience.
If getting the finest quality sushi and sashimi is all that matters to you then Sakae is an excellent choice. I’m very glad I went but at that price I would generally prefer an elegant kaiseki meal.
I’m grateful to my more knowledgeable companions for helping me advance my sushi knowledge and for ordering such a wonderful selection. Windy was especially informative in answering my many questions about what we were eating.
Thanks to osho for a great job of organizing and to everyone for the good company and interesting conversation. I hope to see you all again.
325 Sharon Park Dr Ste A2, Menlo Park, CA 94025
1722 Sacramento St., San Francisco, CA 94109
1725 Alameda St, San Francisco, CA 94103
Last time I was here, the miso stewed beef tongue was very tasty (although at a whooping $18), and the grilled or was it stewed sea bass was great too.
Love the katsuo here...probably one of the finest in SF Bay Area...and plus they garnish it with some garlic which is quite unbeatable.
This thread makes me want to eat fresh fish molded over vinegared rice pads for dinner tonight...
* amaebi was superb. The head was served raw, and at my end of the bar, we debated asking the kitchen to fry it. I'm glad I didn't.
* kanpachi and medai were delectable
* saba was a giant step up from most sushi bar mackerel; if you think you don't like fishy fish, Sakae is a fine place to try it again.
* engawa was served warm in a faintly sticky sauce. I'm always happy when engawa and katsuo are offered.
As a measure of quality, almost none of the fish required soy sauce.
I wasn't enamored of the ankimo, and after hoping the fish collar would be like hamachi kama, I found myself thinking how much better this dish would have been at Minako. We didn't try anything else from the kitchen.
Sake was pricey ($10+) but very generous pours compared to say Sebo. And a big thumbs up for the quality of tea served after the meal.
Service was sweet but hard to come by as the restaurant filled up. We lingered more than we might have as a result. And don't bring more than 2 credit cards per table. We had to ask for rice to accompany the sashimi, but it was brought as soon as we did.
Sakae is also open for lunch. I look forward to returning.
This was one of the best sushi outings ever - for me. It's such a pleasure to eat with others who know and appreciate Japanese food.
Firstly - we had fresh wasabi ! And a bit of friendly advice from the itamae not to smother the fish with either shoyu or wasabi :)
I'm glad I also did not succumb to having the amaebi head fried. Sucking on the head and the crunchy eyes was like a dip in the sea - like that proverbial first oyster you ate in Northern France.
Hokkaido scallop topped with Uni was the highlight for me from the first Omakase plate. I saved it for the end. Every piece of fish was super high quality and there were absolutely no disappointments.
Had the halibut fin - engawa - after many years. It was excellent.
They also had the giant 1 Liter Asahi can from Japan - which is a perennial favourite. (Also available at Whole Foods locations in SF for $3.49)
I didn't expect the ankimo to be as good as Sebo or Ino, so it wasn't superlative - which is fine.
The cooked fish - head and jaw was excellent - the broth was a tad salty for my taste.
Absolutely loved the dessert (!)- ikura topped with quail egg !
Glad I could introduce some more 'hounds to Sakae. Peninsula gem.
517 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102
243 California Drive, Burlingame, CA 94010
My first experience seeing CHers in public. Sitting at one end of the bar, I wasn't able to converse with everyone, but happy to make some connections. Was also my first experience at Sakae; I'd visited their sibling, Yuzu a couple of times in the past. The new location of Sakae was right downtown and convenient for my drive from SF. Handsome interior. Both chef and servers where friendly, but I agree that the servers became harder to flag down as the restaurant filled (there where only two). I'd gotten out of the habit of eating much sushi recently and appreciated CHers picking a different spot as well as ordering some things that I don't often, it was a nice change.
I didn't dare try the head raw; was quite happy to have it fried up for me. And, timing wise, was like getting a small bonus course.
Agree that sake was toward the pricey end, but there were some lower priced options. And, they were helpful in directing me toward an unfamiliar sake that matched my flavor preference (server had to consult with sushi chef). Served in conic shaped glass, so difficult to judge the quantity, but seemed in line with my normal expectations. They also had a decent beer selection; when I choose a Japanese all-malt to start, I was up-sold into the more pricey variant.
I'm not one of the big ankimo fiends that I see on CH, and hadn't eaten any recently. That said, I enjoyed the ankimo; it seemed more firm in texture, less creamy/oily/rich than what I recalled. If so, is that related to quality?
I wasn't clear on the name of the dish for the fish collar in broth; tasted like hamachi kama to me. The broth was a surprise; I really liked it and drank all that I was allotted.
I am a fan of saba and enjoyed their preparation. I'm not a big aji fan, but enjoyed it nonetheless. I'd never tried engawa before. It was served a bit warm and there was a musty flavor; I was told that was more likely due to the sauce. I found the flavor unusual, but interesting.
Combining scallop and uni as a single bit of sashimi was unusual. I was a bit skeptical, but enjoyed the combination. I asked the chef and he responded that he liked both flavors and made up the combination.
I usually like to end a night of sushi with either uni or ikura with quail egg, so that was nice.
Compared to my usual sushi bar experience, I was slightly surprised by the high ratio of sashimi to sushi that we ended up with. I think that came down to how we ordered. Everything was quite good, so not bad, just different. Perhaps I could have used yaki onigiri or ochazuke to fill up a bit at the end (I didn't partake in a rice bowl).
Oh, and enjoyed the sweets that Windy shared! I need to look up that shop in San Mateo!
243 California Drive, Burlingame, CA 94010
54 37th Ave, San Mateo, CA 94403
Oh, right. The taiyaki were from Sweet Breams, which I'd wanted to visit since artemis posted about it here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7982...
It's about a mile south of Sakae.
We tried vanilla custard, nutella, and black sesame, which was the flavor of the week. I only got the last two, and preferred nutella (maybe home made--it was very chocolate-y).
Adorable box and store. My only complaint is that being bite sized, they don't look as much like fish as the giant chocolate fish from the toaster at May's. But this is a minor complaint once they're in your mouth.
220 2nd Avenue, San Mateo, CA