Wakano Ura Report (Sacto Area)
- Bryan Harrell
A group of four hounds ascended on Wakano Ura, the 2nd floor Japanese restaurant that has been a Sacramento J-town fixture for well over 50 years, by some accounts. Apparently it moved from the original Sacramento Japantown, centering on the 3rd and 4th, L and M block. An elderly Japanese woman I talked to in front of the current location believes it was in the original Sacramento Japantown before WWII.
Wakano Ura is curious because it has both Chinese and Japanese food. How long it has been that way I could not find out -- the current owner James, a Chinese man, has owned it for only a few years. He believes he is at least the 5th owner. The neon sign out front, which is nicely maintained, looks to be from the 40s or early 50s and proclaims both "Chop Suey" and "Sukiyaki." Needless to say, Wakano Ura has no Web site.
During the mid-70s I was a regular customer, and one of my favorite dishes was Peanut Duck. Our group decided to order that, as well as the sign items of Chop Suey and Sukiyaki. To round out the meal, we ordered white rice and a bowl of seaweed soup, very similar to what I used to order 30 years ago, and still only $4.50.
The sukiyaki was a disaster. The beef was all wrong, thick short chewy slices instead of the long, paper-thin tender slices needed for this dish. Too much shirataki (devil's tongue noodles) and not enough onion. Also, there was no little dish of raw egg to dip the hot meat into, though there could be a legal problem with that here in the U.S.
The seaweed soup was lovely, a rich chicken broth with lots of purple nori (seaweed) sheets cut up and mixed in. It was only marred by a new addition -- a handful of frozen peas and carrot cubes.
Descriptions of the Peanut Duck and Chop Suey will be made by others in the group. It was interesting to note that although the largest letters on the sign outside say Chop Suey, it is no longer on the menu. However, the chef was kind enough to make a Chinese BBQ Pork version of it for old time's sake.
The cost of our meal came to $10 a person, which included tax and a generous tip. Yet one more reason you'll certainly feel you've slipped back in time here.
2217 10th St (between V and W)
re: Bryan Harrell
Chop Suey! Hmmmm... What can I say. Chop Suey is of course an American dish, Chinese-American actually. The story of it's origin, as I learned it, goes that a couple of miners in San Francisco went to a Chinese resurant and wanted to eat. They were told that the resturant was closed. But the miners were pushy and wouldn't take no for an answer. The cook finally put something together which he called garbage! This is probably wrong but makes a good story. :-) There is a New York version of the history of Chop Suey which I won't go into since we are on the west coast. The nicer definations of chop suey that I read are "bit's and pieces" or "misc". Anyway, bottom line, you can't get chop suey in China or practically anywhere in california either so far as I can see.
The basic recipe, and what we had saturday night, is (roughly) sliced BBQ pork, bean sprouts, sliced celery, sliced green onions, maybe some bell pepper, mushrooms, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, you know clean out the frige... It's stir fried, seasoned with soy sauce, thickened with corn starch and served piping hot. It was pretty good too. This is a Chinese dish my father would have recognized.
The folks at Wakano Ura were very nice and were happy to serve us the dish in spite of the fact that it was recently removed from the menu.
All in all the Wakano Ura is, and has been, a rather schizophrenic place. Can't decide if it's Japanese or Chinese. No doubt it was originally owned by people of Japanese background (that bit of history that Bryan came up with about old Japanese town being around 5th and 6th streets, 'bout Q - T, is interesting and correct as I have learned it. Also Wakano Ura is a Japanese word) who wanted to open their market as much as they could. The strip lighting and formica table tops are all 50's. The neon sign, also 50's, is very cool, very retro but is not on at night. I don't know if it doesn't work or they just don't turn it on.
All in all we had a good time, the food was tasty but not something I'd go out of my way for. The charm is the funky, old time ambiance of the place.
Would I recommend it? I would choose someplace else as a food destination, this place for funky.
re: Melanie Wong
I noticed the links in the original post (under my real name) no longer worked. Thank you, Melanie, for putting in a working picture. I still miss this place, and the neighbourhood, having moved from 32nd & Broadway to Tokyo in 1977. I have yet to find another dish like the Peanut Duck I used to enjoy at Wakano Ura.