Last weekend I had the Liver Nira Itame (Liver & Garlic Chive Stir-fry, $8), one of the additions to Sakura's recently updated menu.
I think originally a Japanese/Chinese Chuka dish, the Liver Nira is now a Teishoku staple in Japan (often called Reba Nira if you like to google it for more info). The softer Chicken Liver used had a milder flavor than the Pork version I'm used to.
All the veggies including the bean sprouts had a nice par crisp. Obviously I don't recommend the dish if you do not like liver to begin with... I personally don't seek it out often myself but like this day can have a craving once a while.
I know Sakura experiments with their menu time to time but judging by the looks of these, they seem to be for the longer haul. Very cute and was also better visually organized I thought.
To the left is the English and right the Japanese version. A few new additions like the Liver & Nira but I noticed quite a few older items were missing as well. Perhaps a proactive simplification of the menu for these uncertain times. The Subuta Dango (Sweet Sour Pork Meat Balls), Mabo Tofu Don and the Sushi Rolls from the weekend menu are now permanent items.
It was a little sad to see the Tofu Dango not make the lunch menu cut. I feel a bit nostalgic of this photo taken some time ago.
But being one of the higher priced side dishes at $5, I could understand it now reserved only for dinner. These below I had just last week.
The contrasting textures from carrots, scallions, shiitake and hijiki among others in a soft deep fried minced tofu sphere were great with the toromi thickened sauce.
The Aji (Horse Mackerel) Fry on the other hand was added to the Appetizer menu ($3.50). (Technically moved from the combo meal list.)
I'm sometimes convinced Sakura makes their own Panko breadcrumbs because they can be roof-of-mouth-piercingly-huge at times. Includes the always good sweet Demi Glace sauce along with some Tartar Sauce and a small mound of Sakura's Potato Salad (which a larger portion is also now available on the App. menu for $3.50).
This is an older photo of the combo version ($8). Under the two Aji were also a few fried Zucchini slices. I wouldn't be surprised if they still served it to you the way if you ask.
The Pork Shoga Yaki (Ginger Pork) is another classic Teishoku dish ($8) and is here to stay. There were at least three other people having it this day.
Always filling and the great ginger and lightly sweet soy sauce flavor the perfect appetite booster if you're maybe feeling under the weather (or in Japan hungover from having too many sake shots the night before with your company boss).
I wouldn't be shy about pouring the drippings onto your bowl of rice because it's too good to waste... :)
On a similar note the other new addition I noticed was the Garlic Chicken Saute ($8.50).
A nice tender chicken thigh, with skin on (thank you). It's a very flavorful garlic sauteed chicken with a lot of "rice craving potency" and I wouldn't waste an once of the drippings here as well. ;) Fyi, extra rice refills (okawari) are free so why not.
Contrary to the Aji, I noticed the Saba no Shioyaki (Salt Grilled Mackerel) no longer on the Appetizer menu ($3.50) but still available as a lunch set (Teishoku) for $8. Below is an older photo of it as an appetizer. (Nerd alert)
Always fresh tasting, perfectly grilled with a crackly skin and moist interior. Sakura must have a good consistent source of great Saba. Like how this Saba no Amazu Ankake (Fried Mackerel with Sweet Sour Sauce) was also great although it didn't make it into the new menu. (Was $8.50.)
A Japanese/Chinese (Chuka) influenced fusion of sorts, large lightly fried Saba pieces were covered in a thickened Sweet Sour sauce not too different from the Pork Meat Balls but with thinly sliced onions and ginger.
A quick note, although the Sushi Chef Kazu-san may seem like the face of Sakura, I've been told it is Ken-san who works in the back kitchen that is the unsung figure (and co-owner?) responsible for most of the restaurant's non-sushi dishes. Ken-san is especially proficient in "Toromi" sauced type dishes like this Hata no Kinoko Ankake that is still available.
Fried Fish with Mushroom Sauce ($8).
As far as I know Hata is a simple white fish and here is lightly battered and deep fried..
Then smothered in a nice Toromi sauce with shiitake, spinach and "flowered" egg.
I was glad to see this stay but what I also noticed gone was the Rib Eye Wa-fu Steak.
Already a Sunday Only special, this was the most expensive dish on the lunch menu so judging by everything else maybe not too surprised. It was still great though and you can read about it here.
The Uni Spaghetti and Miso Broiled Salmon you can read about here and the two Hamburg Steaks, Sweet Sour Pork Meat Balls and Mabo Dofu Don here. All are still part of Sakura's new lunch offering.
A third and last new dish that I haven't tried was the Teriyaki Chicken. I would guess this wouldn't be your typical judging by the Buri Teri ($8.50) I have had before below..
The Teri doesn't come from a bottle but made from scratch with simple ingredients (sake, mirin, soy sauce) and the meat's own rendered oils creating a natural glaze.
Come to think, I didn't see the Steamed Chicken (with Ponzu Dressing) either ($8).
Was a nice alternative to the fried dishes.
So while this all may be a little confusing, from my experience (at least for lunch) Sakura has always been on the unpredictable side. Like how one afternoon when I questioned about the Buta Kakuni on the dinner board they had asked "Would you like to try?" (Must have been some leftover from the night before...) And how could I have turned that opportunity down? ;)
Buta no Kakuni (Braised Pork Belly, ~3.50)
Was much less sweet and overall milder than Okan's but also more tender. If I had a bowl of rice I could call it great lunch.
Were quite a few changes. But if it's all to ensure a healthy and prolonged future of my favorite humble but great lunch offering establishment, then I fully support. :)
My next Lunching @ Sakura post will probably be the various Kaisen (Seafood) Dons.
Izakaya Sakura, 3904 Convoy St #121, San Diego, CA 92111