What is most attractive for me about Izakaya Sakura is that it is open for lunch and serves many of my favorite Teishoku (定食) set lunches. (Previous posts of lunches I had at Sakura can be read here, here, here, here and here.)
I feel Japanese lunch meals are typically thought of as Soba or Udon noodles, Tempura, Sushi and the likes. While these certainly are staple dishes (except for some Sushi that are probably considered more a luxury item) my icons of Japanese Teishoku lunches are ones that main something deep-fried or stir-fried. A hot, made to order, filling and satisfying money's worth that also happens to conveniently come nutritionally balanced with protein, veggies and carbs. Typically served on a rectangular tray (with radiused corners), the Teishoku is the friend of the working class and hero to starving students.
Having said all this I can't seem to find my Pork and Chicken Cutlet photos anywhere.. I wanted to start with one of the Katsu's because I consider it the poster child of at least the Western influenced Yoshoku dishes.
So I instead randomly start with the Nagasaki Sara Udon ($10). I recently found out that the owners of Sakura are from Nagasaki which explains the addition early this year that may or may not be on a trial basis. While I was fairly familiar with the dish a detailed refresher of the Sara Udon on Wiki was helpful as always.
I have to first say that the portion pictured above is conservative compared to the more recent plates I've seen come out of the kitchen. You will not leave hungry.
Anyway, so despite the "Udon" naming, the dish does not relate to the thick chewy white noodles we all know.
A toromi thickened stir-fry of Cabbage, Bean Sprouts, Carrots, with similarly generous amounts of Pork, Shrimp, Squid and Kamaboko are smothered over some fried noodles..
The noodles were the thin and crispy kind and were decent but what made the dish for me was the hearty soup/stock (chicken and pork?) that the toromi topping was made with. It wasn't too long until I asked for a renge spoon but I think it is now served with.
And though I will be even further straying away from my point in the introduction.. since we're on the topic of Nagasaki I thought it be good to show the Nagasaki Chanpon ($9).
A Chinese influenced soup noodle dish with a stir-fry topping not too far from the Sara Udon's perhaps but not thickened and with the addition of Snow Peas, Flat-leaf Chives, some Corn, and not shown but a few Oysters.
The hearty chicken and pork stock based soup again makes this dish imo and the Chanpon's usual fine ground pepper topping really complemented the bowl. Unfortunately I'm not a big fan of oysters with a simmered texture (I like it either raw off the shell or deep fried) so I'll probably ask for it replaced with one of the other meats next time.
One thing that caught my attention was that I swore the noodles used where of spaghetti pasta. It was done a nice firm al dente and I honestly didn't realize the fact until later. I had this quite a while ago when it was still a seasonal Winter dish and am not sure if it is served the same way. The Nagasaki Chanpon is now a permanent menu item.
A few appetizers today for Ronnie who inquired about them on the "Liver Nira" post.
The Rollu Kyabtesu (Stuffed Cabbage, $4)
Considering its portion a bit higher priced side but always simmered well with great flavors of bacon in the consomme type clear broth. Photo below right is one I had more recently.
I enjoy the broth so much that consequently I didn't pay much attention to the stuffed filling. It seemed more a ground pork base with minimal fillers. The Stuffed Cabbage used to be offered as a Teishoku set but now is only available as an appetizer.
The Sanma Nitsuke (simmered Saury, $3.50).
Often seen in the limited quantity Sakura bentos and recently even in the side lines of the Chirashi bowl, the Sanma Nitsuke is a thoroughly simmered light sweet soy sauce flavor where the meat is tender and bones edible soft.
I would only warn to watch out for the inner Wata because it is very bitter. Many Japanese Sanma fans prefer some of this bitter flavor (of the guts) and consider it part of the Sanma's attraction. If this sounds enticing it can be experienced in all its glory in the more simple Sanma no Shio Yaki (Salt Broiled Saury) which I'll save for another time to not over-Sanma-fy this post.
The very smoky flavor of the Sanma as well as its bitter Wata would make me rank this fish at an intermediate level for the dining curious (as opposed to the Yellowtail or Mackerel). Still when in the mood I really enjoy a nice Sanma, grilled or simmered, and the Wata is easy enough to avoid.
Next the Guratan Korokke (Gratin Croquette, $4.50). Finally something deep fried! :)
A panko crusted croquette with piping hot, creamy Bechamel type filling that the Japanese seem to love so much. These are made from scratch of course but you can find many derivatives of the "Cream" variety of the croquette in the freezer isle of any Japanese market.
Of them is the Crab (Cream) Croquette which used to be available for $5.50 but is now reserved occasionally to the limited bentos. As for this Gratin Croquette I am going off of memory but I remember some onions, macaroni, and maybe some potatoes.. Great with the usual Sakura's sweet and thick Demi Glace dipping sauce.
The croquette as well as a few other sides come with a small mound of (Japanese) Potato Salad but you can now order it as a side for $3.50. This is a lot for one person so best to share.
Just my humble description but Japanese potato salads (maybe even Asian potato salads in general?) tend to be mildly sweet with minimal amount of mayonnaise. The mayo that is in it usually is incorporated well with the potatoes and so will not have that slippery texture but more chunky with a coating of light sweet mayo mash. Fresh finely sliced white onions as well as cucumbers are usually included as the case here but I've seen it with corn and even thinly sliced apples which isn't the case here.
I'm not an expert of Japanese Potato Salads but I am an expert eater of it. If you have any of the Demi Glace sauce left definitely great with! At other restaurants (such as Kayaba) I use the Tonkatsu or Chunou Sauce.
I'll take a break with the appetizers here because I don't want to make the mistake of creating a marathon post (as I unfortunately did with my first Pho post).
A recent ala carte addition was the Yakisoba ($7, Egg + $1).
Was fairly straight forward with a nice amount of pork and cabbage.
Other than this no noticeable "Sakura twist" that I was hoping for but a good addition to further round out their lunch menu perhaps.
I end with the Tori no Teri Yaki (Chicken Teriyaki, $8.50). Geez, talk about completely failing to break the stereotype which was the goal of this post..
Maybe I'm making one after all because this is not your typical Teriyaki [fill in the blank] made with the goop that come in bottles. The Teri here is a made from scratch reduction that incorporates with the chicken's flavor, especially the oil from the rendered skin. (Just a nerdy side note but with the Chicken Garlic Saute I mistakenly mentioned them as new additions.)
A nice tender thigh portion with deep, dark, primal mouthwatering reduction of a sweet savory sauce that I of course must do this with..
I cannot wait a moment longer..
Itta-dakki ma~su! :)
I apologize for the odd disorganized post. I usually like to have some sort of theme. Next I promise to deliver the Yoshoku dishes that fit more (and actually correlate to) the introduction. Also working on a soul warming Oyaji (Old Man's) Teishoku post as well as a collection of The Basics which include the Sobas and Donburis. Thanks for stopping by! :)
Sakura is open 7 days a week and during most holidays.
Izakaya Sakura, 3904 Convoy St #121, San Diego, CA 92111