Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lunching @ Izakaya Sakura - Yoshoku Dishes Part One

As I mentioned on my last Lunching @ Sakura post, I wanted to introduce some Yoshoku dishes to show some very common Japanese meals that are just as a mainstay as say, Soba, Udon or inexpensive Sushi Rolls.

These Japanese dishes of Western influence date back to the 19th Century following Japan ending its period of isolation. The culinary cuisine of the tall exotic Westerners who came on their fantastic steam powered black ships with their ruffled shirts would soon to become the height of trend and percepted sophistication.
As time would pass these dishes would evolve adapting and in certain cases re-invented to the point that they would become only familiar to the Japanese (though in more recent times has become popular and globalized considerably). A great article about the Yoshoku and it's history on The New York Times here.

Wanted to share a few Yoshoku Dishes I've had in two parts. Oh boy I feel like a kid in a candy store.. :)

The Kaki Furai ($8.50). Fried panko breaded oysters.

I'm used to larger ones in Japan but these were a nice medium size. At Sakura also served together with a few fried zucchinis. The tartar sauce is house made.

Perhaps closer to a dressing, this Japanese flaired tartar sauce is sweeter, less viscous and not as mayo-ey. I love that it can be ladled over your fried food.. Ha. :)

I know the dish I really should've started with is the Katsu Curry.. If mainstream Yoshoku dishes had a leader it would probably be it. Like the Red Ranger or the Red Lion Head of Voltron that leads the pack. (Sorry so random.)

Actually.... It should be the Yellow Ki-Ranger but I won't go into why now.
The katsu in this case was chicken ($9). The Pork Katsu Curry would be an extra $0.50. While the curry is good by itself, somehow the addition of crispy fried protein makes it a match made in heaven.

I should point out here that this is Japanese Curry (or "Curry Rice"). The Japanese Curry has an interesting history of its own and is said to have come from the British Navy during the same post isolation period of Japan.
What I enjoy about Sakura's Curry is its creaminess and all the great umami from stewed vegetables. Also the addition of ground meat is rather unique to Sakura. You can also have it with (Panko) Fried Shrimp, Eggplant, or just plain.

It should be noted that the Katsu here is just as great by itself..

Strangely only see the Pork version on the newer lunch menu but I'm sure they still serve the Chicken Katsu which is what is shown. The Pork - Tonkatsu is probably more popular in Japan but I quickly have become a fan of the Chicken version where it is juicy tender (when done right) and usually also slightly cheaper.

I remember thinking how poorly Katsu's are often done in the States. Lean, dry and tough. I would guess a person who is having a deep fried Katsu wouldn't be on a diet and so how could a little more fat hurt for that extra great flavor?? Also most places seem to not account for carryover heat and so often overcooked. Sakura's is always done nice. Piercing panko and tender moist meat. A thigh portion with skin on when chicken, and a Rosu-cut with a decent amount of fat when Pork (will post in Part Two).

The Omurice is another very big Yoshoku icon. A thin Omelet that gently wraps around an oval mound of fried "ketchup" rice (with chicken, mushrooms and vegetables). Usually then topped with yet another for good measure dollop of ketchup although here it is served instead with a sweet tomato sauce.

This classic Omurice is listed as the Plain Omurice ($9) on the Japanese menu. "Plain" meaning "typical in Japan" but for someone not used to these flavor combinations it may be a bit strange. As you can imagine it is quite sweet and so more popular with children and young adults.

The Hayashi Omurice (also $9) is the second offered of two.

The Hayashi Sauce is often simply served with rice (much like curry rice) and is another prominent Yoshoku figure. Here it is combined with the Omurice (with plain white rice) and becomes a hybrid Yoshoku squared if you will.

The Hayashi - thin shredded beef and onions in a Demi Glace based stew. Again this is quite sweet (especially here). Both Omurices are large and filling. Personally not something I order often because of the sweet flavors but if Sakura ever served an Omu-Dry Curry (an Omurice containing Dry Curry).. I'd be So All Over That, Hint-Hint. ;)

The Hamburg Steaks (often pronounced Hambaagu) I covered on this post here.

There you'll also find the deep fried Menchi Katsu. This leads to the final dish for this post which is unfortunately no longer offered. I like to share these because I feel it shows Sakura's personality and possible range.

The Menchi Katsu Sando (Deep Fried Hamburg Sandwich).

Was simply wonderful, made with toasted shokupan with butter and a light application of coarse mustard. Thinly sliced tomatoes and onions and a good quantity of leafy lettuce to balance out the deep fried goodness. Even came with some thick cut potato wedges.

The reason for it going away was explained as it being much too labor intensive. Oh well.

This concludes Sakura's Yoshoku Part One. So as you can see when I'm in the mood for a Japanese lunch, chances are I'm craving for a panko crusted deep fry..

Or possibly even something laced with ketchup.. :)

Izakaya Sakura, 3904 Convoy St #121, San Diego, CA 92111


KirkK said...

Hi Dennis- Greetings from Antigua....funny thing, I´ve never had the Katsu Curry from Sakura, I´ll make sure to try it!

Dennis K. said...

Hi Kirk, I hope you're having a good time! Sakura's curry is very old school, mild and creamy.. It's even pale yellow like how my mother used to make.. haha. Extra fukushinzuke for me! ;)

Roger. said...

Rawr. I need my lunch schedule to open up so I can check this place out...

Great spread of photos, as usual.

Dennis K. said...

Hi Roger, how's it going? Thanks.. The sushi chef is a bit flaky (for lunch) and the tempura seems to be better on Wednesday and Thursdays..? They certainly have their quirks, haha.