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Dinner at Sakae

March 18th, 2009 by Michelle | Filed under Restaurants.
In Burlingame, CA is a wonderful gem of a restaurant: Sakae.  It appears to be a tiny hole-in-the-wall run-of-the-mill sushi shop. But if you go, sit at the sushi bar, and put your appetite (and wallet!) in the hands of owner and sushi chef Hiro and Jun you are in for an amazing treat.  We ask for some sashimi, little dishes, sushi,  whatever they want to serve, and sake pairings, of course.  Expect to pay $100 to $250 per person.  Their sake collection is wonderful, though the best ones will run you $15 to $25 per glass.
Here’s one spectacular dinner we had in August 2008.
Our chef was Jun-san, ready with his sushi knife:

Jun, Our chef

Jun, Our chef

We started with a dish of braised squid legs and daikon.  Daikon is a mild flavored radish-like root vegetable that carries flavor well, and when braised, melts in the mouth.  The texture was a wonderful complement to the more al dente squid:

Braised Squid Legs with Daikon

Braised Squid Legs with Daikon

Next up was a very traditional Japanese dish, Chawanmushi, served with a freshly picked orchid:

Chawanmushi with Fresh Pickled Orchid

Chawanmushi with Fresh Orchid

This cool egg custard had shrimp and okra toppings:

Chawanmushi with Fresh Picked Orchid

Chawanmushi with Fresh Picked Orchid

With these few appetizers, we were served our first sake.  It was medium dry, with a pleasant mild aroma.  Slightly spicy.  A bit flat, but not harsh.  Not sure what brand/label it was.  Something like “eshu” or “esha”.
Next came a wonderful sashimi collection.  It included Red Snapper (Tai), Kanpachi, Japanese Pike Fish (Sanma), Cockles (torigay), medium fatty Tuna, Spot Prawn, and Bonito.  The photo also shows the glassware used for our first sake pour.

Omakase Sashimi

Omakase Sashimi

After this orgy of raw fish, we moved to cooked dishes.  We also asked for a sweet sake (personal preference, not necessarily the best pairing here) and were served the wonderful and much-loved Dewasansan.  Our first cooked dish was beef tongue in miso sauce with in-season asparagus and okra.  This meat was fall-apart tender.  A very richly flavored dish.  Here are two photos:

Beef Tongue with Miso Flavor, Asparagus and Okra Garnish

Beef Tongue with Miso Flavor, Asparagus and Okra Garnish

Beef Tongue with Miso Flavor

Beef Tongue with Miso Flavor

Next was a Japanese preparation of a non-Japanese vegetable: California artichokes, tempura style.  Served with subtly flavored green tea salt:

Artichoke Tempura with Green Tea Salt

Artichoke Tempura with Green Tea Salt

And back to a more traditional Japanese dish: Whole Aiyu fish, stuffed with Sansho (peppercorns) and cooked for a long time.  Because it is cooked so long, the bones get soft and nearly dissolve into the flesh.  With it we moved to a traditional sake: the aged Juyondai.
Two photos, one showing presentation, the other a close-up.

Aiyu Fish, long cooked, stuffed with Sansho

Aiyu Fish, long cooked, stuffed with Sansho

Aiyu Fish, Stuffed with Sansho

Aiyu Fish, Stuffed with Sansho

After the fish, the heads from our sashimi spot prawn make their re-appearance, after having been fried in the kitchen.  Perfectly fried, the legs and shell are crispy and fully edible.

Fried Shrimp Heads

Fried Shrimp Heads

Before we move from the hot cooked dishes back to cold raw sushi, we are served a cold plate of smoked eggs, squid, and salmon.  This was smoked in-house over cherry wood chips.   A great transition dish. It was particularly good with the Juyondai sake.

In-house cherry smoked eggs, squid, and salmon

In-house cherry smoked eggs, squid, and salmon

Now we were ready to move on to the last phase of the meal: sushi!  And the final sake: Dewasakura Daiginjo.  A very fine, reliably good, sweetish sake with amazing aroma.
Our first sushi was Suzuki, Japanese Sea Bass.  This photo shows the presentation of the sushi along with the freshly grated wasabi (milder than commercial wasabi mixes that usually are mostly horseradish!).  This is NOT the kind of wasabi you mix into a pool of soy sauce.  Do that here and Jun will give you a dollop of commercial wasabi mix to use instead.

Suzuki, Japanese Sea Bass

Suzuki, Japanese Sea Bass

Next we had White King Salmon, Big Fin Squid (Aori-Ika), and Japanese Mackerel (Aji):

White King Salmon

White King Salmon

Big Fin Reef Squid, Aori-Ika

Big Fin Reef Squid, Aori-Ika

Japanese Spanish Mackerel, Aji

Japanese Spanish Mackerel, Aji

Next was a very special treat.  An older-style sushi.  Sake marinated bluefin Tuna:

Old Style Sushi (Zuki), Marinated Bluefin Tuna

Old Style Sushi, Marinated Bluefin Tuna

Then one of my favorites: Mirugai, Clam.  Followed by Uni with ‘caviar’.

Mirugai (clam)

Mirugai (clam)

Uni with Caviar

Uni with Caviar

And, rather than the common freshwater eel, unagi, we next had Anago, Saltwater Sea Eel:

Sea Eel, Anago

Sea Eel, Anago

We don’t usually finish with a dessert here, but this was a birthday meal.  Jun served us a threesome of white sesame cheesecake, pound cake with marscapone cream and green tea ice cream:

White Sesame Cheesecake, Pound Cake with Mascarpone cream, Green Tea Ice Cream

White Sesame Cheesecake, Pound Cake with Mascarpone cream, Green Tea Ice Cream

Although Jun was our chef tonight, we’ve had equally amazing meals from owner Hiro as well:

Hiro (in front), Jun (in back)

Hiro (in front), Jun (in back)

One Response to “Dinner at Sakae”

  1. Nate | 19/03/09

    Too bad we didn’t get Hiro, as we might have had a more informative night. Our chef, Sekimori, didn’t have very good English skills.

    It looks like they served some really interesting and high quality dishes. We only stayed with the sushi. Still, the bill came up pretty high, even with only one glass of sake.

    I don’t know when Sakae is going to shut down (it may have already). The reviews of Noboru on Yelp are not that kind. We may try Yuzu next time.

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