Sakura — Straight-Up Japanese

Sakura, the menu informs, is the name of the ornamental cherry tree so beloved in Japan.

There’s nothing ornamental about this no-nonsense eatery located on the J St. side of the 920 9th St. office building.

Seventy-some sturdy chairs are tucked under solid tables whose edges are numbered with street address stick-em dealies from ACE hardware. The crew behind the sushi counter stoically deals with whatever gets lobbed their way, from teppan to tako. There are no pretensions here, Sakura is what it is – a deliverer of utilitarian chow at a fair price.

It is epic in one sense, however. Without question, Sakura is the hardest place in town to get a club soda with lime. The first few visits, it’s a language barrier. The waitress is far more conversant in Japanese than English. Club soda draws a blank. Fizzy water is an even murkier concept. She seeks guidance from higher authority and club soda appears, unadorned by lime.

The frustrating linguistic firewall extends to the sushi bar. The chefs are on equally shaky ground when it comes to answering questions like “What’s fresh?” or carrying out directives such as, “Surprise me and make your own roll.”

Even on the most recent visit, in which the waitress and I are able to converse with ease, the assurance is that no such beverage as club soda is served. Is Sierra Mist what I’m secretly asking for? Not so much. Encouraged to seek a higher authority, the waitress returns with club soda, still lime-less. It is a mild irritant, easily Kirin-cured.

The sushi is perfectly respectable although it lacks that snatched-moments-ago-from–the briny-deep freshness of Zen Sushi, Ju Hachi or even Asuka’s, formerly Taiko’s, on the K St. Mall. The ability of the chefs to respond to queries such as “What’s good today?” would mightily improve this deficiency.

For example, at the end of the menu’s sushi rolls section is, in essence, a daily special. What might that be, seems the next logical question. The waitress points at sushi or sashimi. Not the definitive answer sought. An attempt to inquire of one of the sushi chefs proves equally futile. A shrug of the shoulders and sashimi gets the call. Perfectly fine but hard to really enjoy clouded by the suspicion a snappier alternative could be had.

The $7.50 salmon skin roll is crisp and crunchy. Language issues dash an attempt to up the heat on the $7.50 spicy tuna roll which, even so, has a kick most customers would be content with. The saba and hamachi nigiri are the freshness culprits.

A sunomono shout-out is warranted. The menu falls far short when it describes the $6.50 near-meal as “cucumber, seaweed and seafood in ponzu sauce. “ It’s comprised of that, yes, but like the Cosmo Café’s salmon salad showcased last week, the sum is far greater than the parts.

While not a wham-bam, eat-it-and-beat-it establishment, Sakura’s service is expeditiously efficient. The Kirin is quickly conjured, as is a frost-flecked mug. The sushi isn’t far behind.  Similarly swift in its creation is the best value on the lunch menu – one of Sakura’s hibachi meals. Options abound: Chicken at $8, shrimp and scallops for $11, filet mignon for $9.50. But isn’t the logical starting point the $10.50 Chef’s Special? Surely it’s the apex, else why the name?

The little-finger length strips of steak are slightly overcooked. The teriyaki sauce is too syrupy for my taste. The similarly sized chicken pieces are spot-on as is the mélange of vegetables — zucchini rectangles and mushroom slices blanketed by a swarm of onions. The vegetable dipping sauce has a tart, soy-influenced bite and tastes remarkably similar to the dressing on the accompanying iceberg lettuce salad but without the sitting-in-the-fridge-since-President-Obama’s-inauguration chill.

Sakura gives a generous pour on the white rice – Mr. Lassen to the Sutter Buttes of most other Japanese joints. The combination makes the Chef’s Special a filling feast that’s particularly flavorful flooded with dipping sauce.

Overall, Sakura is pleasantly functional.



Filed under: Restaurant Raconteur

1 Comment »

  1. That like saying a painting is, “interesting.”

    Comment by Robyn Boyer — 4.03.2009 @ 5:01 pm

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