Saturday, August 25, 2007
roll up your sidewalks!
We've done it a million times since we moved to California 12 years ago: Go see a 7pm flick and then wander around town looking for somewhere, anywhere, to eat. When we came west, we thought we were moving to the promised land, and in many ways we were, but what is it about Califas that shuts down the eateries at 9pm?
It happened again last night, but we stumbled on somewhere different: Sakura Ichi (beware -- tons of Flash, embedded sound, and "lorum ipsit" gibberish) in the Mission Promenade complex across the street from city hall. Verdict: Snazzy decor, mediocre food.
I spent a good chunk of my 20s living in Japan, and Sakura Ichi ("Cherry Blossom One" -- sounds like a spaceship name) reminds me of Asian nightclubs. Everything is black and white and red all over, and there's even a wall of vertical red neon rods behind the bar. The light fixture is the size of a spaceship (perhaps Cherry Blossom One?). All in all, it's like walking into a very swanky cosmopolitan bordello, except that bordellos don't usually have black-laquer booths that seat six. They do have tatami rooms (at least in Japan), but I didn't see any futons in the ones at S1 (which is how they style themselves -- à la spacecraft).
Before I let the bordello theme go, I have to mention the "gum-cracking hostess," as K. called her. On first glance, everything seems completely kosher: You walk in, and a tiny Asian woman in kimono calls out the usual Japanese restaurant greeting. But she says "irasshai," not "irasshaimase" (too casual for the hostess), and her kimono, as I saw later, was entirely appropriate for a bordello: It was a snap-off fake, and underneath she had a giant t-shirt and knee-length leggings (paging Cindy Lauper...). I will say, it was a good fake -- it fooled me, at least in that light.
The last thing about the hostess was that she wasn't Japanese, nor were any of the other employees. And that foreshadows the menu, which is Japanese in nomenclature and ambition, but mainland Asian in general tenor and flavor profile. I'm not sure where on the mainland (Taiwan, perhaps?), but definitely not Japanese. The miso soup had too many different ingredients in it (and not enough miso); the chicken donburi was just boiled chicken on rice; the pickles were definitely Chinese (too much sugar, not enough salt).
K. had the chicken donburi and was deeply disappointed, which was partly his own fault: He was expecting oyako ("parent & child" -- ie, chicken and egg) donburi, whereas the menu just mentioned chicken. But it certainly looked like a dog's dinner.
I was luckier: Because my spidey-sense was tingling, I steered toward something that was more about construction than cooking -- and even then I was worried. In the event, I ordered chirashi ("scattered") sushi, which in this country is basically a bowl of sushi rice with some pieces of fish on top. The rice was pretty good, which assuaged my biggest fear; treatment of rice is a big differentiating feature between Japan and China. The fish (salmon, yellowtail, salmon roe, tuna, shrimp, octopus, and something bland I didn't recognize) was all perfectly good, so I was satisfied, if not ecstatic.
All in all, it's a workable option for late-night dining, although it definitely has a party vibe and seems geared toward young Asian hipsters ($1 sake bombs, anyone?). And you'd have to choose your meal rrrrrreally carefully. But it'll do when you're not in the mood for an all-night taco at Alberto's.