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The unimaginable depth of Japanese cuisine

Finding it exotic all over again

When this sizzles up, it's going to be good.
When this sizzles up, it's going to be good.
Place

Izakaya Sakura

3904 Convoy Street, San Diego

I love Japanese food, and I have eaten a lot of Japanese food. But if a recent visit to Izakaya Sakura proved anything, it's that I've developed a sort of Japanese comfort zone, and it's high time I stepped out of it.

You won't find a Yelp deal for this place.

When a friend described the place as the "most authentic" Japanese restaurant in town, I followed him to Kearny Mesa and rolled slowly down Convoy trying to find it. Good luck. While the address is clearly marked, you won't find a sign announcing this place. And yet somehow, all the Japanese expatriates seem to know exactly where it is.

We kept it simple to start — some salty chicken yakatori and sweet black cod. Both classic, both delicious. But with a menu of small plates, sushi, noodles and hot pots, we had plenty of exploring to do.

First, the eggplant gratin: an eggplant is roasted, the flesh scooped out, then mixed with diced vegetables and mild cheese, then put back into the husk to bake. I have never before even caught a whiff of cheese in a Japanese restaurant before, so this dish could not taste anything other than novel, and therefore captivating.

Grilled chicken, always good. What else ya got?

But we weren't done, and decided to go for the hot pot. Having enjoyed Chinese hot pot, I wasn't surprised when razor thin slices of uncooked beef, vegetables and eggs turned up at the table along with a steaming pot to cook them in. I was surprised, however, the Japanese version doesn't include broth. I was completely taken aback when the server recommended leaving the eggs raw.

Okay, so she didn't actually recommend it — technically she suggested our gaijin palates might prefer to crack the eggs into the hot pot to cook along with the rest of the ingredients. She just happened to mention that the authentic way — the Japanese way — involved dipping the cooked contents of the hot pot into a bowl of raw egg.

Dairy in a Japanese spot? That seems new.

Naturally we had to try this, and though our stomachs might pay the price for it later, I couldn't be more glad we did.

I've never put too much thought into the flavor of an egg. The stuff's been so ubiquitous from an early age, and so consistent, that I pretty much know how each bite will taste before it makes it into my mouth.

Eating beef, cabbage and tofu dipped in raw egg forced me to notice how rich the yolk and albumen can be. This is a comfort flavor; it requires no salt or spice to please. Taken with the other ingredients, it proved complementary. After the first couple of bites, it became absolutely vital to the dish.

Excellent, though not for the faint of stomach, do yourself a favor. Save Izakaya Sakura for that moment you've fooled yourself into thinking that all the sushi, ramen and teppanyaki you've eaten in a lifetime has made Japanese food seem commonplace, almost pedestrian. Then prepare to be proven wrong in about fifty different ways.

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When this sizzles up, it's going to be good.
When this sizzles up, it's going to be good.
Place

Izakaya Sakura

3904 Convoy Street, San Diego

I love Japanese food, and I have eaten a lot of Japanese food. But if a recent visit to Izakaya Sakura proved anything, it's that I've developed a sort of Japanese comfort zone, and it's high time I stepped out of it.

You won't find a Yelp deal for this place.

When a friend described the place as the "most authentic" Japanese restaurant in town, I followed him to Kearny Mesa and rolled slowly down Convoy trying to find it. Good luck. While the address is clearly marked, you won't find a sign announcing this place. And yet somehow, all the Japanese expatriates seem to know exactly where it is.

We kept it simple to start — some salty chicken yakatori and sweet black cod. Both classic, both delicious. But with a menu of small plates, sushi, noodles and hot pots, we had plenty of exploring to do.

First, the eggplant gratin: an eggplant is roasted, the flesh scooped out, then mixed with diced vegetables and mild cheese, then put back into the husk to bake. I have never before even caught a whiff of cheese in a Japanese restaurant before, so this dish could not taste anything other than novel, and therefore captivating.

Grilled chicken, always good. What else ya got?

But we weren't done, and decided to go for the hot pot. Having enjoyed Chinese hot pot, I wasn't surprised when razor thin slices of uncooked beef, vegetables and eggs turned up at the table along with a steaming pot to cook them in. I was surprised, however, the Japanese version doesn't include broth. I was completely taken aback when the server recommended leaving the eggs raw.

Okay, so she didn't actually recommend it — technically she suggested our gaijin palates might prefer to crack the eggs into the hot pot to cook along with the rest of the ingredients. She just happened to mention that the authentic way — the Japanese way — involved dipping the cooked contents of the hot pot into a bowl of raw egg.

Dairy in a Japanese spot? That seems new.

Naturally we had to try this, and though our stomachs might pay the price for it later, I couldn't be more glad we did.

I've never put too much thought into the flavor of an egg. The stuff's been so ubiquitous from an early age, and so consistent, that I pretty much know how each bite will taste before it makes it into my mouth.

Eating beef, cabbage and tofu dipped in raw egg forced me to notice how rich the yolk and albumen can be. This is a comfort flavor; it requires no salt or spice to please. Taken with the other ingredients, it proved complementary. After the first couple of bites, it became absolutely vital to the dish.

Excellent, though not for the faint of stomach, do yourself a favor. Save Izakaya Sakura for that moment you've fooled yourself into thinking that all the sushi, ramen and teppanyaki you've eaten in a lifetime has made Japanese food seem commonplace, almost pedestrian. Then prepare to be proven wrong in about fifty different ways.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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