Tapas in Japanese

Two (fairly) new establishments have joined the venerable Toshi Sushi in catering to Montclair’s yen for Japanese food. One might ask if that’s more Japanese food than one small village requires. But it only makes sense to ask if Montclair needs three Japanese restaurants if one thinks of Japanese food as a single, unvarying cuisine.

The Characters Spell Izakaya

The Japanese kitchen is as varied as any other of the world’s great food traditions. And, once a cuisine reaches the United States it evolves. The two new(ish) Japanese restaurants in the village represent different types of Japanese fare as well as different adaptations to the American influence.

Think of Koto Buki as the traditional sushi restaurant with plenty of entrees from the classic Japanese-American repertoire. Koto Buki just moved up the hill from Piedmont Avenue where it had been a neighborhood staple for nearly 20 years. It hopes to establish itself in Montclair with the help of fans from the old location.

Kakui Sushi’s owner, Yingji Huang, describes his already popular restaurant as Japanese fusion in the izakaya tradition, that’s a place where hearty nosh meets sake. Yingji says a Japanese tapas bar is a fair description. Kakui specializes in sakes imported from Japan. Yingji says he serves brands that are difficult to find outside of Japan. The restaurant’s signature dish is gindara: That’s sea bass glazed in a miso/sake reduction. “It’s a sweet miso that goes perfectly with the salt water fish,” says Yingji.

Now’s the time to visit Kakui. Yingji says he’s just got hold of some heirloom tomatoes and Hokkaido scallops that go great with a particularly smooth sake from the Masumi brewery.

Grille One Looks Delectable

Grille One looks delectable.  We stopped by to take a quick peek at the offerings, which included an array of grilled meats, veggies and salads displayed for all takers.  This newest dining option opened yesterday – and what an improvement for Montclair Village!

What’s there?  You’ll see a upscale food line with all the juicy roasts ready for slicing, and hugely mouthwatering.  It’s a bit hard to come up with comparisons, but this place reminds us of a very (repeat very) upscale version of Boston Market.

On the menu, the grilled selections are served as main plates or carved sandwiches.  There are also excellent salad options.  I think it will take five visits to do the place justice, and pass judgment completely.

The dining room looks lovely and has vanquished any memories of the prior tenant serving Mexican chain restaurant food.  The tables and flooring are now dark and sleek, with an urban-metropolitan feel.  Things were quiet when we stopped by in the mid-afternoon, though the owner and her team were getting prepared for the evening rush.

We also noticed that Grille One bought one of those Valpak ads offering 50% off any carved sandwich or lunch/dinner plate through July 5th, as a grand opening offer.  That’s a decent incentive to try out the Grille – and we hope they do well in the Village.

Montclair Restaurant Walk, Going Once

The Montclair Restaurant Walk is one hot ticket.  We suggest you act now, or else miss out on this great excuse to graze around the Village and contribute to a good cause or two.

Tickets cost $25/person, and you’ll receive a ticket book filled with coupons for each restaurant.  Buy yours today at Montclair Book Tree, Pacific National Bank, Raimondi’s Paint & Wallpaper or Viewpoint Optometric in the Village.

From what we have learned, the confirmed participants include these sixteen places:

Amba Colonial Donuts Crogan’s Montclair – El Agavero Mexican Cuisine & Bar – Farmstead Cheeses and Wines – Flavors India Bistro – Grille OneItalian Colors Ristorante – Kakui SushiMetro Cafe & Bar – Montclair Baking – Montclair Malt Shop – Pararung Thai Cuisine – Taqueria Las Comadres – Toshi Sushi – Yogafina

After the inaugural events last year, the Restaurant Walk has become a proven success for the Lions Club.  Proceeds go to Lions Blind Center of Oakland; Oakland Fund for the Arts; Montera, Skyline and Oakland Tech Schools; Fred Finch Youth Center; Lincoln Child Center; Local Boy Scout Troops  and other Lions Foundations.

Going once, twice, three times.  Remember to buy your ticket and then pencil in the Restaurant Walk date:  Tuesday, April 20th, from 6:00 – 8:30 pm.

Thanks For The Trefoils

Just a week or two before the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano, our local Girl Scouts reappear with their annual supply of trefoils and thin mints.  There’s something wonderful about this fundraiser which teaches girls about business, while feeding the craving masses.

Today the Girl Scouts were set up in Montclair Village, and selling their stash.  We watched and recorded ’em in action below.  First, the scouts marketed and hawked cookies with plenty of verve!

Then it was time to check out the goods up close, artfully displayed and ready for the taking.  Did you know the cookie boxes all say “courage, confidence and character” on them?

At around 2pm, the girls were experiencing a lull in the post-lunch crowd.  Like all good retailers, they patiently waited for shoppers to stop by their stand.

Within minutes, we caught one happy buyer and seller in mid-transaction.  No matter what happens over the decades, the buyers still want these cookies and are pleased to fork over $4 per box.

There were several signs that we’re living in 2010, though.  One buyer didn’t want to be photographed acquiring her contraband, explaining that she was buying it as a gift.  Plus the Girl Scouts now sport nicer-green vests festooned with earned badges, which seem much cuter than we remember.

Cheers to these girls, hard at work.

TV News Airs Montclair Bubbly, Chocolates

We get all warm and fuzzy when Bay Area telecasts feature the Montclair District, because it’s a rare event.  Tonight we saw the requisite Valentine’s Day story with an economic twist, and two Montclair businesses were highlighted:   Farmstead Cheeses and Wines and Le Bon Bon.

KTVU Reporter Tom Vacar was making the point that Valentine’s Day still packs a profitable punch, even though people want to economize a bit.  Our local business owners felt pretty optimistic so far.

“Valentine’s Day is all about sparkling wine,” exclaimed Jeff Diamond, who owns Farmstead. He added that all holidays matter, including  V-Day, and that his business has picked up versus last year.

“We are happy,” declared Le Bon Bon’s proprietor, Ugyen Triantopolous.  She explained that some customers buy a little bit less, but business is looking good this year.

Check out the the video and our two new celebrities.  You’ll see plenty of air time for the two stores, along with bubbly and trays of chocolates.  You can’t really go wrong with these affordable luxuries for V-Day.