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.

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New Sushi Spot In Two Weeks

We are really excited about Kakui, a new sushi spot that’s scheduled to open in two weeks.  Today we stopped by this former Jamba Juice location to check the progress, and you don’t see much that makes you think “banana smoothie” anymore.

Years ago, there was a 50’s era restaurant here and maybe some features will re-emerge now.  Much of the exterior stucco has been removed, and you see a nice wood-topped entry instead.

We took a quick look inside.  The first thing that stands out is an elegant north wall with vertical cut-outs for sake.  A sushi bar takes its position on the opposite side, but doesn’t overwhelm the place.  Although Kakui’s tables and chairs were wrapped up, some espresso wood pieces peeked out.

Fortunately we ran into the proprietor, Yingji Huang, who was overseeing all the preparations today.  He’s eager to fill the gap for a top-notch sushi restaurant, and we can’t argue with that goal.  While Toshi Sushi is not far away, some serious competition is a very good thing!

Back in 2008, we asked about your Asian food consumption and half reported eating sushi once or twice monthly.  The most ardent sushi eaters didn’t stick around much at all, traveling to Berkeley and even San Francisco for fresh fish morsels.

My sense (and hope) is that Kakui will shine – and look forward to giving it a test run soon.

More info:  Kakui is at 2060B Mountain Blvd, in Montclair Village.  You may reach them at (510) 338-1188.

Survey Says: We Travel For Asian Dining

Montclarions have spoken, and we travel for our Asian meals.  In fact, we drive to places throughout Oakland, Piedmont, Alameda, Berkeley, Albany and San Francisco for our evening repasts.

These and other findings came from Today in Montclair’s recent survey.  The goal was to understand how much we depend on Montclair Village for either dine-in or take-out options.

Previously, I thought Montclarions were basically lazy, because our four Asian restaurants have been open for years.  That theory was shot down by you.

What happened?  On a monthly basis, at least 75% of you supported Pagarung Thai, Silver Palace, Thai Bai or Toshi Sushi.   However only 25% were loyal (or lazy) and ate all your Chinese and Thai here.  No one reported eating all their Sushi in town.

Perhaps this survey attracted Montclarions who dine out often.  Nearly half of respondents consumed Chinese food five-plus times per month!  Your Thai and Sushi meals were less frequent, with half eaten once or twice a month.

Different patterns emerged among folks with the strongest yen (sorry) for Asian food.  Half ate Chinese locally up to four times monthly, and drove elsewhere for the other meals.  Ardent sushi eaters didn’t stick around much at all.  Thai diners stayed put more often, by comparison.

Survey participants shared all sorts of interesting restaurants outside Montclair, yet none stood out as clear winners to report here.  So that calls for another survey (later) which uncovers your definitive top spots, Asian or otherwise.

Anyway, thanks for  participating – and proving that we do, in fact, venture outside the burg for our Asian meals.  You are a more energetic bunch than I ever expected.

Want Asian Food, Won’t Travel

We would like to report on Montclarions and their dining preferences.  Are you habitual, returning to the same places over and over?  How often do you dine locally versus beyond the Village gates?

To find out, we’re conducting a short survey (now closed) about your Asian dining choices.  It’s time to see what you are really doing, when you crave Chinese, Thai or Sushi meals.

Villagers seem to embrace the polyglot, yet only have four (!) Asian options in town.  These stalwarts have been around for years:

  • Pagarung Thai: Good curry, destination – Yelp – 6200 Antioch Ct. – 510-339-0566
  • Silver Palace: Chinese from the 70s – Yelp – 6515 Moraga Ave. – 510-339-9380
  • Thai Bai: Family cooking, takeout – Yelp – 5736 Thornhill Dr. – 510-339-8030
  • Toshi Sushi: Traditional options – Yelp – 6100 La Salle Ave. – 510-339-1995

These are local spots, not Bay Area destinations.  Everyone has grown dependent on them, like old family or friends.  But a little excitement might be nice, too.

So please share your opinions now – and we’ll report back in a few days.