Thursday, January 05, 2006
Saizo: Kushiyaki Specialist and More
The South Bay is a hot spot for izakayas, and when the competition is stiff, it makes sense to specialize in something - create a niche, an original menu, a signature dish. Saizo is one such unique izakaya that specializes in skewered items - yakitori and kushiyaki.
More than any other izakaya in the Bay Area, Saizo is suited for slowly nibbling on some skewers and washing it down with cold, premium sake. The sake selection here is very extensive and different - not limited to your usual Otokoyama and Hakkaisan. Because of the nature of skewers being relaxed, easily consumed by hand, it is the perfect accompaniment for a night of drinking and chit-chatting with friends.
Saizo offers a wide range of both grilled and fried items on their skewered item menu. I was impressed by the creative use of asparagus as a skewer in the above pork-asparagus skewer! Everything is definitely above average, although being used to organic meats and vegetables at home, the meat on the skewers often lack truly deep flavor, especially for simple items that are just grilled with a little bit of seasoning like the Classical Yakitori. This problem goes away for dishes where the chef has done something more than grilling the meat - like the delicious and tenderly moist tsukune chicken meat balls or the stuffed shiitake skewers. And the pure joy of sitting around a table full of skewers to be shared more than makes up for the less stellar skewers!
The none-skewered items at Saizo are similar to those at Tanto and Gochi, although Saizo tends to be lighter in salt and in oil. The food at Saizo is definitely more delicate than Tanto (whose last meal and service was so horrible, I am still recovering from the experience several months later!) and simpler than Gochi.
I was particularly fond of the tempura-donburi (tempura over rice) that came with a personal-sized iron pot full of piping hot dashi to pour over the rice at the table. The tempura is actually a kakiage, a mixed vegetable & shrimp fried 'patty'. The kakiage was crisp and the dashi, strong and flavorful.
I would probably go to Saizo a whole lot more if they started using good, organic meats. Simple preparation like what they do would really come alive with free-range, healthy meats... But then again, I don't really need any more temptations for another 40 min drive to Sunnyvale...