Sumika has a smaller menu compared to many of the other Japanese eateries in the area, but what they do, they do well. From the chicken skewers to the mizutaki (chicken hot pot), everything is prepared with careful attention to detail. The skewers continue to be my biggest draw to the place with each piece full of tender juiciness. Head grill master, Maru-chan, times the delivery of the skewers perfectly so that no more than a few pieces are at the table, ensuring enjoyment of piping hot bites of his craft.
This sort of service and individual attention to the customers sets Sumika apart from nearly all of the other Bay Area Japanese eateries. One time, the Owner was telling me about how Maru-chan can hear when a customer drops their chopsticks on the floor. We laughed, saying how we could see that happening with his keen awareness for the dining room. Several weeks later, completely unintentionally, the Papa Bear dropped his chopsticks while seated at a dimly-lit corner seat - and viola! Maru-chan waved to us instantly and had one of the waitstaff replace Papa's chopsticks. It may sound too staged to be true - but it is, it is! 100% true story!
I have now tried most of the items on the menu, and I definitely have my favorites. The Sumika salad, which I was luke-warm about on my first visit, has since then become a must order. I prefer it to the Bird's Nest Salad, which I found the dressing to be a bit too rich for a cold salad. I should add a note here, though, that given my aversion for rich foods, I am not a good judge on these dishes; my gourmet Japanese friends have all raved about the Bird's Nest Salad, which comes with a perfectly cooked flavored soft-boiled egg.
As I mentioned earlier, I continue to be impressed by the skewers. There are no bad skewers here. All of them are hands-down excellent. Grilled to perfection where the moist meat is sweetest, dripping with delicious meatiness.
The oyako-don (eggs and chicken over rice) is purely divine if you like your eggs flavorfully medium rare. The texture is creamy while being light, bringing out the natural richness without a hint of oiliness. The amount of rice to egg is in perfect ratio to bring out the best flavors from each other - the neutrality of rice giving a strong backbone strength to the bold egg flavor.
Sumika has a number of chicken hot pots, of which we have tried two: the mizutaki and the shabu-shabu. This was the first time I have ever had chicken shabu-shabu, and this dish was a revelation. Surprisingly, the rather copious chicken skin did not have even the faintest bit of greasiness. Instead, each bite was filled with a certain fun bounce from the play of textures between the meat and the skin. I did miss a touch of kabosu or sudachi citrus in my ponzu, which I believe would have really brought out the sweetness of the meat some more - but then again, ponzu is one of those things like gravy, where everyone thinks their version is the best! The mizutaki comes with the wonderful option to order a chicken-soup porridge (zousui) at the end, prompting the customer to drink every last drip of the luscious soup.
Dimly lit with tables placed sparingly, the dining room at Sumika can feel a little stiff at first, but don't let that dissuade you from chatting with the staff. Their sake selection is excellent as well, with Urakasumi and Yowa no Tsuki being my two favorites to match their food. I often find myself craving a night at Sumika when the going gets tough at work...
...speaking of which, tomorrow is my last day at my current job!!!! I got a new job in the South Bay and I will be moving in January to San Jose!!!!!! Hopefully, my new job will not suck the life out me as this one did this past year so I can get back to some of my regular activity again in 2007 like bringing back MED from the blog death bed!