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Monday, October 10, 2011

Columbia Eats: Sakura Japanese Restaurant

I don't know what it was about Sakura Japanese Restaurant, but for some reason I passed off on it during the years I lived in Columbia. Tucked behind Coplon's in Forest Acres, it was a place that almost didn't want to be found, and for the most part hasn't by Columbia's food scene. That's somewhat unfortunately, because this quiet restaurant in the heart of Columbia would become the site of what may be my most memorable meal in Columbia, and anywhere for that matter, in recent memory. And it all began with a salad.

A small, quaint dish of lettuce and carrot, topped by this astoundingly good sweet, sour, luscious miso vinaigrette. Though it was a simple salad, it'll be one that I'll be talking about for days because of the vinaigrette alone - and this is coming from a guy who despises most salads. Things got even better when our appetizers came out. First was a sinisterly fantastic dish of natto and uni. Natto may be something that's not necessarily hitting the mainstream any time soon, but uni is one of the great wonders of the sea, a melt-in-your-mouth piece of urchin roe that tastes like butter with the fresh scent of ocean. Wrapped in surprisingly crispy nori, it was a dynamite bite, in that head-knelt-back, eyes-to-skies sort of way.

Along with the sushi came orders of aged tofu and squid teriyaki. The squid was simply prepared; slightly charred on the broiler and carefully constructed on top a pool of teriyaki. Every once in awhile a dish comes along and changes my perceptions of an item. This may be one of them. The squid was so tender and light that it almost resembled a good quality steak. The teriyaki was warm and sweet, a nice marriage with the squid.

And then there was the aged tofu. When I eat out, I look for things that I personally believe I simply can't do in the kitchen. More often then not in Columbia, that doesn't happen, but this aged tofu is one of the few exceptions. Four beautifully crisp tofu swimming in a stellar dashi and topped by dancing bonito flakes, it was a presentation that was both practical and extraordinary in design with its play on textures and tastes from top to bottom. The tempura on this tofu is so practiced and precise that I don't think I can recall a time I had anything like it. A glorious dish that actually also married well with the squid.

Things were going along swimmingly as we reached the entree portion of our... lunch. Oh man. My lunch companion for the day decided to go with the eel teriyaki, a wonderful dish of lightly grilled eel dropped in teriyaki and served a top rice. Simple, but incredibly comforting.

I went with the katsu don, a chicken and egg thing served on top a bed of sweet roasted onions and rice. Also simple, but devastatingly good; it's a dish that anyone could relate too. Easily recommended for those fearing the unknown in this astonishingly honest Japanese restaurant.

No Reservations, The Lowdown on SakuraAtmosphere: Casual and comforting. Plenty of dining space.
Costs: For lunch, on the money. Prices and food
ranging from $5-12, enough to fit anyone's budget.
Try: Uni, just to say you did at least, and the katsu don for
those looking for something closer to home.
The aged tofu is the quiet champion though.

It will take time for me to get over the fact I ignored Sakura and Forest Acre's other gem, The Other Store, for so long. It's an incredible family restaurant serving remarkably traditional Japanese food - not an easy thing to find to say the least. There is surely more room for exploration in the menu of Sakura, and more than enough combinations of sushi for both newcomers and veterans of sushi and sashimi to be entertained with. If you are in Columbia, take a chance and wander into the depths of Forest Acres for a taste of the good life.

Sakura Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

FYI, Natto has two t's, and uni is not fish, it's the roe of a sea urchin, an echinoderm.

Bach Pham said...

Ah, you are most definitely right, thank you for the catch!

Meagan C said...

Thanks for the rec!! We went for lunch today and it was AMAZING!! Definitely hard to find, but what a gem, and such a good price!

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