Sunday, December 8

Gaku Yakitori - Santa Clara

Today marks the first official day of the rest of my life. For the last 3 years and 6 months, I have worked full time and taken classes in the evenings for my MBA degree. Today I experience freedom again. Lucky for readers of the blog it also means you will see more of my work posted on a regular schedule. Starting with this backlog.


Instagram has been the only form of social media that I've truly embraced without feeling jealous, depressed, and excluded. I should probably hold my praise until I see where they're going with these sponsored ads though. My Instagram feed gives me so many ideas for what to cook and where to eat. Andrew Zimmern (@chefaz) checked himself in at Gaku Yakitori a few months ago and I had to try it. Shawn was in town for a visit and I made the executive decision for us to dine here.

In the same style of tapas and Asian street food, yakitori has that same small bite flare, except its grilled. It's perfect for people who love snacking and who love variety. For an authentic feel of a Japanese yakitori shop, the waiting area at the front of house is non-existent. We stood awkwardly by the door next to diners as the staff cleared room for us at the bar. It was every bit the welcome I expected.

($5) Japanese Ale next to ($5) Oolong tea shochu cocktail
Despite looking like watered down tea, the Oolong shochu cocktail was refreshing. The tea and shochu don't mix well though so the first half of your drink is all tea and the second half is all shochu. Stir well and often.

($5) Takowasa - raw octopus in wasabi sauce marinade

This was the dish Andrew Zimmern posted which drew me to this restaurant like a moth to a flame. The thought of consuming raw octopus marinated in a wasabi sauce, garnished with silver noodles, a shiso leaf, seaweed, and crunchy cucumbers has never remained on the forefront of my mind as this dish had been when I saw the photo. One may say I had a bit of a food crush. The taste? As described: slippery octopus tentacles squish between your molars as a soy/wasabi marinade dances on your tongue. It was entirely worth it to go here because of this dish. But it is a little slimy which is why they paired it with crunchy garnishes.

Mentaiko - salted marinated cod roe sack
I asked the waitress what Andrew had eaten when he was there and told her to give me some of his more interesting choices. This was one of his favorites. It tastes similar to a salted smoked salmon with the grainy texture of none other than a roe sack. It didn't win my heart the way it won Andrew's but I would definitely order it again.

($7.50) Ankimono - steamed monkfish liver in ponzu jelly
I can never resist one of my favorite dishes. This one was good per the usual but as you can see from this photo, the ankimono portion itself is small in comparison to its beautiful garnishes. The understudy has upstaged the main act.

($8.50) Chilled roast duck with herb cheese and a side of slightly bitter greens
All the above dishes may have drawn me into the restaurant but this dish right here will bring me back. Juicy, bloody duck breast and cheese are like an accidental charcuterie platter, just missing the crusty bread. Bread not needed here though and this was on a whole other playing field than cured meats and cheeses. Get this dish. Get it. Go back and get it again.

I can't top that description so for the last few dishes, I will breeze by quickly. Mostly because they were standard fare and inconsequential to the review of Gaku Yakitori.

($3.50) Gyutan - beef tongue, one salted and one with Negi green onion sauce
Tasty yet so chewy. You will need sharp incisors and strong mandibles with sturdy molars to get through these skewers. 

($3) Kawa - chicken skin skewer, one sauce, one salted
These are really crispy and good and then I realized these characteristics are time sensitive. Wait too long and they become soggy and fatty. Eat with haste, my friend.

($3) Nankotsu - chicken knee cartilage
I love cartilage and gristle. This was not it. What a misleading description. It's mostly chicken knee fat with tough cartilage which you must dig out after eating the fat. Do not order.

($8) Hotate - grilled scallops

Grilled Mackerel - I forget which type we got. Hokke is $11 and Aji Hiraki is $8
You don't need to figure out which one I got either. It was dry and anorexic with mostly bones. I even felt skinnier after I ate it.

Every culture has its own version of "drinking foods", literally translated from the Vietnamese term "do nhau." Americans have fatty, deep fried foods like fries and onions rings. Koreans have chicken wings, grilled intestines, and silk worm larvae. Vietnamese people have crazier things like thinly sliced veal in rice powder or duck blood. Japanese yakitori is drinking food. No matter your ethnic background, your forefathers have had one too many drinks on one too many nights and discovered a few dishes that satisfied their munchies. Alas, a food culture was born from small bites of the cheapest cuts, and simplest seasonings.

Yakitori is going to satisfy your drunken munchies and Gaku Yakitori in particular, is going to satisfy them even without the drink. Not every item will be a hit and you won't mind a single bit. There's plenty more to choose from and each new bite sets you back $3-$5 on average. Beware though, the bill adds up. These portions were meant to be snack sized after all. They were meant for a pit stop in a small side alley shop on the way home after drinking with coworkers. In America, we've made it into a meal and we'll pay the bill for it.

Service - great
Food - great
Ambiance - legit
Price - per item is fair, in total can be a costly meal depending on size of eater's appetite and her date's wallet.

Gaku Yakitori on Yelp Gaku Yakitori on Urbanspoon

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