Saturday, September 15, 2007

Sakura: Japanese Steakhouse

Sakura Japanese Steakhouse
5294 Monroe Street
Toledo, OH

Toledo shines with the simple elegance of sushi restaurants! For years, Kotobuki was the only Japanese restaurant in the area that served sushi. If you are over 30, you may remember En Japanese Steakhouse that opened and closed in the 1970s, only to come back as a strip mall steakhouse and sushi spot a few years ago.

Now, there are about 10 sushi restaurants, a few take out locations and sushi has been added to the menus of most steak and fish restaurants around town. Add the grocery stores offering fresh sushi and one would assume that maki rolls and tempura are surpassing hamburgers and french fries as the great American meal. This doesn't necessarily qualify any of us as experts in sushi, but I think we are all learning more about the properties of raw fish.

Recently, Sakura opened on Monroe Street near Franklin Park Mall. Locally owned and operated, Sakura offers a full sushi menu and the showmanship and fun associated with a Japanese steakhouse. The owner, Vince Li, is originally from Hong Kong but he has lived in Toledo for the last 12 years. He also owns the China 1/Tokyo Grill in the strip mall between Monroe Street and Sylvania Ave (where they meet near Secor), and the China 1 in Sylvania in the Major Magic's strip mall.

Li and his team did a terrific job converting the space from a sports bar to a Japanese Steakhouse, with a pleasant and Eastern influenced ambiance. At the entrance, guests cross a small wood bridge over a Japanese fish pond with a stone fountain. The bar is directly in front of the door and the sushi bar is to the left. I suspect that the layout is well designed and conducive to a quieter dining area when the bar is full at night.

The main dining area is surrounded by lacquered bamboo fencing with Asian inspired arches. The raised and semi-private tatami eating area is charming for those who don't mind removing their shoes and sitting at these special low tables. However, this area does not include the hibachi grills. There is also a private dining room with four hibachi stations to accommodate up to 50 guests.

My companions and I sat outside of the main dining area in a booth and decided to try the sushi. We ordered the Kamikaze ($9.25) , Volcano ($10) and Toledo rolls ($10.25), some white tuna sashimi ($2.75/piece), as well as an order of Chirashi Sushi ($13.50). There was a $2.50 additional charge for each soup. I ordered the mushroom broth which was rather salty but featured thinly sliced mushrooms and scallions floating in the broth. The miso soup was standard fare. The green tea was a lightly steeped brew and served hot in traditional stoneware cups.

The sushi was adequate. While the rolls and sushi were artfully arranged the color, texture, and quality of the fish in the Chirashi was uncertain. There is a vibrancy to the color and a particular shine on fresh sushi that is unmistakable. These qualities and the expected texture of raw fish were absent from the sashimi. It should be noted that Sakura uses white pickled ginger, rather than pink, so the lack of color should not be a concern for diners accustomed to the pink version. After the meal, we decided to walk over to the sushi bar to inspect the fish and found the smell of old fish present. Just as it is in American fish houses, the scent of raw fish in a clean sushi restaurant should be imperceptible.

Unfortunately, Sakura falls short as a sushi destination. I am optimistic that the Japanese Steakhouse menu is much better as it is the central focus of the restaurant. While we ate our lunch, there were three or four families sitting at the Hibachi tables enjoying the slicing and dicing and interactive entertainment that is so much a part of the Japanese-American steakhouse tradition.

For my next visit, I will try the steakhouse menu or enjoy a bowl of soup in the tatami seating. However, I am reluctant to send anyone here for sushi.
“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".

9/21/07: The Glass City Gourmet wishes to thank Kango for his comments about this review (See comments). The text in green reflects efforts to make the original message about my experience at Sakura clear to readers. In the original text, I had NO concerns about the color of the pickled ginger. I mentioned it because one of my dining companions had not seen white pickled ginger before, and I hoped to make it clear to readers that this is not a problem. I apologize for not stating that clearly. As for the consistency of the sushi, there are many terms to describe sushi. "Firm" is a relative term and I now know to be less specific in describing sushi that does not match my previous experiences.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Yo Yo Girl

The annual physical.

For some, this evokes dread. For me, it generally signals the start of allergy season or the need for a laundry list of prescriptions for a pending overseas adventure.

I decided to knock mine out in a one day flurry of appointments. I starting first with the snatch quack, moved on to the primary care physician at lunch and ended with a stop at a podiatrist's lair after work ended. I'm proud to report that I am blessed with good health...low blood pressure, low sitting pulse, low LDL cholesterol, elevated HDL cholesterol, seasonal allergies well controlled, and female functions in line. My feet look pretty good. I managed to end up with a big fat shot of cortisone on the top of my right foot for some inflammation and nerve pain. While it was most unpleasant to take the shot, I feel much better now.

Here's the bad news: my weight is fluctuating too frequently. I've never claimed to have a stable body weight. I gain and lose the same 10 lbs over and over again. But this time I was busted. Caught by the pros. Not one, but two clinicians picked up on this and declared, "no more yo-yo-ing". The definitive order: Get that last ten pounds off and keep it off. For good.

This is not good news to a girl who loves to cook and eat.

I always thought that keeping the weight radius tight would work. Not so.

"The term "yo-yo dieting" was coined by Kelly D. Brownell, Ph.D., at Yale University, in reference to the cyclical up-down motion of a yo-yo. In this process, the dieter is initially successful in the pursuit of weight loss but is unsuccessful in maintaining the loss long-term and begins to gain the weight back. The dieter then seeks to lose the regained weight, and the cycle begins again."

Oh, crap. That's me. I'm fortunate not to have this compounded by obesity. I know this. However, the impact of these weight fluctuations on the metabolism, mood, digestive system and the heart occurs regardless of the size of the person.

So, this time I guess I'm going to have to get serious about making permanent lifestyle changes. Ugh. I've struggled with this stuff since I was a teenager. I was a pretty serious athlete and my high school coach used a caliper to check body fat percentages and declare necessary weight loss amounts. I'm not blaming him for this problem. But it definitely set the stage for life as a woman obsessed with numbers.

On many levels it pains me to think that while so many people in other parts of the world worry about whether a next meal might be available, I'm regulating intake in a land of abundance. It's ethically and maybe even ethnically embarrassing. I am Jewish. There are whole generations who would find this situation offensive.

As I start the new year, I wish my friends and family a year of peace and happiness. I pledge to restore my health with dedication to a new lifestyle.

“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tailgate Revisited

Friday night was a shopping and cooking fury as I made preparations for the big tailgate. I got a late start, heading to the store at about 7:30pm to fill a basket with all the necessary ingredients.

A trick I learned from my favorite caterer of all time is to write your shopping list on a piece of paper divided into quadrants for each section of the grocery store. In other words, instead of just writing the list of ingredients (one recipe after another), you take the time to put the dairy items from each recipe in a list of dairy stuff, the veggies in the produce list, etc. This makes for fairly speedy shopping and prevents me from having to go back and forth for ingredients that somehow got missed along the way.

By 9pm I was unloading groceries at my Mom's house. As anyone who has ever been to my place knows, it is a galley kitchen and there is no multi-tasking in a galley kitchen. So, with the mega granite kitchen at my disposal I had enough space to work like an octopus on methamphetamine. Simultaneously, I boiled red skins, blanched green beans, baked chicken for my sandwiches, cooked up the marinade for the artichoke and mushroom salad, sliced and marinated the veggies for my roll ups, whipped up the sauces for the roast beef sandwiches, and sliced and diced like a pro.


In two hours I had three prepared salads and all the trimmings for the interior of three different kinds of sandwiches. Oh, how I love a large kitchen...six burners, two ovens, a large double sink for fast clean up, a vegetable sink with disposal, about 15 yards of solid granite counter top and a double door stainless steel fridge to hold everything! Yowsa!

The next morning, all I had to do was buy some booze. The list of salads is on the last entry. For the sandwiches I ended up making:

1) Roast beef with horseradish/cream cheese/sour cream spread, alfalfa sprouts, and cranberry/orange relish on Italian bread.

2) Turkey, pepper jack cheese, sprouts, and guacamole on pumpernickel bread

3) Roasted chicken with marinated mixed vegetables rolled into either tomato basil or spinach basil flat bread.

I served water, iced tea and do-it-yourself cocktails of lemonade, raspberry vodka, ice and a handful of fresh raspberries to float.

The menu was a hit. Coupled with a basket of enormous homemade chocolate chip cookies from my cousin, Gail and a tray of assorted mini brownies (chocolate toffee bars and the good old fashioned nine layer bars you may remember from childhood!) made by my Mom - this was one helluva tailgate!

Too bad the weather didn't cooperate. I ended up serving the whole thing indoors...and then caravanned over to the theater to watch the BF perform in Harvest Theatre's "Taming of the Shrew" at the Ottawa Park amphitheater. For those of you who love Shakespeare, you can catch the show this Saturday or Sunday at 3pm (The amphitheater is located at the corner of Midwood and Kenwood, behind the Police Station in Ottawa Park).

“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Party Preparation

I've decided to have a little party. My friend is playing Baptista in Harvest Theatre's presentation of "The Taming of The Shrew" for the next two weekends. I thought that the best way to draw a crowd to Shakespeare in the park was with a clever invitation and a tailgate party.

It's been awhile since I've had to compile the names and addresses of sixty happy people...and it always takes longer than you expect it to take. I found some cute invitations at Hallmark and sent them through the printer. I finished the cards and realized that no one has any idea where the Ottawa Park amphitheater is and probably wouldn't know to bring a chair. I took a road trip to find the theater and create some decent directions. I can only pray that this left handed genius typed up the directions in a way that others can follow.

I was foolish enough to think that 5 boxes of 8 cards would be adequate for my ever-growing invitations list. I ended up making a second batch using pre printed stationery from Kinko's. Half way through printing the Kinko's version my printer got testy and decided to start eating invitations. I'm not kidding here. This happened six times when I realized that this could only be a six round bout or I'd end up short a few invitations again.

So I packed up the whole mess and went to Kinko's to beat on one of their printers. Copy, cut, paste, and use the tray feed to print two invitations at once. Brilliant. I wondered why I'd spent so much money and time on the Hallmark kind. This is the joy of entertaining when you don't do it all that often. Honestly, it is fun to play with this stuff and problem solve on the fly.

Now that the invitations are in the mail (less one or two that ended up purely as emailed attachments because I couldn't find current snail mail addresses...) I could move on to the menu.

Here's what I'm thinking:

pesto potato salad (contains red skins, green beans, green onions, grated parm, and pesto)
corn and cherry tomato salad (contains corn, cherry tomatoes, chopped celery & red onion, fresh arugula and a lovely balsamic vinaigrette with chunks of bleu cheese)
2 types of sandwiches (these are still open for debate)
fresh baked cookies (I might cheat on these!)
bottled water, iced tea, and a premixed lemonade, vodka and floating raspberry combination

Now I'm thinking about props:

Borrow a six foot table and linens
Borrow a few baskets to line and fill with half sandwiches
borrow a big tub for the soft drinks
borrow a big cooler for the loose ice
borrow a big cooler for the lemonade concoction

Oh, no. Who has parties that doesn't already own all the props? I DO! That's who! I didn't register for practical entertaining gear. Park Avenue table service doesn't play in a parking lot.

Anyway, tonight having a test run on the salads. I'm taking them to a pot luck for the holiday weekend and making sure they gain approval from the discerning palates of gourmet friends before I make them in bulk. Stay tuned for more...

“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".