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.


  1. Glass City Gourmet,

    I first want to introduce myself. My name is Kengo Kato, Executive Chef of Sakura Japanese Steak House in Toledo, Ohio. I've done more than 13 years of traditional Japanese cuisine and Sushi training through my father in NYC and through numerous reputable masters that I highly respect in NYC, San Francisco and Denver at such restaurants as Chickubu, Rikyu, Katen of the Marriott Marquis NYC and Masa in the AOL Time Warner Building NYC and now I take great pride in working with my highly trained and talented team of chefs at Sakura here in Toledo.

    I am writing to you in response to the recent Blog you have posted on the internet. I am both upset and disturbed by your false comments. Though, I am not disregarding your opinions. I truly feel that I, myself, and other Sushi chef, Andy will be able to educate you more on Sushi and Japanese cuisine such as your comment on pink and white pickled ginger. The only reason for pink pickled ginger is food coloring and saccharine, whereas, white ginger is natural, first pickled in salt then in a mixture of sugar and rice wine vinegar. It is rare that you will find a restaurant using pink ginger in any Sushi restaurant in Japan! As for our fish, I am confident that we use the freshest fish possible. We get a fresh delivery every other day coming from California, NY, even Japan and we have the invoices to prove that we return products if they are not the best quality we approve of. I have reviewed the order that you have ordered on September 15 and I see that most of the fish that you had on your dishes should not have a firm texture, such as eel, and spicy Tuna in two of the rolls you had should be soft to texture and especially White Tuna Sashimi should be soft, buttery and a melt in your mouth texture. As for the smell at the Sushi Bar. We do alot of searing, torching, and grilling of fish especially during prep hours, which may extend to our lunch service hours. But I assure you that our stations are soaped and thoroughly washed down after every shift.

    Again, I am not disregarding your not-so-good experience and opinion, rather I am asking you to come sit at the Sushi Bar and sit in front of me so I can serve you a traditional Sushi meal. I am confident that you will find both my team of chefs and I have moved here to work at Sakura to serve the freshest and the best possible Japanese cuisine to the people of Toledo and its surrounding areas. I apologize for you first experience, but please find the time to visit Sakura and sit at the Sushi Bar and experience the Kengo special.

    Best Regards,

    Kengo Kato
    Executive Chef
    Sakura Japanese Steak House

  2. Dear Kengo Kato:

    Thank you for your comments and educational information.

    If you read my comment about the pickled ginger more closely, you will see that I am aware of the distinction between these types of ginger and merely pointed it out - without insult. As for the sushi concerns, I was refering to the sashimi in the chirashi, not the maki rolls. I'm not sure if that is clear and will do a better job of making that distinction.

    Per your request, I will return to the restaurant in the future to try sushi at the sushi bar. However, I will not announce my visit as I believe the quality and service should be identical for both bloggers and the general public.

    I was blessed to be educated in sushi in some of the finest Japanese restaurants in New York City. However, I am always open to learning more.

    Best regards,

  3. Hello my name is Dustin Rybka. I have read you "review" of Sakura and I must say I respectfully disagree. Strongly.I have been an avid sushi and Japanese cuisine fan for quite a long time and after my first trip to Sakura I do not dine anywhere else in the city. Everything from presentation to taste is absolutely incredible. That feeling that any food fan chases, you know where you put something in your mouth and in your head you say " this is unbelievable I could eat this everyday" is a feeling I get everytime I dine @ Sakura. On top of all the sushi restaurants I have dined @ in Toledo and Ann Arbor I have had the pleasure of experiencing sushi in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego, Seattle,Chicago, Indianapolis,New York, and Miami. Out of all these places I have never once been comfortable enough to order without the menu and let the sushi chef take care of me completely until I met Kengo and Andy ( the sushi chefs) @ Sakura. If you really want to have an experience to tell your friends about you need to try this. Kengo Kato (the executive chef) has actually given me what I consider to be the beginning of an education in sushi and Japanese culture. I guess I am just confused @ how you could wrote a "review" like this and wonder about your knowledge of fine sushi and Japanese cuisine. There is absolutely no way this would be possible if you had tried some of the rolls already made famous @ Sakura i.e. the Buckeye roll, the dyanamite roll, the wolverine roll, the hot babe roll, the super Sakura roll, etc. I was very puzzled by your write up and found it to be vague, confusing, and extremely spotty to say the least.Again I say this with all due respect and thank you for a forum to voice my opinion. I hope to see you @ the sushi bar !!!
    Dustin Rybka

  4. I have yet to eat at Sakura on Monroe St, but I fully intend on doing so as soon as possible.

    In the 1980's there was a another Japanese restaurant called Sakura in Toledo; it was originally located on Secor where Jing Chuan is now, and then moved to Reynolds near Hill. It was not a teppan yaki style steakhouse like En Japanese, but Sakura and sushi were our favorites. In fact, my husband and I loved it so much that we had our wedding rehearsal dinner there 19 years ago. The old Sakura was also the only Japanese eatery in this area that had the private tatami tables we've ever had the chance to enjoy, so I really look forward to checking out the new Sakura.

    By the way, you never mentioned Fujiyama (Reynolds Rd. near Dorr St). It has been in Toledo around as long as Kotobuki and we've found the entrees to be delghtful and the sushi to be incomparable. The cuts and choices the fish and other seafood are excellent, interesting and beautifully arranged, and the freshness is superb -- nothing ever smells "fishy" at Fujiyama.

    The food is fairly and reasonable priced, not jacked up like some sushi resteraunts I've suffered through in Ann Arbor and LA. On the service side, Fujiyama is quite small and it is usually quite busy; so much so that on occasion the servers seemed a little frazzled, but they are always gracious, knowledgeable, polite, patient, and totally worth the handsome gratituity we add to the bill.

    If and when you decide to stop in at Fujiyama, I suggest the black dragon, the spider, & a spicy caterpillar, and by all means endulge yourself in the buttery salmon and yellowtail sashimi, it'll make you sigh, it is so heavenly it melts in your mouth ... Ooh, don't forget to try the uni (sea uchin) its not for everyone but its got a "nutty" taste you won't soon forget.

    One more suggestion, green tea is fine and all that, but if it's a all possible designated a driver or rent a cab or limo, so you can lighten up with some hot sake with your sushi experience.

    If you are interested in learning more about the how to's of sake, below is a fairly good cite to look at.

    Yummy trails to you!

  5. A spirited discussion and I'm looking forward to dining at Sakura!

    I do take issue with the notion that "education" should be a prerequisite for enjoying a meal: while education can enhance one's intellectual and emotional apprecation of a culinary experience, when it comes to flavor, the food should speak for itself.


  6. I have been to sakura and will not be going back anytime soon. First of all I been living in toledo for 5+yrs and been to all the sushi resturants. When I looked at the Sakura maki menu I see names of maki's that's been around town before they have been open. I am not talking about California,philly,boston,spicy tuna...etc... I am talking about like wolverine, dynamaite, buckeye ...etc..rolls that is suppose to be there signature rolls that is a direct copies of sushi resturants around town who have had them and is known for them. If I was a sushi chef well known and coming from places in big cities I wouldn't have used or even copied rolls off local people just because it's popular. It would be more of a pride issue. I am not a big fan of maki's but my wife is and she was giggling a bit since when she got some of these "special rolls" it wasn't as nearly as good as the ones she ordered from the other places. I am a avid sushi and sashimi person and just to be nice i won't be ordering it again. I won't go into details but i do find it offesnive and odd that the people who responded on this review seems like 2 of them are from the same computer with the same IP. Then then excuse could be it's at a public computer, but i will let the readers make the judge.

    (p.s. I travel more then most people and let's just say out of the 365days in a year i am probably traveling 200+days of it since i am one of the division/department heads of O.I)

  7. I will not return to Sakura. The service is slow, the wait is long, we ordered a drink from the bar and our bartender did not know how to make simple drinks such as a long island.(besides the fact she did not ID myself or my husband who are only 23) After we complained she told us she made it correctly and it was not until a different friendlier bartender offered to remake the drink that we got the drink quality and friendly service we were looking for. Also, the waitresses are poorly trained. From the past two times I visited both of my waitresses were "in training." I understand the turn over in the resturant buisness but on a busy Friday or Saturday night do not have a trainee running the floor, leave it up to knowledgeable people. With the idea of such a unique experience coming to Toledo, a lot of customers (like myself) are uneducated about the entire dining experience. I would like my waitress be able to suggest something or if i ask a question direct me to someone who can answer it (unlike the long island ice tea). As for the sushi, the variety was weak. For such an experienced chef, I wonder why he would use such names as Dynamite, Y2K, and Hot Babe Rolls. Maybe the names are so simplistic because the waitstaff has no knowledge about sushi! The habachi grill experience was awesome with our chef...Martin. Our waitress however failed to refill our drinks quick enough and often left us with empty glasses. We ordered another long island and once again it was not made to order, so we had to specific that the blonde bartender had to make our drink each time. The manager did visit our table and check on our service. That was a plus, but he also seemed new and not knowledgeable when I questioned him on sushimi..My waitress did bring the bill fairly early and the buss staff ( a female) did a great job cleaning up our table and boxing up our lots of leftovers..WHICH I LOVE!

  8. I went there last weekend. I'm going back this weekend. Really fun place to go if you're just looking for a good meal and fun time (have to sit at the hibachi though). I'm not a sushi expert by any means, I actually rarely eat it. So my opinion is as an average joe looking for a good meal. Sakura surely fits the bill. Don't listen to the "food critics" they clearly over-analyze and maybe need to loosen up a little bit =). I mean we're in Toledo right? can't expect much.

    If you're like me and don't eat at a restaurant just to nitpick every minute detail then you'll love the place...great food at a good price.