Monday, May 12, 2014

Restaurant Review: Sumiya Yakitori

Sumiya - dinner on May 2, 2014, 4-star rating on yelp from 620 reviews
I have to credit my coworker, Queen of Cheap Eats, for telling me about Sumiya. It's located in the same strip mall as Stan's Donuts (literally next door) and is known for its Japanese yakitori. I tried to go with a friend last year for lunch but we couldn't meet until noon and when I called Sumiya to reserve a table, I was told they only accepted reservations for seating between 11:30-12. Huh? If I could get there that early, I don't think I would need a reservation. The guy explained they're "too busy" to take reservations, meaning they didn't want to reserve a table, risk a no-show and have that table go unoccupied while they had a line out the door. Okay, I get it. As someone who always shows up for every reservation I make, I didn't think that was a super-friendly customer-service approach but..shrug. Their restaurant, their rules. So I gave up on Sumiya for lunch.
But recently, my friends and I decided to try it for dinner. Because of the no-reservation policy, I didn't bother calling them this time. Instead, we planned to meet right when they opened for dinner at 5:30, figuring we could beat the crowd and get a table. When I first arrived, the place was mostly empty. The person who greeted me at the door asked if I had a reservation. "Uh, I thought you guys didn't take reservations?" She said they did on Fridays but I had to call 2 days ahead. It was a Friday and I couldn't go back in time to Wednesday but she said she could seat us as long as we were gone by 7 pm (shades of Paul Martin's American Grill). Alrighty then.
Potato Mochi appetizer
Sumiya's full name is Sumiya Yakitori. "Yakitori", says wikipedia, is commonly a Japanese type of skewered chicken. But it can also be used to refer to any type of skewered food and that's what Sumiya serves. Similar to dim sum or sushi places, you're given a paper menu where you can check off which type of skewers you want, customize the sauce you want on it and write in the desired quantity. Each single order comes with 2 skewers. Think of it as Japanese tapas. The server whisks away your filled-in paper menu and the small plates start coming out shortly after.
Inside a potato mochi
You can also order from the formal menu which has a variety of appetizers, ramen, and other dishes. We picked the potato mochi appetizer based on reviews and pictures from yelp. Plus we asked the server about it and were told that's one of the things they're known for. The appetizer comes with 2 potato mochi for $6 but there were three of us so we ordered a third one for an additional $3. Potato mochi is melted cheese stuffed inside a deep-fried potato ball, covered in a glaze similar to a teriyaki sauce but not as sweet. On no kind of diet is it good for you but it was really tasty so I didn't care. Totally worth the extra miles on the treadmill later.
We ordered a variety of skewers as we had differing tastes and also wanted to sample a good selection of the offerings. The service was fairly quick and the tapas kept on coming.
Grilled Chicken with plum sauce
If you've ever had tapas, Japanese or otherwise, you know it's deceptively easy to get full. Because everything comes out in small plates and you share with your dining companions, you're getting a "sampler" taste and small bites of a bunch of different dishes. But those small bites add up and before you know it, you've consumed a full meal.
Chicken Wings
It's also easy to get full if you order one of the ramen noodle soups. I wanted to see how Sumiya stacks up against Orenchi when it comes to ramen so I got the cha-su ramen. The portion was smaller than at Orenchi and it tasted good but I have to admit, Orenchi's is better, especially their noodles and broth. In fairness, ramen is what Orenchi is known for so I don't think Sumiya meant to go head to head with them anyway. I'd put Sumiya's ramen more on par with Ramen Halu than Orenchi
Cha-Su Ramen
Miso Ramen
As for the yakitori skewers themselves, my taste preference for them varied. My friends got to keep the tomatoes and mushrooms all to themselves since I only provided eating competition on the carnivorous plates. Pardon the fuzziness of some of the pics. I was snapping them with my iphone and was trying to hurry because I know I'm a pain to my dinner companions when they can't eat until I've immortalized every morsel we're about to consume (yes, I'm one of those people).
Grilled Tomatoes
The chicken skewers were okay. I thought they could've been a little more flavorful. I know that's what the sauces are for but they only had some dribbles of sauce. I don't even like sauce that much but even I say there could've been more to punch up the taste. Or they could've used some marinade before grilling. If you want chicken, go with the chicken wings instead - much tastier than the chicken breast skewers.
Beef Kalbi
The beef kalbi was the tastiest of the skewers. That had good flavor and the beef was tender and juicy. The duck was also good but this carnivore prefers the beef.
I thought Sumiya was a good place to try. I'm not sure I really loved it, except for the Potato Mochi. As with Orenchi, I'm not enough of a fan of Japanese yakitori that I go out of my way for a restaurant where I have to accommodate their hours, their seating times and how long I can stay to eat. I definitely wouldn't be willing to wait a long time to get a table. The place is small and, also like Orenchi, I'm sure they like the squeeze it gives them with a line out the door shrieking their popularity. Me? I like good food but I'm spoiled enough with so many other choices where I live that I'd have to really, really love a place to put up with the downsides. Sumiya doesn't occupy that status on my foodie list but I'm glad I tried it. And when one of my cousins drooled over the picture of the Potato Mochi, I promised I'd take her there just for those. So I will be back at some point.

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