Sakura is packed for good reasons1/28/2015
Taki brought Des Moines its first urban style sushi in 2002. After Food Dude raved about its uni (sea urchin roe) and toro (fatty tuna belly), one reader wrote that I had completely “betrayed dudedom” and that the column should be renamed “something more accurate, such as ‘The Food Metro Sexual.’ ”
I recalled that last week while reading a pre-publication copy of “Dude Food,” a new Simon & Schuster book by Australian TV chef Daniel Churchill. The author promises to write in dude lingo with no ingredients the average dude can’t pronounce, spell or find in his local supermarket. Chapters include dude-like things such as “Finger Licking Feeds,” “How to Impress a Girl” and “Hangover Cures.” It also crosses metro sexual borders with “Cut Your Calories.” While most things are rather simple to prepare, not all main ingredients are as easy to find in Des Moines supermarkets as they might be in Sydney. I have never seen squash blossoms at Dahl’s. Still the book is an excellent entry-level guide to Aussie cuisine with recipes for bison hoisin greens, peri peri chicken and hummus with baked parsnip chips.
“Dude Food” also made me aware of how popular the sushi scene has become since Taki opened. Supermarkets, and even gas stations, offer it today. Most Chinese buffets in the metro have added sushi to their menu. So have several Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese places. When Waterfront opened its second store, they featured a much larger sushi bar and a considerably smaller fresh seafood market than in the mother store. Top-notch sushi cafés like Wasabi Chi, Wasabi Tao, Miyabi 9, Sakari and Akebono opened in Des Moines proper.
A 49-seat café in Normandy Plaza has become their suburban rival. When Lala Gao and Lin Xing opened Sakura four years ago, I thought their service was remarkable. Waitresses remembered what I barely touched and offered substitutes on repeat visits. Despite Lin’s serious knife skills (he’s been an itamae since his teenage years), I did not think the fish distinguished itself from several other places. That has changed, as an army of loyal customers would attest. I waited for a table last week at 2 p.m. on a Monday.
Like the best places in Des Moines, Sakura now includes blackboard specials like horse mackerel, Japanese snapper, fresh oysters, tofu skins, toro and uni, which is so popular in winter months (when sea urchins are fatter to survive cold water) that it frequently sells out. Sushi is offered in nigiri, natto, sashimi and chirashi forms. More than 30 specialty rolls and 30 hand rolls allow experimentation. Bento boxes deliver bargains at lunch hours. Both soba and udon noodles are stir fried with a choice of proteins. Five soups and six salads add balance.
The most creative part of the menu belongs to appetizers. Knife skills get to show off in dishes like naruto in which tuna, yellowtail, salmon, crab meat, avocado and salmon eggs are wrapped in thin sliced cucumber and served with a special sweet sauce. Yellowtail jalapeno presented six lovely pieces of fish with delicately sliced chilies and ponzu sauce. Tuna tartar delivered a gingery blend of thinly sliced scallions and tuna. One day, a special baby octopus salad brought marinated mollusks with cubed cucumber and sesame seeds.
Mondays offer all-you-can-eat sushi rolls (extra charge for wasted food) for $20; Tuesdays bring $2 bottled beers and discounted kitchen appetizers; and Wednesdays deliver $10 sushi rolls (a 33 percent discount in some cases.)
1960 Grand Ave., 225-9999.
Mon. – Thurs. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Fri. – Sat. 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m., Sun. noon – 9 p.m.
La Quercia introduced its ‘Nduja and Salami Americano at the San Francisco Fancy Foods Show, with the former winning the L.A. Times “best in show” status … Pita Pit opened its first area store, in Urbandale. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.