You might associate Japanese food with sushi, but Japan has many other culinary traditions that are just starting to take hold in the United States. These include kaiseki (a multi-course meal with an emphasis on seasonal and local ingredients), wagashi (traditional Japanese confections), izakayas (bars with small plate menus), and a more recent arrival, ramen (hearty noodle soups).
Last week, I attended the annual Taste of Japan Committee Silicon Valley award ceremony.
This event honored local Chef Toshio Sakuma. He and his wife Keiko were local pioneers in traditional Japanese cuisine, bringing kaiseki-style meals to Silicon Valley. At their (now closed) Kaygetsu restaurant in Menlo Park, they helped popularize this Japanese meal service and inspire other restaurants to branch out to serve more traditional Japanese foods.
Here are some places where you can try kaiseki and other traditional Japanese foods in Silicon Valley.
Wakuriya - 115 De Anza Blvd., San Mateo
A traditional kaiseki-style menu with nine dishes featuring fresh and seasonal vegetables. Chef Katsuhiro Yamasaki started his career at a traditional Japanese restaurant in Kyoto, Japan and came to the U.S. to work for Chef Sakuma at Kaygetsu restaurant. After the restaurant closed, he started his own project, Wakuriya.
Mitsonobu - 325 Sharon Park Drive, Menlo Park
The new owner of Kaygetsu restaurant (Chef Tomonari Mitsonobu) opened this restaurant offering traditional Japanese kaiseki along with flavors of California.
Sakae Sushi - 243 California Drive, Burlingame
This sushi and sake bar is one of the best regarded in the Bay Area. The restaurant offers pure sushi and a small plate, izakaya-style menu. Kaiseki servings are available for groups who reserve a private room.
Izakaya Ginji - 398 S. B Street, San Mateo
An izakaya-style restaurant specializing in yakitori (chicken skewers) grilled traditionally over natural wooden charcoal.
The bar has a large menu of Japanese sake and shochu (distilled spirit made from rice, barley, or sweet potatoes).
Orenchi Ramen - 3540 Homestead Road, Santa Clara
There are some much-loved ramen noodle places in the Bay Area, but Orenchi is one of Silicon Valley's favorites. The restaurant offers a variety of Japanese ramen broth flavors including tonkatsu, miso, soy, and salt. The restaurant draws long lines and closes when the soup runs out, so get there early.
Mitsuwa Marketplace - 675 Saratoga Avenue, San Jose
Mitsuwa is the largest Japanese supermarket in the Bay Area and is a great place to try several traditional Japanese foods all under one roof. The store carries authentic Japanese groceries, cosmetics, appliances, and more. The restaurant has a small food court that with a variety of specialty dishes and food products like Santouka (ramen noodle soups), J. Sweets (traditional Japanese confections), and Matcha Love by Ito-En (Japanese green tea ice cream).