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Photo: B. A. Nilsson

Dinner and a Show

Sakura

468 Troy Schenectady Road (Route 7), Latham, 783-8188. Serving lunch Tue-Sat 11-3, dinner Tue-Thu 4:30-10, Fri-Sat 4:30-11, Sun 1-10. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: Japanese

Entrée price range: $10 (Udon noodle soup) to $26 (Hibachi lobster dinner)

Ambiance: small and friendly

 

By B. A. Nilsson

Hibachi dinners—also known as teppanyaki—are a cross-cultural phenomenon, making them about as authentically Japanese as any another ethnic-restaurant mainstay. But if that’s the dinner you’re looking for, you’re probably not worried about authenticity. Let that therefore not be an issue.

It’s dinner and a show rolled into one, and, goofy as it seems as a concept, there’s no end to the fun as the knives flash and the spatula spins. I’m sure you know the way it works. Start with a meat. At the new Latham restaurant Sakura, your choices include chicken ($16), shrimp ($19), two grades of steak ($19 or $21), lobster ($26) and an economical veggie array ($14). Not to mention higher-priced combos ($21 to $36).

You’re sitting, of course, at a large table with a griddle in the middle. Possibly you’re seated with several strangers—it’s a communal kind of meal. A bowl of hot, easygoing miso soup starts you off, bits of tofu and scallion texturizing the broth.

An iceberg salad topped with ginger dressing follows, a dressing my daughter is so nuts about that I’m still trying to replicate it at home.

Then the show begins.

Sakura opened just over three months ago in space formerly occupied by Fannie’s, just east of the Latham circle on Route 7. “There are several Japanese restaurants in Albany,” observes manager Raymond Lee, “but we thought one was needed here.” The place has been charmingly remodeled, with four hibachi tables, several booths and a number of seats at the sushi bar.

And, of course, there’s plenty else on the menu. The sushi, which I sampled as a $7 appetizer plate, is fantastically fresh, and is also available in its many permutations a la carte or as a miso soup-enhanced dinner ($15-$21).

Flaming shrimp (or salmon, $17) is one of the provocatively titled “kitchen specials,” which also include avocado chicken ($17), grilled beef kushiyaki ($19), sakura spicy noodles (served with meat or veggies, $12) and more. Teriyaki dinners include the usual meats and range from $11-$21. A selection of noodle soups gives you dinner for as little as $10, and, if you’re a fan of the fryolator, several tempura selections are available.

You may be like my wife, whose avoidance of the deep-fried stuff melts away in the face of these lightly battered, quick-fried morsels. She enjoyed a dinner of chicken tempura ($13), served with miso soup and a bowl of rice. The trick to this dish is its preparation, which not only is a matter of meat prep and batter but also of oil quality and temperature—all of which were excellent.

Then the cart approached, wheeled by our cheerful hibachi chef. Overture: the (by now) traditional fork and spatula show, a juggling act worthy of the old Ed Sullivan Show. Fire was added, culminating in the traditional onion-ring volcano, before the onion was melded into egg-fried rice.

Next, the meat hit the grill with a ferocious sizzle, a good-sized chunk of beef alongside pale strips of chicken. A flurry of slicing, flipping, tossing, laughing. Shrimp appeared as if from nowhere; an array of sliced vegetables was added, one zucchini strip mysteriously remaining to one side.

Any good server knows that dining out is theater, and it’s no coincidence that actors thrive in the profession. Here the preparation is theater as well, dramatizing what’s essentially a simple cooking technique with energetic flourishes. Peek into a well-run kitchen and you’ll see chefs so adept at a very repetitious job that they amuse themselves by developing flashy moves. Here it’s transferred to the dining room.

That lone zucchini strip? Our chef deftly sliced it into bite-sized chunks, then launched them, chunk by chunk, into our open mouths. Sounds ridiculous, if not downright annoying, yet it made sense as the climax of this crazy show. And it gave me the chance to summon an old, old skill, developed during my teenage years working as a movie-house usher. I’d while way the time during bad films by practicing such useless diversions as launching popcorn aloft, kernel by kernel, and catching it in my open maw.

Ideally, the teppanyaki show is shared by a tableful of diners. You’re forced to share the space with other parties, becoming a larger, and therefore more enthusiastic, audience for the show. (That being said, let me note that I’m too misanthropic to enjoy sharing my table space with anyone. I’m trying to get over that. It hasn’t been successful.)

And, of course, you can dine at more traditional tables, where you might want to try a bento box, that beautiful lacquer-plate presentation of selections like chicken teriyaki, California roll, shrimp tempura and more ($21), beef teriyaki, a spicy tuna roll, shrimp tempura and shumai ($23) and other mixtures.

To finish, if the tempura bug really bites you, there are also deep-fried desserts.

Sakura is a Japanese rose. As this new one blossoms, you can take advantage of a 15-percent-off special that’s promised to run at least through March. They still await a liquor license, but everything else is in place for a highly recommended meal.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Nicole’s Bistro (Clinton & Broadway, Albany) celebrates its 23rd anniversary with a special dinner at 6 PM on Friday, Nov 16. A champagne reception kicks things off, then enjoy halibut and sole dumplings in a lobster cognac sauce, arugula and endive salad, and a Trio of Veal entrée, each course paired with an appropriate wine. And there’s dessert! Music is performed by Ed Clifford. Tickets to the perception are $80 per person plus tax and gratuity. Call 465-1111. . . . Travel to Italy by way of the Adirondacks when Milano North and the Courtyard by Marriott host a getaway weekend in Lake Placid Nov 9-11. The two-night stay includes a wine reception Friday, two breakfasts, and a five-course Italian wine dinner on Saturday featuring the wines of the Feudi di San Gregorio Estate, a winery in southern Italy’s Campania region. Export manager Robin Shay will to introduce the wines at the dinner. Prices are $550 per couple, $395 per single, taxes and gratuities included; there also are seats available for the wine dinner only ($75 per person). Call 523-2900 for the weekend, 523-3003 for the dinner only. . . . Liz and Jerry Lavalley, owners of Manchester, Vt.’s Reluctant Panther (which includes an excellent restaurant reviewed here a few months back) were recently named Innkeepers of the Year by Governor Douglas. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.


We want your feedback

Have you eaten at any recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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What you're saying...

I very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's at Ogdens. You review described my dining experience perfectly. This wasn't the case with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree that a restaurant can have an off night so I'll give the second unit on Central Avenue a try.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back. Second, I haven't had a chance to visit Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant - it's not that far away. People traveled from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam. From his background, I'm sure the chef's sauce is excellent and that is the most important aspect of an Italian restaurant. Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm looking forward to trying this restaurant - I look forward to Metroland every Thursday especially for the restaurant review. And by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam location and is opening a new bistro on Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake Bistro. It should be great!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants being as "standardized as McDonald's" shows either that you have eaten at only a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or that you have some prejudices to work out. That the physical appearances are not what you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing on the food. And after all, that is what the main focus of the reviews should be. Not the physical appearances, which is what most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on Central Avenue, may not look the greatest, but the food is excellent there. And the menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian, chicken, and more..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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