I rarely try unusual and unfamiliar dishes at Japanese restaurants for a couple of reasons: the high price and uncertainty about whether or not I’ll like the unusual dish.
I’m not proud of my lack of culinary adventure, but I tend to run up a big enough bill at sushi restaurants by indulging in favorites such as spicy tuna, sashimi and tempura.
A new restaurant in Grover Beach has opened me up to new possibilities, and I think it will do the same for other budget-minded Japanese food lovers.
The tapas-style concept
Izakaya Raku Japanese Tapas Bar offers its items in small plate form, allowing diners to try a variety of dishes for a reasonable amount. The tapas-style concept works eloquently, and I found myself wondering why a Japanese restaurant hadn’t done this earlier.
The appetizer sampler ($4.50) is a trio platter of broccoli goma ae, lotus root and steamed Japanese pumpkin. The lightly cooked broccoli is topped with a sweet sesame sauce that has the slight essence of peanuts. Crisp lotus root was sliced thin and tossed in a spicy, tangy sauce. The brown color of the lotus was a bit off-putting, but I found it delicious, refreshing and light. The chunks of pumpkin were soft and creamy. Although not hugely flavorful, it was a nice — and different—start to the meal.
Other appetizers include the crispy rice with spicy tuna ($8) and the sesame chicken ($5.50). The trio of crisped rice cakes are sumptuous, the rice seared in soy sauce and then topped with a mix of rare spicy tuna, avocado and a sweet teriyakilike sauce.
The sweet sesame chicken, only slightly spicy, is crispy-fried and packed onto the plate. At $5.50, it was a flavorful steal.
Soup or salad?
Choices of salads and soups at Izakaya Raku are plentiful. Salads include seaweed, cucumber and tofu, as well as mixed greens topped with various meats and seafood. The poki salad ($10.50) is an artful display of fresh lettuces, honey-mustard dressing, radish strings and seared rare poki (Hawaiian-style ahi).
Soups include a variety of noodle bowls such as soba (buckwheat noodles), ramen, and udon. The Shoyu ramen ($6.50) is a large bowl of soy-flavored chicken broth served with various vegetables, stewed pork and thin noodles. The pork is tender and soft, the highlight of this soup. It is a classic comfort soup for a cool day.
On a roll
Specialty sushi rolls are like those at many other sushi restaurants — large, elaborate and flavorful. The Grover Sunset roll ($9) engulfs tempura-fried shrimp with sticky rice, seaweed and spicy tuna. Savory and ample, this one roll is easily a meal by itself.
For those who can consume numerous rolls in one sitting, the restaurant offers all-you-can-eat sushi rolls during lunch and dinner on most weekdays. Prices hover between $19 and $25 for the all-you-can-eat specials.
Dessert is a must at Izakaya Raku with its selection of flavored and tempura-fried ice creams. Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab even created a green wasabi ice cream that is refreshing and without the burn associated with wasabi. Other ice cream include plum wine and green tea.
Izakaya Raku’s bar menu includes Japanese beers, wine, cold and hot sake and Zipang, a sparking sake champagne.
Reach Dawn White at 781-7946.