Usagi (San Mateo, CA)

7:30:00 AM

Eastern Meets Western: A Look Into a Family-Styled Yoshoku Restaurant

Yoshoku: Simply known as Westernized Japanese Cuisine. I believe it started way back in the Meiji Restoration period when Japan opened up their country to the Western civilization. They adapted a lot of the cooking techniques, flavors and dishes, but also altered it so that it fitted the Japanese palette. Nowadays, Yoshoku is as Japanese as ramen, sushi and yakitori.

Dishes that fall into this category include: Omurice, Tonkatsu, Gratin, Napolitan, Hamburger (Japanese style), Curry, Hiyashi Rice, Korokke and more.

For the most part, you can find most yoshoku-type of cuisine being served in family restaurants in Japan. Think Denny’s and IHOP type of vibe, but with a Yoshoku menu and less drunk people.

In the Bay Area, Japanese family-style restaurants are rare. Sure, we have a bunch of ramen shops, curry houses, izakayas and sushi restaurants, but family-style it’s like trying to capture a rare pokemon, but you keep running into Rattata. Whereas ramen is more like trying to walk past a certain area, but you keep running into Pidgeys. That's YOU, RAMEN! But that's... another story.

So when PC and I finished our zombie adventure back in August, we decided to try out Usagi for a light dinner. Located in downtown San Mateo (not too far away from the Bart Station), Usagi sits in this tiny little plaza with a parking lot that fits about 10 cars (if you’re lucky). If I remember correctly, there’s a liquor store or perhaps a convenience store in that plaza along with an izakaya.

Usagi, like its namesake is adorned with bunny ornaments, logos and photos all over the restaurant. It isn’t so blatantly obvious that it’ll make you cringe, but it’s the subtle touches chopsticks, menu, parfaits (bunny cookies, ftw!), and more. You’ll first notice it when you step up to the entrance of the restaurant and they have a bunny placard hanging on the door telling you it’s open.

Step inside and you’re greeted by a quaint little restaurant that reminds you more of a cafe than a restaurant. 

In essence, it reminds me of the ones you might find in an idyllic slice-of-life manga setting where all the main characters hang out at the restaurant after school or work and talk about their day. One of them is eating a parfait, one is waving his ebi-fry around and the other dipped the spoon she used to eat her curry into the other character's parfait. 

[ end dream sequence ] 

RIGHT, back to the important things... like Reality

Their menu have a lot of dishes you would expect in a family-style restaurant, but they also have a special menu for tapas. Fair warning, their tapas are really tapas, as in there’s not much (as delicious as it was).

For appetizer, we started with the salmon sashimi. Slices of salmon rested on a bed of shredded daikon and topped with salmon roe. A dollop of wasabi is left on the side for your own personal preference when enjoying the dish. I personally found the taste very clean and it was a nice way to start off the meal after eating two pieces of macarons at Chantal Guillon not too long ago.

Also listed on the tapas menu was the uni risotto, which was served in a massive plate (it hardly resembles a bowl) with a small hole in the center to hold the risotto. Garnished with lotus root chips and sliced nori and more uni, this was rich and buttery and oh so good leaving you craving moarrrrrr.

At one point, PC and I were scraping the edges towards the end because we wanted to savor every single bite.

Next up was the calamari. This was reminiscent of the Calmari Steak way back when I first tasted it at Willow Street’s Pizza. Instead of puffy, crispy with a slight chew, these look like french fries. They’re sliced horizontally into strips, battered and fried with a side of tartar sauce (which was chunky with a very roughly diced boiled egg). They’re chewy and meaty, but not greasy. Crispy to a certain extent, they paired well with the creamy tartar sauce. PC is a fan of this type of calamari, while I prefer mine light and crispier.

(L to R) Japanese style, demi glace and Italian style
We also ordered the Hamburger Sampler, presented three ways demi glace sauce, Italian style with tomato sauce and cheese, and Japanese styled with grated daikon. Out of the three, I think I liked the one with the grated daikon the best, followed by the demi glace and then the Italian style.

To be honest, Italian style wasn’t a hamburger as much as it was a giant meatball.

Unlike the American hamburger we all know and love, Japanese hamburgers aren’t as densely packed and usually mixed in with onions and panko, giving it a different texturealmost fluffy.

Since most of the dishes were so small, we were still hungry, so we got the clam spaghetti after asking the server whether it was better off to get the clams in butter. She suggested to go with the spaghetti. More volume, but you still get the clams.

Great idea because the spaghetti was awe-some. The pasta was cooked perfectly al dente and the flavor was rich with the clam broth and the black pepper packed just the right punch. Mmm~ The star of the show was of course the clams. They were huge, meaty and fresh. There wasn’t any sand in them and all of them opened up (which is always a good indication).

Overall, it was a great dinner. Yes, it was on the pricier side, but the atmosphere was relaxing and it seems like a great place to hang out with friends, family or bring a date. I don’t visit San Mateo all that often, so it’s about a 30-40 minute drive away for me, but I definitely want to return one day.

Next time, I want to try their parfaits. I have my eye on that bunny cookie.

Have you ever tried a Japanese family restaurant? What do you usually get? Are there any other notable ones around the Bay Area? April Fool's was yesterday. Did anybody fall for any noteworthy tricks?

505 2nd Avenue
San Mateo, CA 94401

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