Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Nomo Ate Here - Udon at Sanuki No Sato

Since I'm a Hapa Hillbilly (half Japanese, half Scottish from West Virginia), I'm frequently asked two questions. "Where do I go for good Japanese food?" and "Where can I find some decent biscuits and gravy?" (Well, actually, nobody in California has ever asked for a b&g recommendation, but I'm ready for them.)

Alas, I can't recommend any Japanese restaurants in Pasadena. Most, like the ever-popular but mediocre Kabuki, seem more Japanesque than Japanese. For the real thing, I like to head to the South Bay. This area has a large Japanese American population in Torrance and Gardena and a thriving Japanese national segment because several major Japanese corporations (Toyota, Honda, Epson) have American headquarters in Torrance.

My japanese American friend Carol introduced me to Sanuki No Sato in Gardena about 15 years ago. We went to the show/sale of a Japanese American silver jeweler twice a year in Torrance, but the show was just a thinly veiled excuse to head to Sanuki for a steaming bowl of chubby udon noodles.

Carol always drove to the corner restaurant in a Gardena mini mall. It wasn't until years later that I realized that most of the signage was in Japanese. You have to look hard to find the small, unobtrusive sign in English.

A trio of oversized "Sanuki No Sato" signs are in Japanese, but only one small, easy-to-miss sign is in English.

Yesterday I justified the long drive for lunch at Sanuki because I needed to purchase osembe (Japanese rice crackers) at the Mitsuwa Market in Torrance for my dad's Christmas package. They have the best, daddy-pleasing selection and, believe it or not, you still can't find a decent rice cracker in Ravenswood, West Virginia.

Giant Japanese paper lanterns, Christmas lights and . . . Spider Man decorate the restaurant.

Mitsuwa is a 45-minute drive from Altadena, but Sanuki is just another five minutes down the street. I ordered the Nabeyaki, a rustic iron pot filled with perfect udon noodles and topped with shrimp tempura, soft poached egg, chicken, fish cake, shiitake mushrooms, seaweed, and sansai vegetables (such as bamboo shoots).

I think my Japanese cooking class has taught me to appreciate this restaurant and this dish more than ever. The soup base was a rich dashi stock with a touch of soy sauce. And as soon as I bit into the vegetables, I recognized that they had been cooked in dashi, then soy sauce and sugar, like the onishime vegetables we prepared in class. After one bite, you're likely to yell out, "Oh, mama," or at least "umami," the rich, elusive "fifth taste" that's found in many Japanese foods.

With a glass of ice cold Sapporo draft beer, this lunch was the perfect antidote to holiday fatigue.

Vegetables, shrimp tempura, fish cakes and egg top the steaming pot of udon.

Jonathan Gold has consistently included Sanuki No Sato on his annual list of "Essential LA Restaurants." And Hideo Nomo, the popular pitcher for the Dodgers, was/is a regular when he's in town. But I don't think it shows that you're trendy or hip if you eat at Sanuki No Sato. It just shows good taste for traditional Japanese food. And once you've had it, you may never want to go back to Kabuki again.

Sanuki No Sato

18206 S. Western Ave.

Gardena, CA 90248

(310) 324-9184


Troy Corley said...

Here on the Ventura Coast, we go to Ozeki Noodle in Oxnard. Soup is always hot, tastes good, excellent price. But the soup at Sanuki No Sato looks a cut above. We must drive there NOW!

Laurie said...

This is SOOOO good to know! My husband and his entire Japanese family thank you.

Margaret said...

I could eat soup every day of my life and be happy. Do you have other soup recommendations? They don't have to be Japanese.

Nelle said...

This picture has my mouth watering!
I have not had a lot of Japenese food but I love Chinese. Is it similar?

Susan C said...

Troy, I'll have to try Ozeki Noodle when I'm in that neck of the woods. But I can't imagine anything better than Sanuki.

Laurie, I didn't realize your hubby was Japanese. Oh, yes, you must take them to Sanuki. I guarantee that they will love it.

Margaret, my favorite ramen restaurant is Daikokuya in Little Tokyo. I love the fact that they serve just one type of amazing ramen. Rameniac (the rock star of ramen) thinks it's overrated, but I disagree. I love Mexican posole and am on a quest for the perfect bowl. La Cabanita in Montrose comes pretty close.

Nelle, Most Americans just think of Japanese food in terms of sushi, teriyaki, tempura and noodles, but it's so much more than that. I honestly don't think there are that many similarities between Japanese and Chinese food - except for the soy sauce and the rice. Good Japanese food is based on dashi stock (seaweed and fish stock) and miso (paste made from fermented soy beans).

Anonymous said...

Yup, the pictures prove it. We were ONLY blocks from each other (technically farther if it was lunch time and I was at work). But it's good to know that there's a place we can enjoy noodles together on a visit! I've heard -- and have never eaten there, but it's very popular with the Japanese Nationals in the area -- that Shin Sen Gumi is also very good (not necessarily a noodle place). I only mention it because it is LITERALLY doors down from Sanuki No Sato. Ü


Wandering Chopsticks said...

Funny. I had the biggest craving for nabeyaki udon yesterday. So I had VNese banh canh instead. It's sort of similar with the thick noodles, but with crab. It was OK, but nowhere near as good as my mom or grandma's. They make their own noodles.

Susan C said...

Wendy, That's really something that you live so close to Sanuki No Sato. You lucky duck! There's a Shin Sen Gumi in Rosemead that specializes in ramen. It's my friend Carol's second favorite (after Daikokuya). I've also been to their robata place in Monterey Park and LOVED it. One of these days I'm going to spend the whole day eating in Gardena. Japanese breakfast at Fukugawa, lunch at Sanuki No Sato and dinner at Shin Sen Gumi. You'll have to join me!

WC, That is funny that you were craving nabeyaki udon. Where do you usually get it? I'd love to find somewhere closer than Gardena. Yum - there's nothing like homemade noodles, in any language.

Piper Robert said...

On my next visit, we have to go to Sanuki No Sato. I could live on noodles, seaweed and unagi.

I recently found Tensuke, a Japanese market that has a small, stand up noodle eatery. Great value and the soba is wonderful. Is there such a thing as bad soba? I get a small bowl of rice and barbequed eel along with the soba.

Hmmmmm.......wonder if Bonnie would like to visit Tensuke tonight?

The next time you're this way, we'll hit Tensuke. I'd like your feedback.

altadenahiker said...

Great travelog! Wonderful picutres, text.
A few years ago I bought a book on Japanese cooking which, per LAT, is supposed to be the best, "Poetical Pursuit of Food." Then I bought some special kinds of noodles (beautifully wrapped) and I think dried shrimp. It's all still in the bag in my pantry. Maybe someday you can show me what to do with it. said...

All of my greatest culinary experiences seem to have taken place in mini malls.

Susan C said...

Robert, That's great that you've found an udon and soba shop in your Columbus neighborhood. You'd think that a bowl of udon would be foolproof, but I've had plenty with overcooked noodles and a tasteless broth. Yuck! Would definitely like to try Tensuke.

AH, You should come with me to the next cooking class at the Japanese Buddhist Church.

PA, I couldn't agree more about some of the best places in So Cal being in mini malls.

Wandering Chopsticks said...

I have an instant pack of udon that's pretty darn good. :)

My go-to udon place used to be the Shin-Sen-Gumi in Fountain Valley for lunch. They made fresh udon on the robata side. I think they might have discontinued it though. I used to work down the street and they had the best lunch deals. Udon, chicken meatball skewers, rice bowl, pickles and iced tea for less than $10. With a buy 10 get 1 free card. That was a weekly or twice a week stop for me and co-workers. Haven't found another place that made fresh udon.

Susan C said...

WC, I've yet to find a decent instant udon package. You'll have to share your brand name with me.

Hmmm, I need to see if the Shin Sen Gumi in Rosemead serves udon.

Cafe Observer said...

SC, it sounds like u still haven't been 2 Aun Deli Cafe in Pasadena.
Go before they leave the country.

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