Although we try to be objective, numerous factors always manage to skew our view in one way or another. Surely there are objective facts, like the restaurant is small or the fries are spicy, but generally the taste can be affected by the conversation of a nearby dining couple, the window seats looking out to a blazing sun, an unusual day at work, or sometimes just the unwillingness to compliment. The mood makes the food. My mood wasn’t particularly bad last time I was at Anzu, but it was particularly good this time I was there, as we were seated in this half-hidden corner. The bamboo curtain half obscured the view, the brown and green room was half sedative. The oksusu cha was half surprising, but fully pleasant.
We didn’t expect to be seated in such nice seclusion, nor did we anticipate an appetizer. But now that it came, two small cubes of fried tofu with honey,we seemed to recall that last time they also gave us something small for taste opening – a couple of gyozas it was. The tofu beats the gyoza. A thin crunchy crust contrasts yet complements the soft-almost-to-creamy inside, same with the bean blandness and the honey sweetness. Tofu can really do wonders sometimes.
For the main course, Anzu offers some good deals with combinations, such as a bento-box meal – like what we ordered last time – or the sushi-udon pair which we got today. The sushi comes in a full roll (6 pieces), with thinly sliced ginger and wasabi for kicks. But really, you don’t need kicks with California rolls, the nori’s salty streaks and avocado’s buttery dollop suffice. I also believe that what we have here was real crab meat, not surimi, because it wasn’t rubbery. It was good.
The sansai udon was also a delight. Thick wheat noodle in vegetable broth, it tastes far more interesting than it sounds. The stock is so pure and yet so relishing, with a profound taste of shungiku (Garland chrysanthemum, or rau tần ô). There was also an unsolved mystery: the pickled “bean sprouts” (translucent strands at the left corner). They look like bean sprouts, but only from a distance: close circumspection revealed rectangular cuts. They also taste starchy like some kind of root. I incline to say turnip, as such texture is midway between the porous crunch of jicama and the granulous dense of potato. Whatever it was, it had a great companion – some kind of pickled radish in ruby color. It was like a sour candy, all different tangy levels sang a song in unison, the song is called “The Best Pickle I’ve ever Had”.
Yes, this visit was full of cute little surprises. What can I say, subjective factors aside, some restaurants are like a bunch of grapes, you wouldn’t stop eating the bunch just because the first grape you picked out happens to be a bit sour. Anzu at Berkeley is such a place, and this time, the grape was perfect.
Dinner for two (free appetizer, 1 California roll, 1 udon, 1 tonkatsu): $15.04
Anzu Japanese Cuisine at Berkeley
2433 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704
P.S. Anzu also has an excellent salad dressing made of peanut sauce, mayonnaise, and a bit of seasoning. The salad comes with the entree, no extra fee.
Update: the “bean sprouts” are actually kohlrabi (German turnip, or su hào). Thanks to my mom who knows every ingredient upon hearing the description of the texture!