Kamakura Sushi and Sake House

Kamakura settles into its bistro niche, bringing a classy touch of Japanese cuisine to downtown Los Gatos.

Sushi Surprise: Kamakura Sushi and Sake House satisfies patrons with its confident execution of Japanese appetizer classics and impeccably presented sushi and sashimi platters. Photo by Christopher Gardner

Sushi Surprise: Kamakura Sushi and Sake House satisfies patrons with its confident execution of Japanese appetizer classics and impeccably presented sushi and sashimi platters. Photo by Christopher Gardner

COUPLES, FAMILIES, students, connoisseurs–everybody in Los Gatos seems not only to have discovered Kamakura, but to be big fans as well of this smart sushi showcase that opened downtown a half year ago.

Occupying the former digs of the trendy Dragon Bistro, Kamakura Sushi and Sake House inherits some of that decor panache in the way of the intimate sushi bar area, the high mirrored walls and the plush banquettes. There’s something faintly Parisian about the bistro ambiance here, probably since the ivory color scheme–accented with bits of crimson and black–packs a lot more deco glamour than your run-of-the-mill sushi bar.

The interior generates plenty of highly desirable sushi bar energy, from the vivacious staff members who greet, seat and serve patrons to the smiling sushi chef behind the jewel-like display of tobiko, maguro and ebi. The prices are right in line too, we noted last week, as we slipped into the creamy leather banquette, between a movie-going couple and a family of four.

Not just another pretty face, Kamakura kept us satisfied with its confident execution of Japanese appetizer classics and a procession of sparkling fresh, impeccably presented sushi and sashimi platters.

It went down like this. Katya and I split the first of two pretty vials of hot sake ($2.50) while nibbling fat green soy beans from the celadon bowl of edamame that came with our table. As addictive as popcorn and a whole lot more nutritious, the soy morsels kept us occupied while we ordered.

Bypassing a variety of sunomonos and teriyakis, we decided to start with an appetizer of the house tempura ($7) and a platter of gyoza ($6.95) as well as a Rock’n’Roll sushi of unagi and avocado ($4) and a tekka maki with shiso leaf added ($4). Pretty soon, beautiful enamel trays and porcelain plates began arriving, each with accompanying dipping sauces.

Way before computers, Japanese cuisine offered multimedia, interactive experiences. What could be more user-friendly than crisp, moist tempura, flash-fried to delicate decadence like our succulent Kamakura prawns? We amplified the effect of our brothy dipping sauce with some soy and wasabi, and grinned a lot. Katya thought the sweet potato tempura was a bit overly oily, but we both agreed that the prawns were perfection.

And we both agreed that the half-moon gyoza (like steamed potstickers), stuffed with seasoned pork, ginger and onions, were exceptional. Thin to the point of transparency, the noodle covering was tenderness itself, heightened by a quick dip in lemony ponzu sauce. Eight of these silken beauties arrived on a plate adorned with two kinds of shredded cabbage–one a lightly pickled purple variety that was both sweet and tart–spun daikon radish and florets of broccoli in a luxurious miso dressing.

Our sushi was equally lovely–my tekka maki slices enfolded in sea-green nori and each centered with a ruby-red nugget of impeccable maguro. Katya’s Rock’n’Roll roll (fun to say, isn’t it?) was even better, the delicious unagi slathered with a molassesy sauce that infused both rice and avocado. We toasted these dishes so often we were forced to order another small sake to complete the ritual.

Feeling that no sushi bar experience is complete without sashimi, Katya and our server put together a customized appetizer of sashimi (for a stunningly low $9) that included generous samples of maguro, hamachi, saba, ebi and sake. The beautiful slices of fish came in a bright red enamel box decorated with pyramids of electric orange tobiko, little fans of lemon and more white clouds of spun daikon radish.

A tour de force, this dish pretty much pushed our consumption abilities to the limit. Experiencing that rarest of dining epiphanies, we left this choice little sushi palace stuffed to the gills.

Clearly, we’ll show a bit more restraint on our next visit to Kamakura. How were we to know that the gyoza would be so seductive? Or that the sashimi would be not only extravagantly fresh–the clarity of flavor made us feel we were tasting these marine delicacies for the very first time–but extravagantly generous as well. Now we know.

And now we can plan accordingly. We will bring another sushi lover with us–and probably order the very same meal all over again. If you love sushi as much as you like dining in smart cafe settings, then embrace the phenomenon that is Kamakura. And don’t forget to say “Arigato.”

135 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos
Price: moderate
Ambiance: sushi bistro
Service: extremely helpful
Cuisine: sushi bar classics

This article was originally published in the February 20-26, 1997 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley’s Weekly Newspaper.

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