Unless you live in the Los Altos hills, I’m not sure why else anyone would drive out of their way to go there. It’s certainly a cute little town with its own downtown main drag and array of restaurants, but it’s definitely an out of the way trek from pretty much everywhere and there are similar downtowns all around Silicon Valley. But, one day at lunch a particular craving struck that I only knew how to fix at a single place. The craving? Oyako-Don. The place? Sumika.
This restaurant is about a block from the main downtown drag in Los Altos and specializes in Japanese comfort food. They are pretty well known for their high quality charcoal-grilled yakitori skewers at dinner time, but I was drawn in for the reputedly epic Oyako-Don lunch special. Oyako-Don is a traditional home-style rice bowl that literally translates to “parent-and-child rice bowl” because this variety of donburi comes topped with simmered chicken and soft-cooked eggs. Talk about lunchtime poetry.
This epic lunch special also included a salad, a miso soup, dish of pickled daikon radish, and hot tea which were all fine, welcome additions to the meal, but none were particularly noteworthy. For $10.50, it really did end up being a huge amount of food though. But, let’s talk more about that Oyako-Don.
The chicken topping was quite good – it came in big, meaty, tender hunks that had acquired a subtle smokey flavor from the yakitori grill. And the soft-cooked runny egg served as a sort of sauce to mix and combine all of the bowl’s elements. The rice, runny egg, an chicken mixture came together in a sort of porridge consistency. This might be off-putting to some, but I actually liked the rice’s creaminess.
Unfortunately, I found that the whole thing tasted very one note. I had to ask for a dish of soy sauce to doctor the dish up so that I could add a little bit of saltiness to the bowl. I also added a pretty hefty spoonful of chili powder for extra oomph. After adding of these two condiments, the bowl really opened up, came into its own, and developed into a satisfying and filling lunchtime meal. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t want to alter a dish from the restaurant’s vision so much, but this rice bowl really needed it badly.
And even though our lunch combo entrees were huge, we still ordered some of their lunch appetizers to sample a few more of their offerings. We started with the Tako Karaage which was bowl of vinegar-dressed salad topped with a handful of fried and crusted whole baby octopi covered in a spicy sauce. Yeah, baby octopus – six entire cephalopods, to be eaten completely whole.
They’re definitely not for the squeamish or the faint of heart, but I loved them. There was just such a perfect balance of tenderness, chewiness, and crispiness in every bite. And the spicy sauce added just the right punch of flavor to both the salad and octopus. I definitely could have eaten a whole bowl myself – I’d strongly recommend an order.
And just for kicks, we also went for an order of Chicken Karaage. This appetizer came in two sizes, but we selected the one that included three massive hunks of lightly fried, boneless dark meat chicken. It was quite good, but I would have appreciated a sauce of some sort – maybe kewpie mayo. An order of these couldn’t hurt, but I’ve definitely had better in Silicon Valley.
So, there you have it. If you for some reason find yourself in Los Altos craving Japanese comfort food, Sumika is there for you. You can totally fill up for cheap at lunchtime there even if the Oyako-Don wasn’t as flavorful or delicious as I would have hoped for. I will probably return to sample their skewers at dinner and get another serving of those awesomely crispy Tako Karaage.
Got another great spot for Japanese comfort food in Silicon Valley? Let me know in the comments below.
236 Central Plaza Los Altos, CA 94022