I’d never before entered Sugata (1105 Solano Ave.), the family-owned Albany restaurant near San Pablo Avenue, probably because I’m not big on Japanese food in general. But I thoroughly enjoyed myself there today. My group was bigger than usual. George’s son Keith is home for the holidays, so he joined us. And our friend Peter came along as well.
Having five in our party meant that we were able to dine in the private dining area that is surrounded by shoji, those sliding doors one finds in Japanese homes. Dave made the point that the delicate little opaque rice paper windows in shoji were too tempting for him as a toddler in Tokyo, and he often gave into the impulse to poke through them with his fingers. They do seem to invite that.
I really liked our waitress, who was attentive without hovering. (And her complimenting my socks was a nice touch.) I also felt sorry for her because we sat on cushions just above floor level with our feet in the well beneath the table; so for her to serve us, she had to bend way over to put our dishes in front of us. I would think that would be hard on one’s back.
She brought us a pitcher of hot tea right away and wasn’t at all annoyed when our party took a long time to figure out what to order. (Okay, really it was just Dave who had difficulty deciding.) And she was also very nice about taking our picture.
I ordered the chicken teriyaki bento, which was a lunch portion size and just right. It came with miso soup, a small cucumber salad, rice, a side of cabbage salad, and an orange slice in its own little compartment. Dave, Peter, and Keith got udon, which did look like a perfect choice for a rainy day. George had a beautifully designed combo plate of tempura and sashimi. Dave ordered a plate of sushi for the table. (Except for me, because I don’t do sushi. I’ve never acquired a taste for seaweed and raw fish, and I see no reason to cultivate one now.)
Comments on the food ranged from George’s appreciation for the fresh ginger to praise for the crispy tempura to Dave’s admission that the udon was a little “boring.” Peter thought that maybe because the vegetables were cut into such big chunks that they didn’t have much of a chance to absorb the flavor of the broth. I thought it was interesting that each bowl of udon was served with its own bottle of chili pepper so that diners could spice it to their own taste. My chicken was good. It all seemed like high quality food.
My favorite quote of the day came from Peter, who proclaimed, “When I bite into ginger, it makes my TMJ tingle.”*
Having our own little room made it seem more like a party, and we had some lively conversation. And when it comes right down to it, that’s the best part of going out to lunch with friends anyway.
*TMJ = temporomandibular joint