I was overjoyed a few months ago when I learned that we now have not one (Suzuya Japanese BBQ), but now 2 Yakiniku restaurants in San Diego. That would be a 200% change since this time last year. I was especially excited about the opening of Tsuruhashi. Why, you may ask? Well, if this Tsuruhashi is in any way affiliated with Tsuruhashi in Fountain Valley, I was in for a taste of pretty good Yakiniku. Yakiniku for the uninitiated, is translated to "Grilled Meat", and is basically the Japanese version of Korean BBQ. Yakiniku back home in Hawaii can mean many things, it could mean a regular Korean BBQ, or a version of a more traditional Japanese style BBQ. Tsuruhashi itself is a district of Osaka well known for the large Zainichi (ethnic Korean residents of Japan) Korean population. Tsuruhashi is also well known for....what else, Yakiniku.
I had been trying to get someone to check out Tsuruhashi with me for a few months, but to no avail. It seemed that everyone familiar with Korean BBQ, like Ed from Yuma balked at the fact that most Yakiniku meals came without the "free" Panchan. In most traditional Yakiniku restaurants, panchan is ordered off the menu, and you are charged for it. Problem number two.....a few people mentioned how "expensive" this place was....so what I'll do, is not detail how much we paid, until the very end.
I also did a bit of "research". I knew someone whose roommate worked at Tsuruhashi, and he provided some advice, which in one case turned out to be pretty handy, and in another case might have been useful, but was not.
We arrived a bit before the usual 5pm opening time. Piece of advice #1, either get there at opening or be prepared to wait. Tsuruhashi is a fairly small restaurant.
There are only 11 tables in the restaurant, and in one section, 3 of the tables are "movable" for large groups. Since Yakiniku is a leisurely experience, and Tsuruhashi does not accept reservations, the wait for a table can be pretty long if your timing is not right.
The Manager who runs the place is a really stoic, serious Gentleman, who can come across as downright stuffy....unless you speak Japanese, or are a regular customer. This was the only time I saw him smile the entire evening, so I had to take a photo.
In some ways I don't blame him, I'm sure he gets a variety of questions and queries from people who have no clue. There were two older women who sat across us, who obviously didn't have a clue, asked a ton of questions, made demands, and only ordered two plates, one of which were vegetables, before hurrying out.
A quick word about the "grill". Because the two ladies hurried out post haste, we got to see the hard working Servers replace the "grate", and low and behold...the gas burners are supplemented with charcoal. I'm not quite sure if it was Binchotan, but it was without a doubt lump charcoal and not briquettes.
Piece of advice #2...get there early(sound familiar?), Tsuruhashi will often run out of what they call "top tier" meat. When you peruse the menu, the cuts of meat are divided into sections, and items like Short Ribs have several "grades", each priced differently. This piece of advice was not of any use to us on this evening, as the restaurant was out of the top two tiers of "Kobe" Short Ribs, and "Kobe" Cap Rib Eye. So we had to "settle" for USDA Prime Grade Meat (insert sarcastic "poor thing" here).
One more thing before I (finally)get on to the meat. With this style of Yakiniku, some of the best quality meats are served unmarinated(though there are many exceptions), and unsalted, unless specified. In the case of Tsuruhashi, you are provided 2 "sauces" initially, and additional dish-specific sauces are provided as necessary.
I had a notion of dividing up this post into two, since it is very long....but the Missus told me to "stop being a tease, and show them the food...o-Kay!" So here we go.
We started with some Kimchi....well since, I just had to have some.
And though I think this was fine, you can get better in most any Korean Restaurant...or even out of a bottle in some cases.
Looks a lot like Toro(fatty tuna belly) doesn't it? This was served with spicy bean sauce and lettuce for wrapping. The meat itself was served with only a light sprinkling of black pepper. In retrospect, we should have gotten the Pork Belly, as this was on the tough side, but still if grilled to a crisp state, it was decent. It was also the cheapest meat we had all night, so I'm not complaining much.
Prime Cap Ribeye.
This almost qualifies as food porn.... In case you're wondering, the "cap" is the small bit of meat right at the top portion of the Rib Eye. This came unseasoned, and was very tender. It would be an absolute crime to over cook this piece of meat. Just think, this is what is considered "second tier" on the menu.
Salted Prime Tongue w/Shiso:
Four wonderful rolls of thinly cut and well marbled prime beef tongue wrapped around Shiso. This was so soft I almost thought it was thinly sliced prime rib eye! This was served with a little bowl of Ponzu sauce. The Missus would have wished that this tasted a bit more "wild"...but it's hard to complain about beef that melts in your mouth.
Where to start? Everything was ultra fresh. I enjoyed the Tako (Octopus), when grilled it reminded me of days at the beach, spearing Tako, turning it inside out to kill, pounding it against the lava rock to tenderize, and simply grilling over charcoal! The Ika could almost be considered entertainment, as it would "puff up" when placed on the grill. The very fresh salmon was problematic as it stuck to the grill, and tended to break apart. The shrimp were very good, fresh and sweet, we devoured it shell and all.
But the best item were the scallops.
These were sashimi grade, you could just have eaten them raw. We just barely grilled them. I did cook one a bit more to see if they shrank, a good sign that they had been injected with brine. These kept their size and shape. Good stuff!
Beef Tongue Marinated in Miso:
The Missus's favorite of the evening. A thicker slice of beef tongue marinated in a Aka(red) Miso marinade. Nice flavors, and more of a chewy texture.
Prime Short Ribs:
Beef Tail(Oxtail) Soup:
To be honest the Missus was disappointed in this. She thought the broth way too salty, and the Oxtails way too tough. We had kind of ordered this as an after thought, and should have left it that way. It was a bit cheaper than similar versions at various Korean Restaurants though.
Quite a bit of food, huh? Before I reveal the bill, why don't you take a wild guess......
Kimchi - $2.50
Pork Cheek - $5.50
Prime Short Ribs - $6.25
Prime Cap Rib Eye - $8.25
Salted Prime Tongue w/Shiso - $7.95
Beef Tongue Marinated in Miso - $5.95
Assorted Seafood - $8.95
Beef Tail(Oxtail) Soup - $7.25
Rice - $3.00 !!!
Hot Tea - Free
With tax about $60. It might seem really pricey....but come to think of it, our recent dinner at Seoul BBQ was just about $4 cheaper! That doesn't mean that everything is very cheap...the tier 1 Kobe Short Ribs are $14.95, and the Kobe Cap Rib Eye is $16.95, and I'm assuming that the portion sizes are the same. The seafood combination is a bargain in our eyes, as are the pork offerings, most are priced at $5.50. Beef heart, tripe, liver, and intestine, are priced under $5. Chicken Leg meat, either salted or miso marinated is $4.25, and there was a large group of young men who ordered maybe 10 orders of the stuff with beer.
The service was very good, efficient(our tea and water refilled) and friendly(except for the Boss), and rather unobtrusive. This location of Tsuruhashi is affiliated with Tsuruhashi in Fountain Valley. I'd advise going early, as we left there was quite a long waiting list.
Tsuruhashi Japanese BBQ
3904 Convoy St (In the same strip mall as Sakura)
San Diego, CA 92111
Hours: Thurs-Tues 5pm-Midnight
I'm thinking we'll be back very soon......
Thanks for hanging in there, I know this post was really quite long!