A Japanese Yakitori restaurant is one that specializes in serving all things chicken, mostly on skewers grilled over binchōtan charcoal. On a business trip to Tokyo once, we were served chicken sushi prior to eating the various salt- or soy-flvored skewered hearts, skin, thigh and breast meat. The tender raw chicken sushi was perfectly safe as it was made from the salmonella-resistant blue footed chicken, also known as poulet de bresse. Kushiyaki is the actual term for serving chicken and non-poultry items on a skewer; but yakitori and kushiyaki are now used interchangeably.
Gaku Japanese Charcoal Grill in Santa Clara is a shoebox sized restaurant that probably doesn’t seat more than 30 people. Its big sister restaurant, Sumiya, was originally located at this site, but an unfortunate fire in 2008 moved Sumiya to a different location allowing Gaku to take its place. In addition to a few other Japanese specialties, Gaku’s menu offers several different types of skewers from vegetables to seafood and various parts of chicken, pork and beef.
We started with the Homemade Crispy Chicken “Chip” that was amazingly super crispy and served as a perfect starter. The reconstituted chicken chip had the same taste and consistency as an ultra-flattened chicken skin. It came with a lemon wedge and a mysteriously pink dip that tasted like it was made of a blend of cream cheese, mayo and some chile:
We shared a bottle of clean tasting Soju served over ice and Beer ‘chasers’ to pair with our Izakaya-style meal:
From the seasonal menu we selected the Autumn Mushroom, Mochi and Tofu Agedashi which was beautifully stacked like a salad. Every fried bite offered a different taste:
The Spicy Fried Chicken Wings were pleasantly super spicy. Their menu claims that it is flavored “with special spicy seasonings (perfect with beer!)” and it did indeed make us want to drink more:
Our first order of skewers was the garlic flavored Butabara made with tender pork belly:
As offal lovers, we ordered the Gyutan (beef tongue), Mino (beef ‘first’ stomach), Kimo (chicken liver) and Hatsu (hearts). The hearts and livers were fine, but the tongue and tripe were a bit tough. As offal cuts that require a a lot of cooking to break down the muscles, this grilling technique was not our favorite preparation (the only miscue in an otherwise excellent dining experience):
We can highly recommend the Tsukune (chicken meatballs – not pictured) and the lightly grilled Hotate (scallops):
The Crispy Potato Salad offered the spud in 2 forms: mayo-based and as fried shoestrings. With a yuzu-based dressing, the salad was finished with romaine lettuce, clovers and sweet onion:
The Ika Sugata Yaki featured a whole squid with yakitori sauce. Perfectly cooked and sliced into rings, it was expertly reformed to look like a whole cuttlefish:
From the Seasonal menu, we also ordered the Spicy Cod Roe which was grilled as a whole egg sack, then sliced. The spiciness paired very well with the Soju:
The Pork Okonomiyaki came piled high with shaved bonito flakes. Served in its own mini-hotpot, the savory pancake stayed warm throughout:
The Salmon and Ikura (Salmon Roe) Rice Hot Pot came with some bits of nori, green onion and dashi broth to flavor the rice. The tsukemono (Japanese pickles) cleansed the palate between bites of this delicious fish dish:
Gaku was a good friend’s restaurant of choice to celebrate her birthday, so we needed to share some desserts. We ordered the green tea crème brûlée and the black sesame ice cream:
Since the restaurant is so small, reservations are highly recommended. On busy weekend nights, there may be a 2 hour time limit to the table. They also offer a late night Happy Hour with some discounts from 10 pm until closing time on Mondays through Thursday evenings.