While I was really excited to eat at Tanakasan, I was at first frustrated by the menu, which lists pages and pages of sake and beer and cocktail choices, all written in a giant Reader’s Digest font. Eventually we got to the food listings, which are arranged by main ingredient, for example “dumplings, meat, fish, vegetables, noodles,” etc., and we ordered a bunch of stuff. We started with Gen Tso’s Short Ribs ($12) which, if you know me at all, jumped the fuck right off the page and into my brain. You see, I love General Tso’s Chicken the way Marco Rubio loves bottled water, or the way Arnold Schwarzenegger loves getting cleaning ladies pregnant, or the way (insert thing that a dated topical reference ______ loves here______).
While the short ribs were expertly prepared, and basically fell off the bone when you looked at it, I would hesitate to call this “General Tso’s.” The sauce was sweet, with a citrus tang on the back end and a lurking underground heat. A few bright green strips of sautéed scallion clung to the sides of each rib, and while on paper it might seem like a fine iteration of the General, it really just didn’t inspire the militaristic zeal I experience when I eat a really good plate of Gen Tso’s Chicken. These were served atop a big pile of fluffy steamed rice. Despite the technical proficiency of their preparation, these short ribs would never pass muster in General Tso’s army; the sauce unimpressive sauce would resort in a dishonorable discharge.
Next up was a tasty chicken salad ($12). This was pretty good, with pearly shreds of poached chicken breast hiding beneath a bale of finely shredded brussel sprout slaw and julienned basil. Drizzled into this vegetal pile was a bracingly tart nuoc cham. This chicken salad was as light and effortless as a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta, with the nuoc cham cutting through with the bright sharp flash of a samurai sword.
The Osaka pancake ($14) was a big shredded patty of cabbage topped with a riot of sliced scallion, a zigzag of kewpie mayo, a furry pile of bonito flakes which waved “eat me” in my general direction, and maybe there were some shrimp in there too. I know what they were going for here, and by “they” I mean “whoever the fuck came up with this giant pancake:” they were trying to layer all of these intense flavors into what they hoped would be this umami symphony, but in the end it tasted like a bunch of political assholes shouting at each other on one of those Sunday morning round table pundit shows.
Grilled hanger steak ($25) was very good. Slices of steak were cloaked in a dark, dark, almost black crust, and a ripe medium rare inside, were served atop a pile of braised kale and a bale of enoki mushrooms. Here and there were a few floury gnocchi, as insubstantial as the programming on Bravo, but in a good way.
Beef bulgogi dumplings ($11) featured a big bowl of steamed wontons, filled with a rich garlicky beef filling, floating in a brassy broth with shreds of kimchee, cubed daikon, and some scallions on top. The menu inexplicably urges you to add American cheese to this dish (“for fun!”), but that doesn’t sound like much fun to me. I could come up with a humorous list of things that sound MORE FUN than putting American cheese on some fucking wonton soup but… meh. What am I doing with my life?
A side of fried cauliflower ($6) was superb. They probably made this dish out of Faberge cauliflower, that’s how good it was. We got a big bowl of florets, burnished a pleasing bronze exterior crust which encased delicious creamy white cauliflower brains inside. These sat atop a secret subterranean layer of Kewpie mayonnaise, the ultra-rich Japanese condiment which lesbians hate but I love. In fact, I love Kewpie mayo more than a Ford Econoline van with the Castlevania logo airbrushed on it. And that, my friends, is true love: the love a man has for imported mayonnaise.
Finally, Tanaka family fried rice ($9) was great, with delicately fried rice, paella-like crusty bits peeking out here and there. Big chunks of bacon studded this dish, and a fried egg reclined luxuriously on top. The menu proudly mentions that ketchup is an ingredient, but they disguised it well: the tomato faded politely into the background, leaving only a savory whisper in the wake of its departure.
In generally, I enjoyed Tanakansan, but this restaurant has a big problem because Revel exists. I know, I know, you can make a million comparisons of two things where “X is fucked because Y exists.” Pepsi is fucked because Coke exists. Arby’s is fucked because taste buds exist. You’re fucked because your mom exists. You get the jist. But Revel, the Fremont Korean fusion restaurant, does the same thing Tanaksan does, but does it like a billion times more effectively: Revel’s bolder flavors and more technical preparations far outclass Tanakasan. It’s like you took regular Jeopardy contestants and let them compete on Celebrity Jeopardy.
Still, maybe being a salon of cutting-edge fusion cuisine isn’t Tanakasan’s mission. It falls, after all, under the Aegis of the Tom Douglas Restaurant Group, which is generally dedicated to safe, crowd-pleasing flavors and raking in fistfuls of cash. I certainly wouldn’t mind raking in fistfuls of cash. Doesn’t everyone? Maybe I just feel like typing “fistfuls of cash.” Maybe I’ll do it one more time, in fact.
Rating: 6 fistfuls of cash out of 10
Tanakasan is located at 2121 6th Ave.
For reservations call 206-812-8412