Angela and I have been craving Korean food for a while now, so we decided to take my mom out for gogi gui, Korean barbecue. Just to make sure things went smoothly, Angela called Asiana Garden on Friday and asked if they would be open for lunch Saturday. The person who answered the phone said yes and promptly hung up.
So, it’s Saturday, and we’re all hungry. We pull up to Asiana Garden. The “Open” sign is not on, but the door is propped open, so we walk on in. The lady tells us to sit anywhere. Right after we sit down, a large number of very well dressed Koreans begin to enter the restaurant and head to a back room. A few minutes later, a young man brings us menus and lets us know that they are busy today and that things will be a bit slow. I am actually delighted by this. I can deal with slow service when a place is slammed — just let me know what is up and that I’m not forgotten.
Well, we weren’t forgotten. We noticed the original lady who greeted us conferring with the young man. Then she came to our table and said, “We’re closed.” The young man clarified that they had a large party and that it would be at least thirty minutes before we could be served but that we were welcome to wait if we wanted to. We chose not to wait. I felt somewhat relieved when a Korean family that had not come in with the large group also got shown the door.
Not to fear, Du Won Jong isn’t that far away. We’ll just go there. So over to Hacks Cross we go. There are a ton of cars in the parking lot but no “Open” sign. Maybe they just forgot to turn it on. Huh. What does that sign on the door say? “Do not enter pursuant to court order.”
I have seen a lot of signs on closed restaurants, both temporarily and permanently closed. They usually range from “Illness in the family” to “Closed for remodeling” (which is code for “shh, don’t tell the landlord we’re breaking the lease.”). Never, though, have I seen a sign that made me worry that U.S. Marshals were about to swoop down and arrest me. We got back in the car quickly.
Undaunted we journeyed on. To the next strip mall where a pan-Asian sort of place (that Google says is Korean) has taken up residence in an old Outback Steakhouse. This time there were almost no cars out front, but the “Open” sign was blinking happily. Finally, lunch.
Yeah, no. Locked up tight as a drum. At this point we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
My spirit was dampened, but my appetite was undeterred. I said, “Man, I really wanted some barbecue.” And that’s when it hit me — we could just go get some plain-old American barbecue. My suggestion that we give up on Korean was met by an overwhelming wave of silent disapproval. Angela had gone this far for Asian, and she was not about to give up now. Pleasant weather or not, I wasn’t looking forward to sleeping on the porch, so I chose to persevere. For the sake of my warm blankie, the search must go on.
That’s when I remembered Asian Eatery (formerly Tao Too) in Germantown. We headed over there, parked, and headed for the restaurant, hoping against hope that we would finally be fed. We were close, oh so close, then the distraction came. Sakura. “They have some pretty decent authentic Japanese dishes,” I reminded Angela. Sold. (And the fact that they were open didn’t hurt either.) Finally we could provide Mom with an interesting lunch. With any lunch.
Sakura is our favorite Japanese restaurant in Memphis. We love funky Americanized sushi rolls, but there is so much more to Japanese food than that. We started with gomae, boiled spinach served with toasted sesame seeds. It was refreshing, but I prefer ohitashi, a dish where the spinach is blanched rather than boiled. It is tossed with a dressing of soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and sesame seeds.
We also had age dashi tofu, deep fried tofu served in a dashi broth. We had negimake, thin slices of beef cooked with a bit of teriyaki then rolled around scallions.
Of course we did go for a couple of rolls. Our favorite was the Alfredo which is wildly popular with Sakura diners. We also had the Bubba roll, a large deep fried roll that wasn’t great but wasn’t bad either.
Our favorite things were the nigiri — smelt roe for me, scallops for Angela, and eel for both of us.
The highlight, though, was the quail eggs. Even my mother liked these. Rich egg yolk, a hint of savory soy sauce, and sweet scallions. Fantastic.
One of these days we would like to get some Korean food — after we get over our fear of being run off or arrested, of course. Until then we’ll just head to Sakura. Or maybe give Tao Too some love. They do a great job too.