Mitsuwa Marketplace is a very large Japanese grocery, with five locations across the USA, and so well stocked that my mother-in-law’s friends in New York City know of the place. This grocery is pretty close to where Cupertino and San Jose meet, so much so that when I asked where it was, my brother-in-law said Cupertino. We stopped, in part because my brother-in-law was lusting to shop there, in part to just check the place out.

There are two restaurants, one bakery and a small shop that sells Japanese pickles inside the store. Compared to the setup of a Korean superstore, the produce and meat sections are relatively small. What the meat section does focus on is highly graded beef. The overwhelming majority of the meat offered is prime or Wagyu beef ( Wagyu most often in the form of American Kobe). The lowest grade I could find offered was “certified Angus“, which minimally is better choice or prime. A considerable portion of the meat was already cut for use as shabu-shabu.

Certified Angus or better, Mitsuwa largely sells very high grade beef.

The restaurants were Ramen shops. As is almost universal in the Bay area, the prices were much cheaper than anything Japanese in Atlanta and they all had display cases to advertise their food. From reading various newspaper articles posted in Mitsuwa bulletin boards, the food was pretty well received in the area.

They had alcohols the like of which I had never seen before, some distilled from fermented buckwheat, others from other grains. A couple minutes in Mitsuwa will dispell any notion that Japanese alcohols begin with beer and end with sake.  There are prepared foods, whole bento for those on the go and the bakery, nice as it was, was stripped during the Thanksgiving holidays.

In terms of size, as large as this store was, it could have fit entirely in the produce section of one of the larger Korean marts in Atlanta. The use of space in this store is very efficient, not wasted. The majority of space is reserved for items not requiring refrigeration.

Mitsuwa Marketplace
675 Saratoga Ave
San Jose, CA 95129-2052
(408) 255-6699

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It’s taken days to get all my service back, but it is back. My mother-in-law now has TV Japan. Between TV Japan and the Young and Restless, she’s set for a while in her watching habits. But it has taken a week, two service calls, one visit to the Comcast store, and then at least two calls to the service center to get TV Japan turned on.

Ultimately I had to get the line fixed, and the box replaced. I was suspicious of the box, because previous repairs showed no issues with the cable box. However, once external repairs were completed, then replacing the box brought back service. Multiple repairs were necessary to expose the final broken component.

Comcast still lacks the tools to allow people like me to know where in the repair cycle they are. And they lack any tool someone like me can use to track the service process to completion. They’re ages behind organizations such as Federal Express. Fedex has package tracking down to a science. Comcast’s process is like a linked list in programming theory, or a chain in real life. One broken link and the repair process is lost. They don’t give their associates enough information to track problems properly. Their current process is prone to – designed to – fail more than succeed, if the repair is complicated, if it takes any time at all.

However it is done. And give credit where credit is due, two technicians showed up on time. That’s essentially unheard of out in my part of the woods.

In terms of reviews, with my mother-in-law in town, new reviews will be slower and not as common. My wife is wanting to show my mother-in-law some of the places we’ve eaten and if I have a choice between food outside and my family’s home cooking, I’d prefer the latter. The restuarants will be there in a few months, and I have my mother-in-law as a guest just a month or two.

That said, I have 3 reviews half written in my head, you’ll just have to wait for those. And I have photographs of places we’ve revisited, so I do have food notes for you guys. Just, I suspect new restaurants won’t be coming out every day over the forseeable future. That pace was unsustainable anyway.

So, for the time being, I”ll part with two questions. The first, what’s the connection between lo mein and ramen? The second, is yakisoba made with soba noodles? For those who have recognized Japan’s ingenuity in taking foreign foods and adapating them as their own (sort of the way Akira Kurosawa adapted the trope of the western as the form for his samurai movies), it’s an interesting meditation in Japan’s adoption of Chinese customs.

Haru Ichiban is on the southeast corner of the intersection of Pleasant Hill Road and Satellite Boulevard, a bit south along Satellite, facing west from the strip mall that lies along the south of Pleasant Hill. It’s a bit hard to find, and a little inconspicuous. There is nothing on the outside that says this is a great place to have Japanese food.

Once inside, however, you can see the excellent review they received in 2000, the Zagat rating, the Atlanta’s top 50 ranking. You can see the long clean sushi bar, you can see the Japanese waitresses, the Japanese cooks, and the largely Japanese clientele that come to this restaurant.

My first exposure to Japanese food on a regular basis came on the island of Guam, which is a popular Japanese tourist destination. My favorite Japanese haunt there was the Yakitori II, a restaurant specializing in yakitori that sat on the edge of the harbor of Agana and had glass on three sides, so you could see out into Agana Bay while you ate. The bay is shallow, shallow enough that you could watch people spear fish while you were eating. The visual experience, particularly at sunset, was phenomenal. The culinary experience was that Japanese food need not be expensive, or so sophisticated the cuisine was the out of reach of an ordinary person.

While in Guam I met my wife, who is half Chamorro, half Japanese. My mother in law is full blooded Japanese, and yes, when I find a restaurant and my whole family is visiting, I have to please them both. The place I go to most often is Haru Ichiban, because it’s just more authentic than most restaurants in Atlanta.

Just how authentic is Haru Ichiban?

It should be understood that the order and presentation of food in a traditional Japanese meal is not the same as a western meal. Most Japanese restaurants in the United States follow a western format. Gone is the central place of rice, gone are the pickled vegetables (tsukemono), gone is the floor seating. Instead you are likely to be served a salad with a traditional dressing, followed by miso soup, then followed by an entree, and then dessert if so desired. Whether the waitress is in a kimono or not doesn’t change the essentially western character of the presentation of the food. In this respect Haru Ichiban is no exception.

By authentic, in this context, I mean that Hari Ichiban serves a broader variety of foods than a common hibachi (Benihana style) restaurant. This popular kind of steakhouse will specialize in grilled meat and shrimp served teppanyaki style, along with tempura and teriyaki steak and chicken, and fried rice. An overwhelming number of Japanese restaurants are serving just these dishes. When I go out to eat, I’d prefer to see something a bit more sophisticated than fried rice.

And in this respect Haru Ichiban does succeed. Appetizers do include yakitori. They have a variety of udon and soba dishes, a variety of ramen dishes, a number of sushi and sashimi specials. If my wife wants tonkatsu (breaded pork), she can have tonkatsu. If she wanted donburi, she could have donburi, even unagi (BBQ eel) don if she wanted.

These by the way, are the lunch dishes. There is a much larger variety of food at dinner, and as Haru Ichiban has changed their menu recently, I won’t speak of what can be found at dinner.

The lunch menu is considerably expanded. Lunch specials have been reordered and renamed. The old “Crazy Tuna Special” is now the special tuna combination. I’ve always liked it, more so when I get the spicy tuna roll. I recently had their chirashi don, a simple sushi where a bowl is half filled with chirashi rice and a variety of sashimi are placed on top.  It was pretty, from the deep red of tuna to the light yellow of a slice of egg, to the pale colored ginger they favor here.

Nigiri sushi slices are thick. There is none of this 95% rice, 5% fish stuff going on here. I’ll note that a good number of the Japanese patrons seem to have sushi at lunch, though in all honesty, they’re usually more creative with what they eat (a lot more ribbon sushi, for example).

The ramen this restaurant serves is quite special, as anyone who attends JapanFest can attest to. Haru Ichiban usually has a booth there, serving ramen and they run out quickly. My personal favorite is their seafood ramen, served sio (salt) style. Sio style implies the use of a chicken broth, as opposed to soy. If there is one complaint I can make about Haru is that their soy based noodle flavoring can be too strong sometimes. But the seafood ramen with sio style sauce is light, and the tiny purple octopus that are found in the ramen are just delightful.

Take home? Very good Japanese food, more authentic than most. It’s the one Japanese restaurant on the northeast side of Atlanta I dare take my Japanese mother-in-law. Highly recommended, for both lunch and dinner.

Haru Ichiban on Urbanspoon