Monday, February 14, 2011

Sugi: An old family favorite

My parents have been dining at Greenbelt's Sugi restaurant for what seems like years now. I remember it used to be in Greenbelt 1, but has since moved to Greenbelt 2 after the renovation. Since I share my birthday with their wedding anniversary, we usually get to eat here at least once a year.

"Sugi" may seem like a random Japanese word picked out from thin air, but a cursory search on Wikipedia will reveal that it's actually a type of cypress tree endemic to Japan, and it's actually its national tree, as well as Kyoto Prefecture's official plant. This is subtly alluded to in its current exterior decor, where the Sugi logo and name is embossed on stacked wood slabs. Incidentally the logo itself is shaped like a stylized drawing of a conifer tree.

Inside there are traditional paper lanterns hung from the ceiling with names of foods and ingredients written in the rounded hiragana script: ebi (prawns), unagi (eel), yakitori (an umbrella term for foods on a Japanese-style grill) and tenpura. No explanation necessary on the final item I believe. ;)

For this evening we reserved a room made up in the traditional tatami (rice mat) style. Purists may frown but the common Pinoy will rejoice, as there won't be any cases of tingly, sleeping legs and feet from sitting on folded legs for hours at a time. Sugi instead has a cavity dug into the floor, forming a footwell, then has the table set in the center. You may look like you're kneeling on the tatami mat, but you're actually seated and your tired tootsies can relax.

We started out with various types of sashimi and a dish of creamy spicy tuna, the latter of which my mom considers one of Sugi's signature dishes. Crispy flakes are added for a crunch. The spice isn't too strong but adds a distinctive flavor.

We went easy on the sushi selection this time around. We got a caviar-encrusted type of maki with mango and kani crabmeat. I'm no expert on sushi but this seems "inverted" due to the way the rice wraps around the nori seaweed wrapper, not the other way round.

Update: According to Tita Hedwig this was California maki. Thanks for the heads-up!

Last on the appetizer list is kaiware salad, made out of radish sprouts and bonito flakes with vinegar-based dressing. The sprouts have a peculiar, strong taste. I'd best describe it as halfway towards the signature sinus-busting heat of its close relative, wasabi paste. The vinegar does soften the punch, but you'll have to apply a lot of it. I noticed it only at the end where the dressing pooled at the bottom of the bowl and soaked into the remaining sprouts.

My dad and I have recently started sampling beers from around the world. Sugi does oblige the beer enthusiast with cold cans of Asahi Super Dry, made out of the traditional recipe of hops, water, yeast and a grain - in this case, cornstarch. Each can has 5% alcohol per volume, which isn't too far removed from local brewskis.

All I can say is it tastes so much like our beloved San Miguel Pale Pilsen. It's not an exotic beer, so if you were expecting a new flavor to your beer you might be disappointed. Then again, if beer for you is equivalent to San Miguel and absolutely nothing else, you'll enjoy it.

Our alternative drink was genmaicha. This is a type of green tea that's been passed through crisped or malted rice, and it's a personal favorite because of the added "toasty flavor" notes. It's so good, it can be enjoyed by people who normally despise drinking tea of any kind.

Of course, what Pinoy-consumed dinner of Japanese cuisine would be complete without tenpura?

Next up are two dishes most people will enjoy: chicken teriyaki and beef teppanyaki.

This may seem like a harmless dish of tofu and mushrooms, but be warned! The sizzling plate it sits on should alert you. It may look just a bit warm on the outside, but on the inside it's very hot and a few of us were taken by surprise. Best to poke or crack the surface of the tofu first to let the pent-up heat from the insides escape. Very delicious and tasty if you can get past the heat, though.

I have no idea what this dish is called but the white, finger-thick noodles are definitely udon. (Thanks to my cousin Czasha for identifying them correctly!) It has vegetables, oysters and scallops as topping, and is quite tasty. This was one of the final items served, and it's a gut-buster because of the thick udon noodles. If you weren't full before sampling the udon, you definitely would be afterwards.

A word of caution to chopsticks users: The noodles can be slippery and hard to grasp. Some of us had to poke and stab at them with the chopsticks to pick them up!

As a birthday treat they served coffee jelly a la mode with a lone candle on top. Sugi's kimono-clad waitresses will flock around your table or room and sing a little birthday ditty as they serve it. :)

That was a lot of food. It was a good thing I had a few hours free so I could work out beforehand.


  1. I like the name Sugi :) I always order the spicy tuna salad in any Japanese restaurant. Happy birthday to you and happy anniversary to your parents! :)

  2. @Chew On This:
    Thanks for the greetings and for visiting the blog! :)

  3. Sugi! I miss that place. Have you tried Kirin? I love that beer, it's almost like wine. From the looks of it, I think that is california maki, and is always done that way--with he rice on the outer side of the nori. Have a great year ahead! :)

  4. Tita Hedwig! Thanks for the visit :)

    Haven't tried Kirin yet; I don't know anyone who imports it. Most of the imported beers I see here are either European ones or brewskis from US craft brewers/microbreweries. Will keep an eye out for it though ;)


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