The Place: Sagami, 3850 Barranca Pkwy. Ste B., Irvine, CA 92606, (949) 857-8030 .
The Hours: Monday to Thursday, 5 p.m.-6:30 p.m.
The Deal: Sapporo on tap for 50% off ($1.88 for a frosty mug). Hot sake, also 50% off. $4.95 sushi rolls (Rainbow, Spicy Yellowtail, Salmon Skin, or Salmon Avocado Roll). $3.95 tapas (Soba Salad, Fried Oyster, Beef & Tofu Stew, or Egg Plant/Bell Pepper Miso).
The Scene: Sagami has been around for as long as I can remember. It made a name for itself as a quick-pick-up-and-go lunch stop for sushi rolls and teriyaki bowls. And for the most part, it still is. But since Flame Broiler opened next door, or maybe it was before that, Sagami shed its work-a-day cred and became a full-fledged Japanese restaurant and izakaya.
Dinner diners range from the casual family out for a meal to Docker-decked business men on expense accounts. The dining room is separated into two parts, both awkwardly claustrophobic like a mouse maze, due the building's Tetris S-block footprint. The space was originally conceived to occupy two stores but they busted through a wall to expand.
The Sauce: Their draft Sapporo isn't the only beer you can have here (Asahi and Kirin are also available), but it is the only one on special at Happy Hour, dangerously priced at $1.88 a mug, refreshing and served chilled.
The Food: …is the real reason to come here. The sushi rolls are fine specimens, nicely packed and conceived, even if the selection is slightly limited for Happy Hour. Shatteringly crisp salmon skin is wrapped around rice along with additional crunch-components of cucumber and carrot. The whole thing is drizzled with a thin stream of sauce and showered with tufts of shredded bonito flakes as if it were confetti. The rainbow roll has the requisite bright colors that allow it to be designated as such.
The tapas shouldn't be called tapas, but it's an easy way to communicate that these are actually izakaya dishes–Japanese pub grub designed to be eaten with alcohol. Their four selected Happy Hour tapas cover the gamut on cooking styles you would normally see in an izakya menu (the deep fried, the stewed, the cold among them). The eggplant and bell pepper miso is wondrous bowl–a mouth-meltingly soft simmer of veggies in a sweet and milky peanut butter-like sauce. The breaded deep-fried fried oysters come in four briny juice-spurting, hot and crispy morsels with two dipping sauces and wedge of lemon. The beef and tofu is a bonafide winter dish, with two silken blocks of tofu stewed with melted onions and thin-sliced beef in a sake-soy broth reminicent of gyudon.
The Verdict: An unexpectedly awesome place for izakaya-style food, dangerously cheap Japanese beer, in a Irvine-company owned food court, no less.
The Grade: A.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.