Gaku, Japanese charcoal Grill - 4/26/2014

Tonight we are dining at Gaku, a small Japanese restaurant in East San Jose, California.  Gaku is classified as a yakitori-ya which is a traditional small restaurant that grill yakitori (skewered food) to order over charcoal and to be consumed alongside alcoholic beverages, usually beer or shochu (distilled spirit similar to vodka).

I discovered Gaku while watching an episode where Andrew Zimmern was visiting San Francisco and the East bay. Andrew Zimmern is the co-creator, host, and consulting producer of the Travel Channel series "Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern". In the Episode Andrew was visiting Bun Bo Hue An Nam, a very popular Vietnamese restaurant, and Gaku.  Every since watching the show I have been trying to eat there but the restaurant is so small that reservations are hard to come by, but this time I planned ahead and I was able to get a reservation for four.

Gaku is also listed in Andrew Zimmern's 5 favorite restaurants in the U.S. that are not on your radar screen   This is Andrew's description of Gaku:

Gaku - San Jose, CA - "In San Jose, ethnic dining options are immense. Vietnamese, Japanese, Mexican and a host of other communities have created large population bases and waves of new immigration continue to keep the food as honest and authentic as it is 'back home'. Gaku is an amazing little izakaya, a small oasis of a joint with a diverse small plate menu and a large range of beer and sake options. At Gaku, they specialize in cooking yakitori over traditional charcoal, serving some of the best raw fish preparations I have eaten in years and offering up creative mash-ups of NorCal and Japanese cuisines. The baby octopus salad, grilled chicken organs and sashimi plates are worth the drive from anywhere."

You can also see the full article by clicking on this LINK.


Gaku is a very small restaurant that can hold about 30 guests.  Even with a reservation we had to wait a good 30 minutes before we were seated.

While waiting we saw so many walk-ins been turned down as the restaurant simply does not have enough seats.


Gaku chopsticks wrap.


Sake menu- We selected the Hakkaisan Niigata.

Menu from the grill and deep fry

Skewers menu

Hoa and Minh deciding what to order....

Kanpai (cheers in Japanese) from Loan and I



Hakkaisan Niigata sake was actually very good- It was a good choice.

There’s a big window in the dining room so diners can watch the cooks at work.

The skewers are cooked on a skinny, rectangular grill box over binchotan, a premium grade of slow-burning hardwood charcoal from Japan.


Atsuage- house made deep fried tofu served with bonito flakes, green onions, Grated ginger.


We started with a delicious dish!  The tofu was crispy and it was really interesting to see the bonito flakes moving and curling up like a crawling worm. But not to worry about it, it is not alive it is just the heat that makes the bonito flakes move.

This this the special of the day: Tuna and Toro sashimi


Beautiful presentation, almost like a piece of art.


They served a very high quality sashimi and it is simply delicious. 


Grilled whole squid - Charcoal grilled squid prepared with seasoned salt

The outside of the squid is a bit crispy, very simply seasoned with salt and thinly sliced green onion - delicious!

Oxtail hot pot, spicy oxtail and tofu soup topped with Onion, Wakame (sun dried seaweed) & sesame.

I think this dish is more Korean than Japanese but never the less the broth was so flavorful, perfectly seasoned and the oxtail was to die for.


Gyutan (Beef Tongue) with salt


The beef tongue was cut on the thick side so it was very chewy!

Gyutan (Beef Tongue) with Green onion sauce.  This skewer was better as it was not as chewy as the one above,.

Kawa - chicken skin

Hoa loves chicken skin and this skewer did not disappoint.

Sunagima (Gizzards) with salt.

We originally ordered 2 skewers of gizzards but they were outstanding so we ordered 2 more skewers.  I really enjoyed them. 

Gaku Spicy wings, deep fried dry rub wings- simply delicious!

Cold Soba noodles.  Soba noodles are made with buckwheat flour and they came with 3 condiments: wasabi, grated daikon, and thinly sliced onion and served with Tsuyu sauce, a soya based sauce.

The soba noodles might look plain but they are actually really good and the dipping sauce it really yummy!

Hokke-Charcoal grilled atka Mackerel served with grated daikon & lemon.

Out of all the dishes served this is my least favorite.  I did not enjoy the texture of the fish and it was very dry.


We ordered a lot... we are definitely enjoying our food.


Bacon Steak, House cured and smoked pork belly, seared on the grill served with wasabi.

What's not to like about this dish?  pork fat... pork fat... and more pork fat!

We all enjoyed this dish a lot.   The pork belly was smoked and has a really nice smoky flavor.   The fat/meat ratio was perfect and every bite was a joy.

Our waiter insisted that we order a skewer of grilled wagyu beef.  We told him were are going to have steaks tomorrow but in the end we ordered 2 skewers just to give it a try and the beef was actually tender, flavorful and cooked to my liking.



Green Tea  Crème brûlée

They only have 3 desserts on their menu and we selected 2 out of the three.  The Crème brûlée is just okay. 

The 2nd dessert we selected is a citrus cheese cake.  We all like this one better than the Crème brûlée.





Gaku is a very small restaurant with small tables and offers lots of small plates so think of it as a Japanese tapas restaurant.  The best way to sample a bunch of dishes is to have at least 4 people in your party so you can order a lot of dishes.  Gaku is more of an adult, drinking environment and all the dishes are meant to be paired with beer, sake and shochu.   If you are drunk after dinner, I was told that restaurant offers private taxi service just to make sure you will make it home safely.

Most of the dishes were a hit and only two dishes, the grilled mackerel and the grilled tongue, were a disappointment.  At Gaku you can expect quality ingredients grilled to perfection, great food served in a friendly atmosphere.

  We were nicely surprised when they told us that both desserts were complimentary because we waited for over 30 minutes even with a reservation.  The only thing we did not try on Andrew Zimmern's list is the octopus salad which we intend to order on our 2nd visit at Gaku. Over all it was a very enjoyable dinning experience and we will definitely will be back to try on all the dishes we did not get to try.


Gaku Restaurant

5152 Moorpark Ave, San Jose, CA 95129
(408) 973-9144


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