Sweet overload

Takumi Izakaya

Good for: a more speedy and upscale izakaya experience
Notable dishes: tako-nomiyaki, steak tsukemen, uni carbonara

Takumi Izakaya

826 J St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 228-4095

A guy walks into a sushi bar and says, “Do you have brown rice?”

The chef lets him down gently without explanation, before flagging down a fork for another gentleman who thinks his California roll requires stabbing.

The reality of Takumi Izakaya’s location, just steps from the Capitol, results in a certain kind of lunchtime experience: fast, with many people who don’t really care about the word “izakaya.”

Izakayas are traditionally casual Japanese gastropubs, where small plates are shared among groups of friends over hours of drinks. It’s a slow, casual, lively thing. With its chic, contemporary dining room, Takumi takes a more formal approach while simultaneously attempting far too much. It’s an izakaya and ramen house and sushi bar with inconsistent results.

The three-month-old restaurant comes from the owners of Banzai Sushi and Banzai Japanese Kitchen, and as such, Takumi’s sushi and raw fish items are respectably made. However, some flavor combinations taste as ambitious as the restaurant and fall to similar fates. Shiso, yuzu truffle ponzu and cilantro are three strong ingredients that should not fight for attention in one roll.

Among izakaya plates, one dish that begs to be ordered is the uni carbonara ($16.95), ramen noodles coated in uni butter topped with a sliver of uni, salmon eggs and a single shiso leaf. It’s delicious—glorified butter noodles at a staggering price—but I’ve had more uni-forward, less-shy pasta dishes at Italian restaurants. Diners who really want uni should just order uni at the sushi bar.

The standout is the tako-nomiyaki ($11.95), a flat pancake generously loaded octopus, cabbage, green onions and bonito flakes that dance on top. It strikes the perfect balance of flavors, with a pleasing texture and reasonable price tag.

Other dishes cloyed with sweetness. With the grilled chicken hearts ($6.50), the sweet tare sauce completely obscured the hearts’ natural flavor—and most of Takumi’s skewers automatically come coated with the stuff. Even the grilled rice balls ($3.95) stunned with sugar—and burnt, bitter edges.

Sweet also dominated the honey miso ribs ($8.95). With “miso” in the title, I hoped for some umami to come through, but all I could taste was the sticky-sweet glaze. More problematic: One bite revealed that the meat was still refrigerator-cold. After sending the trio of ribs back, a new plate arrived—hotter, but tough with one persistent cold spot.

Improper cooking and seasoning continued to plague meals. The tsukemen ramen ($14.95) was the best version of the Tokyo dipping-style ramen I’ve found in Sacramento thus far, with a rich, deeply satisfying broth and sprightly noodles. But the soft-boiled egg was undercooked, with unflattering globs of white goop spilling out, and the steak was uneven: a fan of thin slices, with one end cooked to medium-well and the opposite to rare. I minded that less than the fact that the steak didn’t taste like much of anything.

The fried stingray appetizer ($7.95) sounded incredibly exciting but turned out quite bland, with a side of spicy mayo that proved to be a requirement for enjoyment.

For now, look to Binchoyaki Izakaya Dining or Yakitori Yuchan in Davis for better izakaya experiences. Still, there’s promise, especially with its exciting ramen selection. The space is beautiful, the service excellent and dishes glimmer with potential—underneath the sugar.