In many ways, Seiya at 741 Laurel Street is the most traditional and authentic of the six or seven (depending how you count) Japanese restaurants in San Carlos. But in many other ways, it’s the least traditional. It is one of the smaller restaurants on Laurel Street, with just a few regular tables, a couple of high top tables, a sushi bar in the back, and one semi-private “chef’s table” that holds 5-8 people. The furniture and decor is very traditional Japanese with its simple and elegant design. This minimal capacity means that it’s best for relatively small parties. Reservations are a must, although at times you can walk in and find a spot at the sushi bar. Seiya also has a small outside area with a few tables and heaters.
Parts of the menu are very traditional and contain dishes (and fish) that one doesn’t usually find in Japanese restaurants in the U.S. This is not a place to go for teriyaki, bento boxes, or donburi. They have an extensive nigiri and sashimi selection (augmented by a set of daily special fish selections), including less common fish such as amberjack, Spanish mackerel, marinated salmon roe, grunt, cuttlefish — well, you get the idea. If you’re willing and eager to try something you’ve never had before, you’re in the right place. Even among the more well-known sushi fish, they present a greater depth in the cuisine. For example, this is the place to go if you know (or want to know) the difference among Maguro, Toro, Chu Toro, and Otoro — it’s not just the price, although spending almost $20 for just two pieces of raw fish on rice does make you feel like you’re in Japan. Those really wanting to try a varied selection can go for the Omakase (chef’s choice) of sushi or sashimi.
They also have a good selection of about 15 rolls, not as extensive as some of the pages and pages of rolls one sees in other places, but the ones we’ve had are are all very high quality. Our favorites include the jalapeño hamachi roll and the “great balls of fire” roll which is not a usual rice-wrapped roll but rather bite-sized panko-crusted spicy tuna pieces. Seiya also has the relatively traditional Yakitori dishes, where you can get a single skewer of items such as chicken, pork, beef, asparagus, mushrooms, or squid.
Some of their less traditional (and more fusion-esque) dishes appear in their Zensai (appetizers) and “larger dishes to share” part of the menu. In the appetizers, you’ll find many forms of marinated fish served in very elegant presentations, such as hamachi carpaccio, sliced salmon in a yuzu dressing, and monkfish liver pate. They also have an excellent Hawaiian style poke and our favorite dish of all, fish tacos. This unique dish has seared albacore & salmon, avocado, salsa, all on a tempura nori shell. They specifically advise not to order this for takeout, as its beautiful presentation and delicate structure would probably not survive the trip home.
Other non-traditional selections on the menu include sautéed sliced kurobuta pork with kimchi and onion, steamed manila clams in soy sauce and sake broth, and spaghetti with spicy cod fish roe and whole grilled scallops.
Our go-to selection of these non-traditional dishes is the seafood risotto, which contains mussels, clams, shrimp, salmon, white fish, mushrooms, asparagus, and cheese served in clay pot. I don’t think Japanese when we get this dish, but it is delicious.
Like most restaurants, they have a small salad selection, and we’ve only tried their house salad, but it’s worth noting that it’s a very large portion (so good to share among 2-4 people) and really tasty. They also have an extensive selection of sake as well as small wine selection.
Seiya is a study in contrasts — part Japanese immersion and part California fusion. Overall, a great experience with a friendly and responsive staff. But it’s not cheap, so usually best left for a special occasion. Seiya is open for lunch Tuesday-Friday and dinner every night except for Mondays.