Newbie Restaurateur Opens Inshou in San Mateo

Yakitori at Inshou in San Mateo.

I don’t really know Ray Wu, but I’m pulling for him.

You see, against the better judgment of his parents, who thought his economics degree from the University of California at Berkeley could be put to better use, he opened a restaurant about 50 days ago — his first.

Now, when he isn’t at his day job as manager of Marina Food market in Cupertino, Wu is at Inshou in San Mateo, where he greets customers and helps out in the kitchen alongside his head chef.

This new Japanese-small plates, neighborhood establishment has been his dream ever since he started working in restaurants as a dishwasher years ago.

Of course, an economics major would probably know this isn’t the best economy in which to open a restaurant. But when you have a dream, it’s hard to deny it.

Wu invited me in as his guest last week to try out his fare.

As with any dream, there were moments of wonderful clarity with the food, but also a few hazy ones, where a stronger focus was needed.

Wu and his team aim to please, welcoming customers warmly in the bright restaurant with its artsy back-lit sculptural white wall.

Tiny, crisp rice balls coat these crunchy shrimp.

We shared an assortment of dishes, starting with the “cracking shrimp” ($8.50), which were lightly battered with tiny rice balls that turned crisp and golden when deep-fried. Alongside was a cold, creamy curry sauce to dip them in.

Eel sushi pressed in a box to form perfect rectangles.

Pressed eel sushi ($9) was formed in a wooden box, then cut into neat rectangles, with the sweet, thick sauce flavoring the top grains of the dominoes of rice.  Skewers of dark meat chicken yakitori ($6.50) were juicy and smoky.

Salmon sashimi ($8) brought thin slices of the raw fish on a plate with a drizzle of olive oil and ponzu sauce. It was fine, but could have benefited from a little more citrus or even a hit of chili to really make it sing, since salmon is such a fatty fish that can take strong flavors without being overwhelmed.

Salmon sashimi get a modern touch with olive oil and ponzu.

A special of chawanmushi ($6.50) arrived in an individual, covered cup that was piping hot. Lift the lid carefully to discover an excellent rendition of this classic egg custard dish, delicately steamed with enoki mushrooms, water spinach and a few chunks of chicken.

Delicate, smooth egg custard steamed with chicken and enoki.

Pork cutlets pounded especially thin to make them super tender.

Kurobuta miso katsu ($6.50) are pork cutlets pounded especially thin, then breaded in panko and deep-fried. These were particularly tender because of how thin they were.

A sad rendition of tempura.

The one real misstep of the night was the plate of tempura fish and veggies ($7.50) that Wu brought to the table for us to try. The fried pieces of fish, onion ring and green beans suffered from a flabby coating that was not at all like a proper tempura should be.

Toasty-roasty rice cake.

We ended on a bright note, though, with yakionigiri ($3), a simple snack that belies how tasty it truly is. Rice is molded into a ball, then toasted until the exterior gets deeply browned. Who doesn’t love the crispy bits of rice in a pot, right? Rolled up in nori with a dollop of fish roe and slivered green onions, it makes for an irresistible mouthful.

Inshou may still be a bit rough around the edges. But I’m hoping it turns into all that Wu imagines for it. After all, you can’t help but pull for guy who dreams big.

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Date: Friday, 28. January 2011 5:28
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11 comments

  1. 1

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Alltop Food, Caterham Business. Caterham Business said: Newbie Restaurateur Opens Inshou in San Mateo http://bit.ly/ePP9gn […]

  2. 2

    Thanks for the review of delightful new resto in SM! There used to be a really good one there called Chika that closed, I hope to have this one as a replacement!

  3. 3

    Funny how the Japanese small plate places ends with a rice ball. The yakionigiri looks good. I hope he does well, but you know, he does have an economics degree to fall back on! ;-)

  4. 4

    It seems like San Mateo is the place to be these days. So many cool places to try. The yakionigiri and chawanmushi look tasty.

  5. 5

    I love small plates! Cheap and easy to share!

  6. 6

    Love the dishes and the platings. So beautiful.

  7. 7

    Sounds overall like a wonderful place! Hope Wu will find success!

  8. 8

    The food looks lovely! I wish him all the best luck in the world The restaurant business is tough!

  9. 9

    We shop at Marina Market all the time. That’s cool that he’s opened a restaurant!

  10. 10

    Oh wow, I’m just about to have lunch and I wish I were eating any of these dishes! The dish in the first picture especially is calling my name!

  11. 11

    Wow they all looked yummy, and who cannot help but root for someone that made a leap to follow their dream.

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