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Sakura


Andrew Fenton
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Sakura, at the corner of 11th and Race, has been getting some good press lately, first from Phil A. "Look On My Blog, Ye Mighty, And Despair" Dining, and more recently a short writeup from David Snyder in the City Paper.

As everybody notes, the concept is a little misbegotten, with a menu that's half Chinese, half Japanese. I'd walked by a few times, but that combination scared me off. I figured, it's like chili and Junior Mints: both tasty, but would you want them together? Fortunately, Phil & co., taking the hits so we don't have to, assured me that it'd be a worthwhile visit. And it was!

The space is large, clean and bright. Windows on two sides provide a lot of light, unlike anywhere else in Chinatown. This was reassuring to the missus, who gets a little turned off by some of the dingier places we go to... But the food-- at least, the Chinese half of the menu-- is the real draw.

Scallion pancakes were good, with a flaky exterior and a rich, almost cake-like interior. The spring rolls were even better. While spring rolls are almost always at least okay-- they're fried? How bad can they be?-- they're rarely all that special. These were: the filling was fresh-tasting, with distinct ingredients and flavors. Almost spring-like, I dare say.

The biggest hit at the table was the diced chicken with hot peppers and cucumber. Oddly enough, there was no cucumber to be found in the dish, just chicken, small red peppers and larger cut-up peppers. Hot, but not out-of-control hot like the triple-pepper chicken at Szechuan Tasty House.

Braised pork shoulder was a massive joint of pig, melting, tender, crazy fatty. (I have some of this left over and I'm trying to figure out what I should do with it. It's almost too good to just eat straight: I'd like to serve it on a roll with some shredded and pickled vegetables, banh mi style.)

We also ordered a plate of udon, Shanghai-style. I don't know if this is genuine fusion, or whether there's a Chinese equivalent to udon. Either way, it was simple but tasty: fat, chewy noodles with a basic brown beef sauce.

The only disappointment was the ma po tofu. Not bad, but not anything special, really.

We were eating with seafood-phobes, which is a shame, as there are lots of terrific-looking fish and shrimp dishes. We'll give those a try next time.

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Braised pork shoulder was a massive joint of pig, melting, tender, crazy fatty.  (I have some of this left over and I'm trying to figure out what I should do with it.  It's almost too good to just eat straight: I'd like to serve it on a roll with some shredded and pickled vegetables, banh mi style.)

And having done the research, I can confidently state that that pork does, in fact, make an awesome sandwich topping. So good that it might be worth buying takeout for that purpose alone.

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  • 1 month later...

I've been back to Sakura a few times since that earlier post and had great meals. It's probably my favorite Chinese restaurant in the city, at least right now.

Dishes I've especially enjoyed included the house shrimp, shredded beef with dried tofu and the lion's head meatballs. They also do a credible whole steamed fish. They also have a very good lunch specials menu, with some dishes you don't normally see on that kind of menu (lion's head, shredded beef, chicken and cucumber, etc.) for $5.50.

The weird thing is that I've ordered that chicken with peppers and cucumber three times now. The second time it was different, including chunks of cucumber in addition to dried and sliced peppers. The third time, like the first, there was no cucumber, just the peppers. It's a very good dish, but the version with cool cucumber balancing the hot peppers is really something special. I'm not sure if there was an issue with ordering or what; next time I'll be sure to ask what's up.

Oh, and Sakura is now serving soup dumplings! And they're really good, too: the best I've had yet in Philadelphia. I'd stick with the pork dumplings, though- the crab and pork dumplings, at least, weren't as juicy. But I could eat the pork dumplings seven days a week.

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  • 5 months later...

Indeed: after reading about it, we finally made it over today. The soup dumplings were, indeed, very good, (the pork ones must've had some ginger in them too - an interesting counterpoint) though possibly the ones at the now-defunct Magic Kingdom of Dough were more flavourful. The pan-fried pork dumplings were also very good, though a little overgreasy - I prefer the pork & chives at Dim Sum Garden. Finally, the shangainese wonton soup was really excellent - with possibly the best wontons I've had so far, with a vegetable/pork mixed filling. Yes, we were on a dumpling binge.

A particular mention also goes to the pancakes: they can possibly vie with Rangoon's thousand-layer bread as the best fried flatbreads in the area.

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We also ordered a plate of udon, Shanghai-style. I don't know if this is genuine fusion, or whether there's a Chinese equivalent to udon. Either way, it was simple but tasty: fat, chewy noodles with a basic brown beef sauce.

I believe that the Japanese udon finds its origin in the northern Chinese cu mian ("thick noodle"), which is a wheat flour noodle that was first steamed and then fried, and has pleasingly chewy mouthfeel. The lore is that Buddhist monks brought the cu mian back to Japan, which then evolved into the udon noodle.

Not sure if Sakura uses cu mian or udon, but I'd be happy to sample the dish multiple times in the name of research!

Cognito ergo consume - Satchel Pooch, Get Fuzzy

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  • 6 months later...

Bumping this back up. We were at Sakura a couple weeks ago and they said 'they don't really do Juicy buns any more', but they could make them to order if we were willing to wait ~20 mins for them. Also, their other dumplings didn't seem as good as they were. Did the chef change? With this and the closure of the magic kingdom of dough, we're hoping Dim Sum Garden doesn't go anywhere...

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Wha--?!??! Wow, that's disturbing!

Thanks for the update though. I has seemed like I haven't seen the original owners, or managers (who had split off from Dim Sum Garden) for a while, but the food had still been good. But I have to admit that I haven't been there in a couple of months. We'll have to see if we can track down what happened to those folks and/or the chef...

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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It was late may when we went and yes, we recalled that they had split off from DSG. But the dumplings were different and the news about the juicy buns depressed us tremendously. The other dishes did taste very good, though!

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  • 4 months later...

Does anyone know for sure whether there's a new chef at Sakura Mandarin and whether they still serve soup dumplings?

We're going with a friend from Germany who loved the restaurant when he was in town many months ago, but we've not been back since. He'll be disappointed if we can't get good soup dumplings at Sakura. (We could go back to Dim Sum Garden or try Red Kings, I guess.)

Thanks for any news!

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