Once, there were two Tanto restaurants: One in Santa Clara and one in San Jose. But apparently that caused confusion, so the San Jose Tanto was renamed Dan. Make sense?
What is now known as Dan occupies one of the most target-rich environments for ethnic eats in Silicon Valley. The restaurant shares minimall space with Zeni, a great Ethiopian restaurant; Deezi Cafe, a solid Persian restaurant; and Fresh Taste, a Taiwan bistro.
You can guess what kind of food they serve. Dan holds down the end of the mall with an expansive menu of Japanese food, most of which falls into the izakaya category.
An izakaya serves Japanese bar food—lots of grilled and fried food made to go well with beer and sake. I visited Dan as part of my professional commitment to sample the wares of every izakaya in Silicon Valley. Dan comes in somewhere in the middle of the pack.
The Korean-style barbeque beef ($8.50) was my favorite. While the restaurant is Japanese, the owner has a fondness for Korean food, and several Korean dishes turn up on the menu. In this case, the barbecued beef is grilled, not barbecued, but result is wonderfully tender, lightly glazed beef.
I’m a big fan of eggplant, and I loved Dan’s take on grilled eggplant ($5), peeled eggplant that’s soaked in a light but savory sauce and covered with bonito flakes that seem to writhe under the heat. It’s a little freaky. The seared-salmon carpaccio ($11.50) is another winner—thin chunks of barely cooked salmon glistening with a thin miso glaze, salmon eggs and chopped green onions.
Scallops and bacon are a great combination, the fatty richness of both feed off each other, but paired with asparagus ($6.50) the scallops were less than tender. The best part was the bacony vegetables.
One of the most interesting items was the cured alfonsino ($11.95), a butterflied fillet of the little deepwater fish salted and hung overnight. It’s an interesting process that yielded mild-tasting flesh, but it was rather dry and otherwise unremarkable.
The sashimi and sushi are decent, but not extraordinary.
Dan has got guts. Literally. Organ meats are standard fare at izakayas, but few devote a whole section of skewered and stir-fried stuff like Dan does. There’s the standard beef tongue ($6.50) but also honeycomb tripe ($5.50), cartilage ($5), intestines (large or small, $6.50) and gizzards ($5). Dan also offers a plate of pork cheeks ($6.50), something I’ve got to come back to try. Guanciale, pork-jowl bacon, is superb. I can only imagine the fatty porcine goodness of a slab of pig face.
My biggest gripe isn’t unique to Dan; it’s indicative of all izakayas in Silicon Valley. The menus are too damn long. Maybe that’s just the way they roll in Japan, but as a country with a less-is-more aesthetic, one might think that minimalism would apply to its restaurants. It doesn’t. There is page after page of food. Focus, people. Focus.
While Dan’s strength is its izakaya offerings, the place does a good lunch. Izakaya restaurants generally reserve the bar-food items for the evening and serve sushi and ramen by day.
The ramen is worth a trip in itself. The clam ramen ($10.50) is one of Tanto’s claims to fame, and it’s great here: a translucent but deeply flavored broth loaded with salty-sweet clams. The other winner is the udon ($8.75) topped with fat slices of pork belly.