Bear Bites: Dashi Japanese Restaurant 

4 mins read

Dashi Japanese Restaurant is a small, family-style establishment tucked away along the intersection of Hamilton Avenue and Willow Road in East Menlo Park. Located across the street from the Dumbarton Bridge, Dashi has seen how the establishment of new tech companies has changed the neighborhood and brought new construction projects in its 20-year lifespan. 

John and Sunhwa (Sunny) Bek have owned the restaurant since 2003. John Bek, an aspiring fine-dining chef, began cooking when he was five-years-old. Ever since they purchased Dashi in 2003, the Beks have held close to the restaurant––in some way, it’s their second home.

Walking into Dashi is like being welcomed into a friend’s house. The restaurant––a cozy, minimalistic establishment––boasts distinctive features. Its cream-yellow walls and faded-watercolor frames welcome customers, often local families or Meta employees hungry for a hot dinner on a Friday night. 

In the middle of the room stands a tall, pale, wooden doorframe, a majestic barricade separating the kitchen and sushi bar from the dining room. A worn clock adorned with different sashimi at each hour stands atop the kitchen doorway, overseeing the customers as they dine.

Dashi’s extensive menu ranges from dozens of different sushi and sashimi options to udon noodle soups, rice bowls, curry, and more. After one glance at the menu, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of options Dashi has to offer. To make this choice a bit easier, I’ve listed some of my personal recommendations:

Tempura Udon – $18.99

A steaming bowl of udon is a must for cold winter days! The light, umami broth pair compliment the chewy udon noodles, creating a warm and comforting dish. A generous handful of fresh green onions and narutomaki––pink fish cakes commonly found in Japanese noodle soups––adorn the bowl.

The noodles come with a plate of fresh tempura, an assortment of fried foods including shrimp, pumpkin, sweet potato, and vegetables. All tempura come with a side of warm tentsuyu (a sweet, umami broth made from dashi––a dried fish and seaweed broth, soy sauce, sugar, and mirin) for dipping.  

Salmon Skin Roll – $13.99

This order is a must for those who love salmon skin! And if you’ve never tried it before, it’s worth the price––beneath a bed of crispy salmon skin lies salmon skin sushi rolls. The salmon is tender and occasionally crunchy while the rice serves as a satisfying vessel for the sweet and savory teriyaki sauce.

Harley Davidson Roll $18.99

The Harley Davidson roll is for spice lovers. Topped with spicy crab salad and hamachi and filled with spicy tuna, this dish is slightly sweet, creamy, and spicy. Dashi offers a vast number of sushi rolls, but this one stands out distinctively in both flavor and style. 

Unagi Yakimeshi – $22.99

Yakimeshi, a Japanese-style fried rice, originates from the influx of Chinese immigrants to Japan during the 1860s. In most cases, yakimeshi usually is cooked with short-grain rice while Chinese fried rice is cooked with long-grain rice.

Dashi’s unagi (eel) yakimeshi is a definite highlight of every meal. The rice isn’t too savory or too oily, but offers a nice umami flavor, accentuating the slightly smoky vegetables and eel. Unlike the unagi on most rice bowls and sushi rolls—which are typically served whole—the unagi in Dashi’s yakimeshi is chopped and cooked with rice. It’s a family favorite, and I highly recommend this dish to those looking for something filling but not too heavy. 

Pork Curry Katsu Donburi – $20.99

This dish also packs an unexpected kick––most Japanese curries are darker in color, but Dashi’s are lighter, and offer more spice and flavor. The curry sauce covers the fried pork katsu and rice like a warm, golden, blanket. If you are dining alone and are looking for a comforting, hearty meal, I highly recommend this dish.

Sunny Bek proclaimed her personal favorite to be the Chirashi Donburi, a variety of sashimi cuts carefully placed over rice. While other restaurants use leftover pieces of fish for the chirashi, Bek says that, at Dashi, they make sure to save the best parts of the fish for the rice. 

All meals come with complimentary miso soup and, for some orders, a fresh salad. 

While Dashi may seem pricey, the food and service make it worth the money. The Beks make an effort to establish good relationships with their customers and their employees––a tradition they’ve maintained since their opening day. 

However, the future of the restaurant is uncertain. “I’m really proud of myself, my husband, and my coworkers who have been with us for 20 years, but now I feel alarmed and very down,” Sunny Bek said. “We don’t know about the future of our restaurant, and it’s very stressful.”

The Beks have pulled hundreds of thousands of dollars from their savings account to ensure that both their employees and customers have the best experience at their restaurant. 

“Our employees live around here, and they’re our family. We needed to make sure they had job security,” said Sunny Bek.

In its early years, because of its delicious food and incredible service, Dashi’s business boomed. However, the rise of Facebook in the East Menlo Park area along with that of other nearby tech companies drastically changed the scene for Dashi and crippled numerous small, family businesses. Dramatic rent increases and gentrification have forced many of Dashi’s loyal customers to move away while new traffic patterns and congestion by Willow and Dumbarton have pushed away online delivery drivers and new customers.

“One by one, they said goodbye. Do you know why? Because 70% of the property is rental property,” said John Bek. “The families that I knew for generation after generation, they all left.”

John Bek

“Almost every business has become slow and there is no one here. It’s become like an island,” said Sunny Bek. “We’ve been down 80% of our sales, including internet delivery.”

During the pandemic, Dashi lost a lot of their customers from lockdown. Even afterward, this rate has never fully recovered––many Meta employees continue to work at home, further decreasing Dashi’s customer base. 

Furthermore, unpredictable supply chain issues have made it difficult for the Beks to adequately secure fish, noodles, and other goods for their customers.

Despite these challenges, the Beks have stayed true to their values––never cutting corners and always ensuring that customers are getting the best service and quality food. 

Sunny Bek

“I don’t live an extravagant lifestyle. This is pretty much what I do and where I work. I’m usually in the kitchen, but when we have no wait staff, I’m the waiter,” John Bek said. 

It’s hard to truly convey the love and care that Dashi offers to each customer. Every meal is like eating dinner at a friend’s home––the dishes you order decide which adventure you take and the Beks take your hand and guide you through it. 

“I believe every cook has a good heart,” Sunny Bek reminded me before I left. “One who cooks with their heart treats a restaurant like giving food to their own family, so they must have a good heart.” 

Celine Chien is a junior in her second year at the Chronicle. She is a Design Lead for the Mark, a copy editor, and reports on detracking and community news. Celine is on M-A's debate team, Leadership-ASB, and loves to cook and spend time with her family.

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