Restaurant Reviews

Sushi pioneer Sakura reinvents itself with rich ramen dishes

Tonkotsu ramen from Sakura Japanese Cuisine
Tonkotsu ramen from Sakura Japanese Cuisine Wichita Eagle Dining Panel

Sushi was still a new concept to Wichita when The Wichita Eagle last reviewed Sakura a decade ago. Since then we’ve seen the Japanese staple pop up in a dozen other restaurants and every grocery store in town.

The city’s homogenization of this once delicacy might have been one of the contributing factors to Sakura closing its doors at its original Harry and Rock location in 2013. It wasn’t gone for long, though, and its new location in Delano has spurred the kitchen’s creativity.

If sushi is passé and teppanyaki has lost its luster, Sakura has managed to reinvent itself by aping more current trends in Japanese cuisine.

The elephant in the room is the lunch menu, packed with a dozen varieties of ramen noodles that definitely didn’t exist before Yokohama exploded in popularity right down the block. To be sure, the tonkotsu ramen here does not hold a candle to Yokohama’s – the depth of pork flavor and the milky texture of the broth just isn’t there and the marinated soft boiled egg is not very well marinated nor very well soft boiled.

The shoyu (soy sauce) based soups, on the other hand, stand on their own and are worth consideration. There’s a subtle grace in the ingredients, which include corn, cabbage, carrot and a nicely-seared piece of charsu pork belly that lacks any semblance of subtlety but makes up for it in well-rendered pork fat. Other ramens are also worth a try, such as the heavily-seasoned curry ramen, redolent with the sweet and complex flavors of curry powder and fortified with nondescript fish balls served alongside that tasty charsu pork belly.

Other areas of Sakura’s menu also hold some treasures. The hirata buns are another admirable example of taking advantage of current nationwide trends – steamed pillowy buns are filled with pork belly and some vegetables to produce a great contrast in textures and a savory umami bomb that makes for an underdog in the running for one of the best dishes in the city.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the sunomono salad, an abundance of cucumbers in a dressing of rice wine vinegar and sugar, served with krab. It can be found at many sushi restaurants around town, though there are few that include krab pieces this large. The fried agedashi tofu is another surprising sleeper of a dish, featuring a surprisingly competent crispiness giving way to the soft silken tofu contained within.

Until the Harry location closed, Sakura’s focus was on sushi, and the owners should receive credit for being one of the longest-running sushi restaurants in town. It’s still a large portion of the menu at the Delano location, though in 2017 it’s not the novelty it once was. Moreover, the focus is placed on the crazy maki rolls topped with as much fish as is rolled inside, not to mention the globs of mayo-based sauces and fried bits of starch sprinkled from above.

Sakura’s sushi offerings fit the bill, with plenty of menu pages devoted to all sorts of rolls with cute names. Looking deeper, the nigiri rolls reveal rice that’s a little gummy and not very vinegar-ed, but the cuts of fish are big, and even after several visits, there’s still a tendency to over-order and leave feeling uncomfortably full.

As is often mentioned, Sakura’s owners, Ernice Low and Trien Tran, were a driving force behind Kwan Court, a restaurant that ushered Asian food into Wichita way back in the latter parts of the 20th century. This doesn’t mean much in 2017, as Wichita has grown enough to offer a variety of Asian restaurants and the many different cuisines that come along with it. After championing sushi’s normalization in Wichita, Sakura has continued to look towards the next big trend coming from Japan, and I’m excited to see what will next pop up on its menu.

Sakura Japanese Cuisine

Where: 605 W. Douglas, 316-927-2898

Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; noon to 9 p.m. Saturdays; closed Sundays