San Sai: a complete Japanese dining experience Fabulous Fare – close to home


My dining companions and I fought over the half avocado with assorted sashimi and special sauce.

To say that I had been looking forward to lunch all week is an understatement. Japanese cuisine is a personal favorite, and while driving north on Lake Street to dine at San Sai, a relatively new Japanese restaurant in Burlington, my expectations might have proven too much for an ordinary meal. But this proved to be much more than an ordinary meal; it was a complete dining experience.

We, coworkers Madelyn Baer, Dov Hechtman, and I, instantly felt at home in the comfortable elegance of the interior space. It is easy to appreciate the beautiful design of the restaurant with its high ceilings and exposed wooden beams, brushed steel tables, authentic Japanese artwork, and outdoor summer seating for enjoying lakeside sunsets.

Owner Chris Russo and Sous Chef Mike Maeda make a good team.

Welcomed by owner Chris Russo upon our arrival, we fell into an easy repartee. He explained that the menu changes seasonally and that as much of the authentic cuisine is as local as it can be. Because this traditional Japanese restaurant boasts the freshest seafood in the area, Russo recommended the omakase or chef’s choice as our entree.

The delicate flavors of this assortment of specialty sushi exceeded our expectations.

For novices and adventurous diners alike, the omakase is an inspired choice. To begin the meal, Ben, our attentive waiter, brought us slowly steeped green tea prepared in a clay pot along with a delightful light and pickled salmon. Following our fresh first course, there came a slender ring of sliced avocado filled with delicate chunks of sashimi, in our case tuna and salmon, lightly dressed in a special sauce. This dish tasted so exquisite that the three of us sliced it thinner and still fought over the last few bites. Next, Ben brought out a house specialty, Lobster Motoyaki, with its perfectly prepared sautéed lobster tail with fresh mushrooms and onions topped in a sweet miso sauce broiled until golden brown. Yum, yum, and yum.  Need I say more? The lobster was followed by an assortment of specialty sushi set before us by Russo with this warning: no soy sauce necessary. I would have missed out on the spectacular delicate flavors had I not heeded his warning and must agree with Russo’s sentiments, “the Japanese handle seafood differently.” Thank goodness for that.

photos by Dov Hechtman

Fresh fish may be difficult to find but Russo has found his source. And it probably doesn’t need reiterating that Japanese Sous Chef Mike Maeda did not disappoint. After tasting his omakase and his authentic Japanese cuisine, I knew we wouldn’t be eating many California rolls any more.

Satiated, but craving a little something sweet, we ended our meal with a raspberry torte with raspberry and chocolate sauce from Panadera’s Bakery. Light, sweet, and smooth, it was a perfect finishing touch to an altogether delectable meal. San Sai, take a bow.

San Sai is located at 112 Lake Street on the waterfront in Burlington. Hours are Monday-Saturday 11 am to 10 pm and Sundays 11 am to 9 pm. Call 862-2777 for reservations.

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