Mastering Simplicity

Hachi Ju Hachi's chef doesn't know the word "compromise"

Jin Suzuki, of the five-month-old Saratoga restaurant Hachi Ju Hachi, is part philosopher and all chef.

With his clean-shaven head, neatly knotted tie, crisp chef's coat and wooden geta sandals, Suzuki contemplates how "few chefs can attain spirituality in their cooking” as he prepares his version of washoku: traditional Japanese food based on the principles of harmony, balance, simplicity and restraint.

His seemingly simple handiwork belies the painstaking process behind it. This is a chef who seasons miso from shrimp heads he's fermented himself. Using a traditional Kyoto method, he also makes his own salt by boiling iodized and sea salts for six hours to achieve a softer texture and milder flavor. This time of year, he begins making four kinds of tofu, too, in flavors such as white sesame and edamame.

His meticulousness is evident in tako nuta ($8), chilled, tender octopus in a rice wine-miso vinaigrette; karasumi zosui ($15), delicate clay-pot rice soup with smoky slices of bottarga; and unagi hako zushi ($9), smoked eel sushi formed in a wooden box, then cut into neat tiles.

Cooking this pure is worth a detour–ask the Japanese diners who swarm the restaurant every weekend.

Hachi Ju Hachi, 14480 Big Basin Way, Saratoga; 408-647-2258 or hachijuhachi88.com