Sunday, September 17, 2006

Bay Area Upscale Sushi Search

With the recent departure of Chef Takahashi-san from Anzu, I am feeling a little lost as to where to get my upscale sushi fix these days... I want the best diversity, best quality, and best sake selection. I am particularly difficult to please, since I am a delicate-and sweet-fish-sushi lover, and most Bay Area joints specialize on serving fat on rice and calling it good sushi.

I had a fairly decent meal last night at Ino Sushi in the SF Japantown yesterday. I've always loved the decor of this place, since it really looks like a little sushi restaurant in one of the high-rises in a Japanese city. Even the view of the darkening evening sky through the window, framed by sliding shoji doors, reminds me of places in Nagoya.

I had an assortment of sushi at Ino, omakase-style. I told him I didn't like Big Toro (the super fatty kind) and that I like clams, mollusks, and white-fish. The miru-gai was juicy and fresh, but the torigai and hokkigai were a bit on the limp side. What surprised me was the maguro. I am usually not a fan of maguro, because it is usually flavorless, watery, and disturbingly pink. Maguro at Ino was the real deal - true Hon-maguro. Full of sweetness and deeply nourishing, I haven't had a satisfying piece of maguro like that in a while. The egg was good too - a more traditional egg preparation with ground fish.

The thing is, although there is nothing bad about Ino Sushi, but it just doesn't have the warm feeling of a relaxing meal. Sake is served room temperature in big glasses (even the lusciously delicious Kubota Manju), the chef does not engage in small talk, and the lack of any music brings a somewhat hushed whisper to our conversation. This place would benefit significantly from the presence of Japanese businessmen letting it loose to make it a little bit more lively!

But then again, maybe that's just because I just finished reading five issues of Cooking Papa comic series, where Japanese businessmen cruise around the streets of Hakata for yummy eats and comradery. Comradery is another spice to make a meal more complete - and that's one thing I feel Anzu (under ex-chef Takahashi-san) had over Ino. With all things equal, the warmth of the restaurant is still important to me.

I am still on the search - next up, Kaygetsu in Menlo Park.


The Papa Bear said...

At least, the rice was better this time.

Amy Sherman said...

I still love Okoze on Hyde St. I order only omokase style from Jason, the chef. He never fails to serve me something I have never tried before.

KK said...

Do report back once you've tried Kaygetsu's sushi. I owe it to you and Stuart F (cheese guy) to help me realise what delicate-ness means in sushi (instead of the rough gruff oversized McToro's that some places are too well known for).

Kaygetsu's sushi bar only fits 6. Call ahead for a reservation so you can sit directly in front of Toshi-san. I just hope he has some exotic imports stashed away when you go. He did have isaki when I went, but that was it. The only hikarimono he had was aji, and it didn't taste as nice as Ino's.

Also beware of the 18% service charge they will add on to your final bill, yes even if you are not partaking in kaiseki dinners or just regular lunch menu. (No need to tip otherwise). Be prepared for the $3.50 or so per piece of nigiri prices, but expect high end quality fish (like Sakae) with well executed knife work from a true taisho who's had training in Japan.

yuko said...

Kaigetsu has been my restaurant wish list for some time now! Hope to hear your report.

KK said...

Come to think of it and oddly enough, Toshi-san's former restaurant Toshi's Sushi-ya, now Koma Sushi, in Menlo Park on El Camino, down the hill from Kaygetsu, charges similar prices for nigiri (not everything is $3.50 per pc but some items come close).

The owner of Koma sushi is Bubba or Bobba san. I talked to him and found out that he used to own a restaurant in Fremont by the same name, and used to work with Yoshi-san before his Sushi Sho days.

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Micky said...

Have you tried Okoze Sushi at Hyde and Union on Russian Hill? I'm curious about your take on it. I wish them well. The chef is a young man from Tokyo, I hear.

jack said...

Sushi Sho in Berkeley is still my favorite. Aki-san is a legend.

Jeff said...

Have you gone to Kaygetsu yet?

What about Sushi Ran in Saulsalito? I have never been, but a lot of friends say it is their favorite. Steve Jobs even makes a phone call to it when he was demonstrating the new iPhone at Macworld, and it was ranked one of the top Bay Area restaurants by Zagat.

Erin Vang said...

Which category is Ebisu (9th near Irving) in: fat on rice, or haven't been there yet? I'm only a Japanophile on my way home from Asia tomorrow and already surfing the web for a fix, so I admit it could be A, but it's definitely my favorite so far. I'm not sure it qualifies as "upscale" but it has the ambiance you describe the other as lacking, it's not cheap, and the sushi is amazing. They make lots of "nine thousand things with a fanciful name" maki to please the Americans, true, but they also make the simple things right.

Don't get the uni anywhere in the Bay Area, though. I spent at least a dozen years laboring under the delusion that it's disgusting, only to find out recently at a joint near Tskiji fish market that it actually can be the bit of sweet amazingness I'd heard my friends claim it is.