At Tokyo Shabu Sushi Restaurant, sushi masters slice up delicate sashimi and handrolled maki while chefs put flame to chicken katsu, teriyaki steak, and umami udon noodle soups. But the crew also takes their flavors a step beyond the offerings of many other Japanese restaurants. The menu has a knack of blending Japanese and western influences, as seen in teriyaki-style New York strip steak and a creamy cheesecake dessert made with earthy green tea. Potent sake cocktails and frosty Japanese beers go with just about any dish and help visitors work up the courage to perform their spoken-word versions of "Purple Rain" during weekend karaoke.
Acclaimed restaurateur Yoshi Tome came to America for a teacher-exchange program, but he used his degree more in teaching Americans how to truly enjoy sushi. Today he owns the restaurant Sushi Ran, where his chefs craft entrees with fresh fish from local purveyors or from the Tsukiji market in Tokyo. Executive chef Scott Whitman has a plate for every taste—vegetarian options, seafood, and meaty entrees including slow-cooked duck breast and Vietnamese shaking beef. Meanwhile, executive sushi chef Nori Kusakabe rolls soft-shell crab, vegetables, and spicy tuna at the sushi bar. Wine director Gabriel Alamilla helps diners navigate the 300-bottle wine list and explore the collection of 30 small-production wines by the glass. He matches rieslings with raw fish and chardonnays with Japanese entrees. He can also recommend a selection from 30 different sakes, which are separated into four categories: fragrant, light/smooth, rich, and aged.
Master chef Kaz Sasaki has spent more than 15 years behind a sushi bar. But his roots in the craft extend much deeper than that. Chef Sasaki learned his skills from his father, Master Yuzo Sasaki, a man who was required to spend the first three years of his sushi apprenticeship perfecting his rice-making techniques before he was allowed to even touch a piece of fish. Chef Kaz also learned that great sushi not only looks good, but also has the right consistency?it's not too hard to chew or too soft and falling apart like a magician performing without his smoke bombs.
At Taki Sushi, chef Kaz composes a menu that includes sashimi, nigiri, and nearly 20 different special rolls. He also crafts other Japanese favorites, including shabu-shabu hot pots, sukiyaki, and udon.
O Chamé’s lunch and dinner menus blend traditional Japanese flavors with California cuisine’s penchant for local produce, showcasing “everything that’s right about ‘fusion’ cuisine,” according to San Francisco Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer. Pass through O Chamé’s entryway, where bamboo stalks and other foliage snuggle up to amorous walls, before sitting down to sample one of more than 20 appetizers in a golden-hued dining area decorated with Eastern-themed scenes. Rafts of fried tofu drift in a sea of fish broth and fresh hijiki seaweed (lunch only), and chefs dress fashion-forward seared yellowtail sashimi in braised-leek and horseradish-sauce garments. For the main course, cooks fill big bowls with steaming broth and udon noodles, crafting eight varieties of the “bracing elixir” Bauer calls one of San Francisco’s finest. Patrons can slurp up such ingredients as grilled oysters or braised beef shoulder with spinach and takuan, a Japanese pickle. Desserts such as poached bosc pear with fresh blueberries cap off dinners with a dazzling mélange of fruits one wouldn’t wear for a night on the town, unlike banana hats or pumpkin daisy dukes.
Sushi California sates eager bellies with a suite of delectable Asian cuisine. Non-seafood nosh-seekers feast upon succulent specials such as the chicken teriyaki, served with rice, soup, and salad ($7.75 at lunch, $11.95 at dinner), and ice-cream-chapped esophagi can defrost with warm, brothy udon soup ($7.95). Sushi offerings span raw-fish styles, with humbly unadorned sashimi arriving in chirashi ($16.50) and hamachi ($19.75) platters with small, rice-bound nigiri balls bearing loads of green mussels ($3.75), scallops ($4.75), salmon ($4.25), and mackerel ($3.95). Eclectic six-piece rolls range from the classic california ($4.50), which ensnares crab cake and avocado within its rice-and-seaweed tractor beam, to the unhinged crazy roll, which smuggles in yellow tail, fish roe, tuna, avocado, and cucumber ($8.95). Veggie-friendly options abound, from inari pieces ($2.75) to squash rolls ($3.95).
A 20-year career prepared Chef Tomo Owada for the opening of Tomo’s Japanese Cuisine, one that taught him to prepare every meal “thoughtfully and artfully.” He gained this attention to detail by first training as an assistant sushi chef for four years in Japan, as well as learning how to manage a kitchen. In 1999, he emigrated to California and has worked in other kitchens ever since.
Chef Tomo’s cuisine reflects both his traditional training in Japan and the sustainable values he found in California, where he learned that food also needs to be “prepared consciously.” Following this philosophy, Chef Tomo incorporates organic ingredients from farmers markets and locally sourced fish into a seasonal menu that includes sushi rolls, chicken teriyaki, and vegan ohitashi—Napa cabbage rolls stuffed with spinach. To prepare these small dishes and sushi, the kitchen makes everything from scratch without the use of a microwave, freezer, or hot laptop battery.