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Jun 18, 2001 09:19 PM

Murasaki -- C'mon people

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Okay, I searched the board and found that I am not the first person to post about Murasaki (Clement bet 3&4) here. But the other posts treated it like some kind of second-class sushi citizen, someplace to go if you can't be bothered to wait at Kabuto.

I beg to differ. Props to Kabuto, but Murasaki is also the real deal and the sushi chef there is a serious dude. It's just that you have to work to get him to work for you. You have to earn his love. He does not give his love to any fool who walks in off the street. On my second visit there, I saw him give a regular customer freshly grated wasabi (=love) while I suffered with the instant paste. Finally, on my fourth visit, I got the good stuff.

One technique I find useful is to ask the sushi chef about his knife. Ask where he bought it. If it's in America (unlikely, but possible with new distributors), be surprised that they might sell such beautiful items here. If it's Japan, be impressed that Japan has such beautiful items there. Ask how many times a day he sharpens it, and with what. Be very, very impressed.

Definitely get the katsuo. He makes his own topping for it that includes ponzu and garlic. Maybe too much garlic, but you don't have the right to question that. Do NOT dip the katsuo in soy sauce, since it's already flavored the way he wants you to have it.

There is a large framed drawing of a chinese character above the sushi bar, the one pronounced "arashi" in Japanese, meaning storm. The reason it's there is that the sushi chef is friends with Kitaro, the famous Japanese synthesizer musician of the 70s. He told me Kitaro's last name is Arashi, that Kitaro lives in Colorado now, and that Kitaro gave the character drawing to him as a present. Do not ask about this, as the sushi chef might get the idea you're trying to impress him with info you got from Chowhound.

Let me know if you get the fresh wasabi. It doesn't count if you ask for it, because he will probably feel guilty and give it to you. You do not want love based on guilt.

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  1. Thanks so much for the warning.

    Wild horses couldn't drag me to a place where I had to be treated like a second-class citizen till I "won" the favor of the chef.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Fine
      Andrew Raskin

      I'm surprised that you would draw the conclusion from my post that Murasaki ever treats customers like second-class citizens. From my first visit there, I was treated as well as I have been at any restaurant I can think of in San Francisco, and the food, again, even from the first visit, puts Murasaki near the top of my list.

      What we are talking about here is another level, a level beyond first-class citizenship. The fruits of building a relationship.

      Or, if those wild horses are still around, you can put em to good use and have em drag you over to Ebisu for some dragon rolls. Your call.

      1. re: Andrew Raskin

        Very true, Raskinsan.

        Tom Armitage has posted eloquently on the subject of chowhounds reaping "the fruits of building a relationship" with serious sushi chefs.

        See these postings:

        1. re: Andrew Raskin

          Yes, the chef is very gracious at Murasaki - I was treated very well my first dinner there, when I sat at the bar and chatted with him.

          Actually, Ebisu isn't that bad for someone into fancy rolls and all. The 49er and catepillar rolls are quite good. I just happen to prefer straight traditional sushi and sashimi (and Ebisu lags behind on those fronts when compared to some of the places that have been mentioned here - it's decent, just not as good). And the hordes and din at Ebisu don't do much for me.

          1. re: Limster

            The Ebisu at SFO's international terminal is your last chance for an Asian snack before leaving the country. The udon was perfunctory but it was just what I needed before heading to the land of foie gras for 10 days. I'd agree with you that the sushi/sashimi didn't appeal, but the rolls looked great there. And, all were much better than the Chinese steam table food next door.

        2. re: Fine

          I agree with Fine. The food and service should be great on the first visit. Then with repeated visits
          it turns from great to extraordinary ( that is if the chef gives repeat customers preferential treatment over others) . I will NEVER try to kiss a chef's ass to get decent service. Jeepers.

        3. I've been to Murasaki twice, and I've enjoyed it both times, especially when I got a steamed conch as part of an omakase dinner on the second visit. I still think that Kabuto is slightly better but also a lot pricier.

          As for cultivating a relationship with the sushi chef, I've thrown my lot in with Hama-Ko, where it took 6 months before I even got invited to sit at the bar. (The bar is always reserved for regulars; even when the place is packed to the gills.) I settled on Hama-Ko because the fish (albeit limited selection) there is always of very high quality and I can get my favorite ankimo sushi very regularly (not the steamed and packed rolls for sashimi).

          6 Replies
          1. re: Limster
            Andrew Raskin

            I'm going to Hama-ko for the first time this weekend. Heard great things, along the lines of your post.

            1. re: Andrew Raskin

              Unlike Murasaki, Hama-Ko is a place where first-timers can sometimes be treated as second-class citizens. I've heard stories of people getting extremely bad service - they can be ignored for a while if things get very busy.

              My suggestion is to ask them for recommendations when ordering - those are often good choices for the day and it will endear you with the couple who runs it.

              Because the place is operated by a couple, service is extremely slow. When things are busy, expect to wait 45 minutes or so before the food comes. My favorites there - ankimo, uni and the house smoked salmon.

              Anyway, enjoy, and try not to let the long waits get to you. I'd love to hear your kudos and criticisms about the place.

              1. re: Limster
                Andrew Raskin

                I'll let you know how it goes. I lived in Japan for a long time -- I'm fluent in Japanese (speak/read/write) -- so that helps in these situations sometimes, though it sometimes hurts. I'm also going with a friend who has been there many times.

                I like ankimo too, so I'll follow your advice and try it there.

                1. re: Andrew Raskin

                  i LOVE ankimo! i think by Hamano in Noe Valley makes the best ankimo appetizer. But i'll be willing to give this place a try!

                2. re: Limster
                  Andrew Raskin

                  Well, I didn't go to Hama-ko this weekend. My friend told me she was taking me to a secret good sushi place, and it sounded like Hama-ko, based on the description. It wasn't, and the place she took me to was closed. So...

                  I'm still up for going to Hama-ko. Any chance you'd be willing to show me the ropes there one night during the week?

                  1. re: Andrew Raskin

                    I just ate at Hama-Ko last week, and it will be a while before my graduate student budget will allow another sushi trip. Had my usuals: ankimo, uni and their amazing smoked salmon along with other recommendations of the day - yellowtail, crab, mackeral and halibut.

                    Hama-Ko is located on Carl and Cole, across the street from Eos wine bar (not Eos restaurant, which is on the corner), and it doesn't have a sign. It's closed on Mondays but open the rest of the week.

                    Here are "the ropes":

                    Just be willing to wait if they are busy, ask for their recommendations, ask if ankimo, toro or the smoked salmon is available.

                    No cell phones/beepers - my friend told me that someone was thrown out because they started using their mobile phone in there.

                    At Hama-ko, you'll need to order everything at one go, as they won't allow you to order more sushi later.

                    These are the main "quirks" of the place. Just bear in mind that it's a little operation and accept the fact that they won't be able to give their undivided attention to all their customers alls the time and you'll be fine.

                    And the most important thing: enjoy your meal.