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Jul 3, 2006 05:08 AM

Sushi At Anzu (finally)

Finally, after reserving and canceling due to a last minute business trip, I was able to make it to Anzu on Saturday for nigiri with Takahashi-san. He was a little upset at first because a bunch of tourists had reserved and cancelled and as a result, the sushi bar was empty. However, he soon warmed up to us and we had a very good omakase. And the big bonus is that he grated the wasabi from an actual wasabi root. The first I’ve seen at a bayarea sushi restaurant (aside from Kaygetsu).

We started with 3 little appetizers. Thinly sliced lotus root with sesame oil, eggplant, and mushrooms with smoked mirugai. Nothing stunning but refreshing and tasty.

Then we had a sashimi plate of chu-toro, kingfish, copper river salmon, mejina, and snapper. Takahashi keep saying red snapper but I think it was a language issue. The skin on the snapper was black. I’m assuming it was kurodai or a Japanese tai of some sort. The chu-toro was very light pink and fattier than Kitsho’s alleged o-toro. The kingfish was buttery and very delicious. I’ve never had kingfish as sushi and actually thought it was a low grade fish but it was delicious. The cooper river salmon was a beautiful dark orange and very flavorful. I’ve never had mejina and I’m always grateful when a chef can show me something new. The mejina was very firm and clean tasting. Takahashi-san later revealed that he has a liking for firm fish and therefore actually doesn’t use too much kinmedai.

Next we had a little sukiyaki of pork, onions, and tofu. It was very comforting and a nice palate cleanser.

For sushi we had (and this is totally out of order):

Kanpachi: delicious, buttery, and creamy
Hamachi: fresh and tasted regular grade fatty, maybe 1-2 on a scale of 1-5.
Santa Barbara Uni: sweet and fresh. The architecture was well preserved.
Anago/Unagi: prepackaged stuff. Not the grilled fresh eel that Yasuda serves. A big weak link in the repertoire.
Ayoyagi and Mirugai: both sweet, crispy, and refreshing.
Seatrout: good but not spectacular. I appreciate the variety and effort.
Bluefin tuna: gorgeous and sweet. I’m a horrible person for eating it but it was spectacular.
O-toro: light pink like the chu-toro but with big fat streaks of white. Not as white as the o-toro at Mori in LA, but definitely rich and fatty.
Fukko: 2 year seabass/perch. The adult form is called Suzuki. But fukko is in season now. The fish was fresh but not as fatty as I would have expected for being in season.
Sole: not bad for sole but very low on my list for nigiri
Halibut: from Japan, not the east coast kind the chef emphasized.
Tairagai: firmer and sweeter than regular scallops
Aji/saba/kohada: another weak link. The aji was actually fishy and a huge letdown from the sweet firm aji I had at Yasuda a month ago. The saba was also below average. Kohada was also a little fisher than the finer versions.

Handroll with ume, tobiko, sharkfin and shiso. A very refreshing dessert.

Now for the important part. According to Takahashi-san, he gets his fish Tuesdays and Fridays with the big shipment coming in Tuesday. He says that on Tuesday, he has up to 40-types of fish. He says the best time to go is Tuesday-Friday. The caveat is that if it’s a holiday in Japan, it comes a day late. I’ll have to go back and try on a Tuesday. His nigiri is very good. His rice is flavorful but definitely not the transcendent rice at Yasuda. Maybe a 7 out of 10 on the rice. The fish quality, variety, and the way it was cut is a solid 9.

Overall, I’d rate Anzu a 8.75. Depending on how fresh the fish is on Tuesdays and Wednesday, it has the potential to rise to 9.25. He’s limited by his rice, and unagi/anago. The wasabi was good but the grater was a little course so it was a little stringier than other freshly grated wasabi I’ve had. But then again, at least he’s using it. And he is getting some excellent imported fish. Most importantly, this is only for the sushi bar and not the restaurant.

My personal ranking (1-10, 10 being the best). Caveat is that Urasawa (LA) and Masa (NYC) can be 11 on this scale. I have not had the privilege since they're $300-$500/person before alcohol, tax, or tip.

10- Sushi Yasuda (NYC). Perfect rice (his own mix), 40 types of fish, 5 types of fatty toro, 5 types of fatty hamachi, and fresh grilled eel. The gold standard. Plus, he’s crazy and you have to love him.

9.5- Kurumazushi (NYC). Great quality, great variety. But no Yasuda.

9.5- Jewel Bako (NYC). Again, great quality, and great variety, but the size is a little precious and the chef's skill is nowhere near Yasuda's.

9- Mori Sushi (LA). Great quality and knife-work. The rice is great. The selection is limited though. Only about 15 types.

8.75- Anzu (SF). Great fish and variety. The knife-work is more refined than most bayarea chefs. He's the only guy using fresh wasabi in the bay area aside from Kaygetsu. May become a 9.25 if he does get 40 types of fish on Tuesdays. Again, this applies only to the sushi bar.

8- Kaygetsu and Kappa (SF). Both have excellent fish quality, but limited selection. Kappa’s ranking is only for the quality of the sashimi since they don’t serve nigiri. Kaygetsu's fish may be upwards of a 8.5 if Toshi hides the good stuff behind the counter.

8- Nishimura (LA). Great quality, limited selection. Horrible attitude by the waitstaff. A very unpleasant dining experience. A 6 if you take the entire experience into account.

7.5- Kitsho (Cupertino). The fish is great and the variety is excellent, especially for the southbay. However, the cuts are a little bigger and less refined. The rice is appalling, the more I think about it, the less I can let it slide. 8 for the fish, 3 for the rice.

7.25- Zushi Puzzle (SF). I want to like Roger but his fish was too warm for my taste (extra 0.25 is because he's such a great guy and for his "pencilfish"). He does get some very interesting fish but he may be more of a "interesting rolls" type guy vs. pure nigiri specialist. Roger did introduce me to japanese uni though.

7- R23 (LA). Good quality, often times has live abalone but limited variety.

7- Ino (SF). Great Ankimo. He has a small imported variety from Japan. Pikefish was memorable. Way too much wasabi.

6.5- Sushi Tomi (MV). Good quality fish, and they import some stuff like shimaaji but about on par with Ino. Ino gets the edge with his ankimo and knifework.

5- Sasabune (LA). Good crab hand roll. Otherwise, fish is average and the hot rice is horrible.

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  1. Thanks for your wonderful and detailed perspective!

    Can I ask how much was your meal?

    What was weak specifically about the hikarimono or saba? I am curious because considering Takahashi-san may arguably have the most experience out of all the Bay Area itamae's from what I have read, he shouldn't be messing up the basics! Was it dry and chewy, too much vinegar or salt in the marination, not oily and juicy enough?

    I wonder where Sakae Sushi and Sushi Sam's would be on your ranking. Sounds like you have been to Sushi Tomi in Mountain View as well, where do they rank in your list?

    4 Replies
    1. re: K K

      The saba, aji, and kohada were all fishy, and not very spectacular. Specifically, the aji was very fishy smelling. The saba wasn't as bad, but it wasn't particularly flavorful either. He did admit that he does not recommend Saturdays and that Tuesday-Friday are when he recommends that his regulars come in.

      I like these oiler fish and at one time, thought that they were supposed to be slightly fishy. However, the aji and saba at Yasuda has tought me that these oily delights can be sweet and creamy.

      I've never been to Sakae or Sushi Sam's. Takahashi did say that he has heard good things about Sakae though. We went omakase and he gave us a pretty good discount. Normally I'd guess it would run $50-$100.

      I updated the list where I'd put Tomi and Zushi Puzzle. I love being able to edit. I'd be interested to see your sushi rankings. I was going through my old Ino post and noticed your reply.

      1. re: Porthos

        For some reason I missed your request to see my ranking until now.

        Unfortunately I don't have one compiled and find it difficult to come up with one. My world sushi experience is still very limited (other than one meal in Osaka Japan and Hong Kong in '99, both different experiences as one is somewhat neighborhood feel in a trendy area and one is downright expensive and exquisite with a killer view) and I wish I had experiences from those great places in LA and NY to put things in proper perspective.

        My most recent out of town experience was Kisaku in Seattle that really blew me away especially for a first visit (documented here: )and made me realise what else was out there and what might be missing links in our SF Bay offerings.

        I'm sure you know the good places already in SF Bay Area, or a majority of them. At the moment at least for the Peninsula area, my top 2 are Sakae and Sushi Sam's. In SF it would be Ino (I haven't been to Kiss or Anzu which I hope to someday) and if Ino is closed Takara is a decent standby next door.

        Someone inquired about Sushi Ko in Larkspur or has heard whispers of it, and a friend I know swears by it but I have no further info about why he does. Perhaps this is another well kept secret? In any case, way too out of the way for me.

        South Bay the strongest one is of course Kitsho if you overlook the sushi rice, and trailing behind somewhere Sushi Tomi (slipped quite a bit for me recently), Tomi Sushi, and Sushi Kuni for something less fancy but they do the basics fine by me.

        The problem with SF Bay Area sushi bars is that they do a little bit of this great sometimes more, a little bit of that average and if you really nit pick there's always something that you can find that is below average. Factor in that even a few of the better places take multiple visits to get your perception nailed down, it is so much harder to review fairly. I remember it took me three visits to really like Kitsho (and find my favorite gems). Had I not given them another chance, they wouldn't have shined the way I saw it. Kisaku Seattle was a place that shined in the first visit, and with the variety I had I found so little to nit pick, and whatever it was, it was pretty much negligible.

        I'd probably have a little better view once I get to try Kiss and Anzu.

        1. re: K K

          I would recommend trying Hama-ko before Kiss. It's been a while since I've been there and I'm always afraid that the owners will retire, as they've been threatening to do.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Only ate at Hama ko once and perhaps it was during a period where my perspective was warped due to a number of things. As a result I did not appreciate the visit at all based on what I got and the bill, despite us getting bar seats on the first visit (I used to work with the owner's son years ago and finally saw him too about half way through dinner).

            The good news is that I broke down at ate at Kaygetsu's bar today...and will write a review on that.

    2. Takara uses fresh wasabi.

      1. Ha. I'd attempted to make Anzu reservations on saturday and was told the bar was booked for the night. I will feel less guilty about running over tourists from now on.

        Did you notice if his oroshi was a metal one or the traditional samegawa type? I've never seen the sharkskin ones produce "course" wasabi, but I think I would've noticed if he was using an oroshigane.

        Have you tried the ikura at Ino? As far as I know, it's the only place with shoyu ikura (instead of shio ikura) in CA besides Urasawa.

        I've yet to visit Zushi Puzzle as I'd heard their main concentration was on rolls... is it worth a visit for someone who doesn't eat rolls?

        That place in new york is named "kurumazushi." I remember asking the waitress a few years ago why their place was named "car sushi" and she had no idea.

        Also, I haven't been to Urasawa in a year or so, but the base for a meal there was $250-275 at the time. I guess it's gone up?

        Damn, 3am is a bad time for a sushi jonesing.

        5 Replies
        1. re: umetaro

          Actually, I think he was using a metal oroshi. I remember taking a brief glance at it and seeing a flash of metal but I didn't look clearly at what the grating surface was. I know the sharksfin one is usually on wood.

          For Zushi Puzzle, Roger does plenty of nigiri but I'd try Sakae if you haven't yet. Oddly enough, not many people have done both Sakae and Anzu so as to compare the two.

          Now that you mention it, I do remember having tremendous shoyu ikura at Ino. I looked up my old Ino post to confirm and remember him scooping it out of a plastic container.

          As for Urasawa, I think it's still like $295/pp and Masa's is more around $500/pp. Again, never been so I can't speak on it.

          1. re: Porthos

            You can also find ikura no shoyu zuke at Kitsho (may not always be available),and a fantastic version at Sushi Sam's (which he calls special ikura for ease of name calling).

            1. re: Porthos

              Urasawa is $250, Masa $350. You can usually jack up the price by $150 if you want the fugu sperm sac. Urasawa is not to be missed before you leave the planet! Great review of Anzu! Next time I stay at the Nikko, will have to give it a try.

              1. re: Pablo

                Actually it depends on how much you eat at Urasawa. For normal eaters at Urasawa, base price is $250 but last couple of times I got charged $275 or $300 since I eat a lot more than the usual person... Urasawa doesn't jack up the price for adding fugu to the menu, though I can't recall if we had the sperm sac. We had fried sperm sac once and it was totally delicious but now i can't remember if it was in the fugu meal. last time i checked, importing fugu was still illegal into los angeles anyway. ny is okay.

                Yeah, I have to agree that the kohada wasn't that great at Anzu the last times. Aji and shima aji not nearly half as good as most any place in L.A. either. Kiriko had good shima aji when i was last there 2 months ago, almost half as good as Urasawa and only a fraction of the price.

                1. re: choctastic


                  The focus of this board is food unique to the S.F. Bay area, discussion of Urasawa in Los Angeles, is off topic for this board. Please start any new discussion about Urasawa on the L.A. board. Any further postings here not discussing San Fancisco chow will be removed.

                  Thanks for helping keep the regional boards focussed on food uniquely availble in each region.

          2. I have been to both.

            I like Anzu better because the sushi there is delicate and feminine compared to sushi at Sakae. I had a bad experience at Sakae, where everything was super fatty and oily, and their sushi was totally all about fat and not about the sweetness of the fish. Sakae was like sushi that grows hair on your chest.

            1 Reply
            1. re: yamada3

              Agree! It's rich and fatty--and overly expensive. I thought overall quality was good but the truly exorbitnat cost and frankly the attitude made me not want to visit again. Anzu in the city and Sushi Kei on the Peninsula, in Millbrae.

            2. Thanks for the great review of Anzu.

              We went last night based on your recommendation. The sushi was very good, even for it being Saturday, apparently the worst night to visit (in terms of fish selection and freshness).

              We took pictures and have posted them here:

              [There are a couple sushi pieces that we can't remember the names of (or aren't sure we got correct). We'd be glad if some of you could help us remember. :)) ]

              9 Replies
              1. re: loremipsum

                The standalone silvery piece near the end looks like sayori (halfbeak or needlefish, depending on one's definition or translation).

                Mirugai is not in the sashimi photo, that appears to be shimaaji.

                Thank you for your photos!

                1. re: loremipsum

                  Our sashimi plate looked very similar to yours. Instead of mirugai we had a snapper with black skin (either kurodai or some tai), and the 5th one, which looked just like the one in your picture at the 9 o'clock position, was the mejina. Your photos capture the beautiful orange of the copper river salmon very nicely. I also went on a Saturday which was the "worst" night. Can't wait to go back on Tuesday or Wednesday.

                  With regards to KK's reply above, I agree that the fish at 2 o'clock looks like shimaaji and not like the kingfish we had. The mirugai may be the blurred piece at the 5 o'clock position. Correct me if I'm wrong but that looks like nice green, FRESH wasabi at the 3 o'clock position.

                  1. re: Porthos

                    Yep. That's the mirugai, blurred next to the *fresh* wasabi. (Using a really fast lens, so there wasn't much depth of field).

                    Hmmm. I'm pretty sure we had Kingfish on our sashimi plate... Maybe I heard wrong. Thanks for looking!

                    1. re: loremipsum

                      My bad for the quick glance. That mirugai did look at first like a lemon wedge!

                      I 2nd the comment on the beautiful orange color of the copper river salmon. Looked exactly like the CRS goodness on my sashimi plate in Seattle.

                      5th picture of the appetizer looks like buri daikon nitsuke. Was this served hot or lukewarm/room temperature?

                      Were the appetizers prepared by Takahashi san himself, or kitchen staff?

                      The picture of the kingfish next to the hamachi...does look like kanpachi, but I could be wrong. Sushi Sam's and I think Sakae call it amberjack as the English name.

                      The piece next to the aji sushi, any guesses? A tai of some sort? Interesting how they used the round circlar non Japanese looking plate for the nigiri. Reminds me of Sushi Sasabune in Oahu (Hawaii) for their omakase dinner.

                      Very interesting about how Takahashi san does temaki (hand roll)... it looks like an uncut hosomaki (like tekka) but not quite. Inoue san (Ino Sushi) does it exactly the same way. So how come these are the only two guys (that I know of) in the Bay Area that does temaki that way, and not the cone form?

                      1. re: K K

                        The only place I've personally found temaki like this is at Sushi Gen in LA. Perhaps its a way for the itamae to demonstrate his skill since it takes a little more engineering and material to make the thing properly so the filling doesn't fall out the bottom. I can't remember what is used to secure the folded strip of nori that serves as a cradle at the "gripping" end of the temaki. Is is water?

                        1. re: K K

                          Eeek accidentally hit report this post to the above, so I couldn't reply even if I tried to undo or hit "back on the browser". Very annoying.

                          Regarding the temaki not molded as a cone, but in the same way as Anzu and Ino chefs do, this is an interesting take. Earlier this year I found a professional how to book with pictures on Edomae Sushi at Kinokuniya (across from Mitsuwa supermarket in Saratoga/SJ), written by a chef who runs his own restaurant in Ginza Tokyo (and has over 30+ years experience). The guy teaches how to make a handroll and it is done the same way. The idea is to roll it up then take the end tip (bottom), press it down (maybe an inch or inch and a half from the end), and fold up. If I remember correctly Inoue-san does it a bit different.

                          If this is the classical style of how temaki is done, then perhaps I/we've been deceived all this time with other cone renditions (after all you can hold more volume in that cone then a small uncut hosomaki type mini cylinder). Some apparently like to do big fat cones, and some make it inbetween the size of the mini cylinder and a true cone. But the key to great temaki is a crispy nori. Nothing's worse than an overloaded handroll where the ingredients turn the nori into a moist chewy skin.

                          1. re: K K

                            Interesting, they way you describe it, the temaki can be made exactly like a falafel or schwarma wrap. The way I had seen it done was with a second, narrower piece of nori folded into a "U" and attached inside the bottom of the main nori cylinder.

                      2. re: loremipsum

                        Awesome pictures. Yesterday I was looking at a Flickr gallery of someone's meal at Urasawa drooling and this is nearly as mouth-watering.

                        Also, I though Monday was the worst day for seafood (at least that's what Anthony Bourdain says)?

                        1. re: Humbucker

                          Saturday is the worst at Anzu since they're closed Sunday (and Monday i think). So, on Saturday, you're getting the last pickings from his order that comes in on Tuesday (with another smaller refill order on Friday).