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Yuzu (San Mateo, sushi) updater -- too steep for Sushi Monster

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I'm sorry to say I probably won't be hurrying back to Yuzu. This reassessment had been a long time coming, actually. I'd noted, with some unease as the average price for a plate of two nigiri crept up on recent visits past $6, and then hit $6.75 (remember, this is including a 20 percent gratuity). Today's box score at lunch: Nine plates for $70 ($7.77 per plate). And, no that didn't include any toro or uni. Ouch.

Arima-san is an artist, and should be granted some artistic license. But he's now consciously placed himself on par with Sakae, Sam's and Kaygetsu. Considering how half of my Peninsula top ten -- Hotaru, Higuma, Fuki, Akane and SushiYa -- are consistently delivering superior quality and still managing to hold the line right around $5 a plate, I regret to say that Yuzu has priced itself beyond this Sushi Monster's reach.

If Arima had the deep, deep white board of special tane that puts Sakae and Sam's in a class by themselves, that might be one thing, but I haven't seen that breadth in recent visits.

If the front service or the experience at the bar were superior, I might factor those in, but I waited damn near an hour to get a warm-up on my tea. I was acutely aware of this because I *needed* a refill on the tea in the worst way, considering the flat-out overapplication of wasabe on the aji and the madai, both very subtle fish. These are the kind of missteps you don't want to see from anyone at this elite level.

Don't misconstrue what I'm getting at by knocking Yuzu down three notches. The fish is still absolutely top quality. Particularly the masu (ocean trout) and kanpachi. He does get Japanese special fish that don't show up on many white boards on the Peninsula. But considering the competitive landscape, $70 for a lunch that was just good -- but not great, or even memorable -- represents a poor value no matter how you swing the hocho. Kitsho in Cupertino, (at a ruinous $7.95 per average plate recently) is the only other establishment so far out of whack with the median. Unfortunately, Kuni in Cupertino and Tomi in Mountain View seem to be vying to join the dubious big-spender club.

For those of you keeping score at home, the Peninsula top ten now looks like this. Remember, the first number is the total lunch tab including 20 percent tip, w/o any beverage other than tea. The second number is the price for an average nigiri plate, also factoring in a 20 percent tip. These figures are an aggregation of more than a half-dozen visits to each of these sushiya except Sakae and Sam's.

1) Sakae, Burlingame. ($113/$8)
2) SushiYa, Palo Alto. ($36.75/$5.40)
3) Higuma, Redwood City. ($31.35/$4.75)
4) Sushi Sam's Edomata, San Mateo. ($50.50/$7)
5) Naomi, Menlo Park. ($42/$6)
6) Akane, Los Altos. ($47.60/$5.25)
7) Yuzu, San Mateo. ($54.30/$6.50)
8) Koma, Menlo Park. ($53.30/$6.375)
9) Fuki Sushi, Palo Alto. ($54/$5.75)
10) Hotaru, San Mateo ($29/$4.10)

Sushi Monster

www.emeraldlake.com/sushilist.html

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  1. Thanks for the update SM.
    Your careful metrics confirm my uncomfortable (and unfamiliar) reflex of actually restraining myself at YuZu when choosing between my many favorites.

    As you say, the quality is still fine; the artistry is present. My favorites are the Spider Roll, wild yellow tail and Uni.

    1. Thanks Sushimonster. I love your posts. Is your top ten list ranked in order of the quality of the sushi, overall value (i.e., both quality and price), or just arbitrary?

      1 Reply
      1. re: JoyM

        It's a mix, Joy. What started a long time ago as a strictly qualitative ranking has evolved to make relative value a heavily weighted factor. Recently I've been on a jihad of sorts to re-rank places that have high quality but low value.

        The rank is in order, and the amorphous mix of elements I'm considering are:

        Quality of the fish. The top consideration always.

        Range of selection of fish. (Extra points for stocking rare or hard-to-find items.)

        Value proposition. The overall price for lunch and the price per nigiri plate versus the price for comparable quality experience.

        The itamae's skill -- knifework, presentation, knowledge of craft, service orientation and the convivial atmosphere he creates at the bar.

        Front-of-bar service (drinks, billing presentation)

        Atmosphere is way down the list because sushi was never meant to be formal. It's the original fast-food and some of the best sushi is always in some little hole-in-the-wall, no matter what metropolitan area you may frequent.

        Finally, it's the total package of the experience: Was the lunch memorable? Were there surprises? Did I learn something? Did the itamae do anything special?

        Overall, my biases are thus: I like a traditional, classic sushi meal, which means nigiri (fish on pads of seasoned rice). I don't concern myself with cutesy rolls or cooked items. I prefer small shops where the owner/chef is behind the bar.

        One more word on value: There is little correlation between price and quality. I would guess at least 80 percent of the restaurants buy most of their fish from the same two dominant wholesalers, IMP and True World. Each restaurant's pricing probably has more to do with its lease than it does with the fish.

        You can always find the most recent revise of the complete 36-bar list at www.emeraldlake.com/sushilist.html

        Sushi Monster

      2. Ahh crap, that's unfortunate news. I live about 3 minutes from there and haven't been in a couple of months. My daughter wants sushi for her birthday and I was planning on going there. Entering my wife into the equation, it would be a very pricey evening.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Larry Stein

          Well, Larry, at least you have a lot of good options for a family sushi feast close at hand. Hotaru in San Mateo, downtown on Third is the most inexpensive of the top-quality picks in my top ten. And if you do resolve to spend the long green (I don't know how old your daughter is) there is Sakae in Burlingame. Those would be the two value extremes.

          Although I'm sure some sushi snobs would write me out of their little club if they heard me say it, when I'm cruising with Sushi Monster III (who is 3.5 years old), we're usually headed to Maru in Sunnyvale, for the highest quality boat sushi in the area. I wouldn't throw money away on feeding her epicurean stuff she wouldn't appreciate. Hope your daughter has a memorable b-day.

          Sushi Monster

          1. re: Sushi Monster

            Another thumbs up for Sushi Maru. Good sushi at bargain basement prices. Usually they have stuff you don't see at other cheap sushi-yas on the Japanese specials board, too.

            1. re: Sushi Monster

              Sushi Maru has better stuff on the conveyors than the majority of sushi bars in the bay area. Wish others would take a lesson. Remember than they'll make to order also.

              1. re: Sushi Monster

                Thanks for the tip on Hotaru! We've been a couple of times, but it's been a number of years. She's going to be 10 so her tastes are starting to get a bit more adventurous.

            2. SM, your posts about the Peninsula sushi scene are highly appreciated, as I'm spending much of my time now in the San Mateo area. Sushi Sam's has been my go-to for some time, and I did have a very memorable meal @ Yuzu earlier this year for my bday, but Hotaru was nowhere on my radar. I'll definitely check H out soon.

              Please keep up the great work!!

              3 Replies
              1. re: Eugene Park

                I have been going to Hotaru for years and I completely agree with Sushi Monster's assessment of the sushi there. I am always happy with my Sushi B Combination, which is always fresh and reasonably priced. However, for non-sushi Japanese dishes in downtown San Mateo there are now better options with Yoko's, Chika, Himawari, and Oidon.

                1. re: Wendy_san

                  Thanks Wendy, that's another thumbs-up for Hotaru from someone whose opinion about San Mateo Japanese cuisine I respect. I had a fine dinner at Yoko's not too long ago based on your recommendation....http://www.chowhound.com/topics/335959

                  I'll have to go to H soon!

                  1. re: Eugene Park

                    Thanks, Eugene. My husband and I really like Yuzu as well but I agree with others that it can get expensive. We do not order lots of sushi at Yuzu, tending to treat it more like an izakaya with orders of sashimi interspersed with cooked food such as ochazuke.

              2. Great research. How about you do the same thing for SF and East Bay? You can be the Zagat of sushi...clearly a business opportunity waiting to happen :)

                1 Reply
                1. re: MrSmart

                  I spent $690 on sushi lunches on the Peninsula last month. (November). Being unemployed, it's getting to be a financial challenge to feed the obsession. My best guess is SF has 40-55 sushiya. To provide my brand of insanely comprehensive coverage, it could be ruinous. There are a lot of sushi monsters in San Francisco more qualified.

                2. Sushimonster, do you include restaurants in your list? If you do, consider Kisaku in 4th St, San Mateo. They have a new sushi chef whose cutting movements are spare and elegant, and the fish is fresh and good. Definitely a master of sushido!

                  As for Sakae, I only base my thoughts on just one sampling - it wasn't good unfortunately. The fish wasn't fresh and the service rude - they didn't want us to sit at the bar because we didn't order 'enough' sushi - and the chef, a thickset, somewhat inebriated chap, was somewhat sloppy in his movements and the california roll actually was on the verge of falling apart. Maybe this guy wasn't the regular chef. It was nearly 2pm though.

                  Another place you ought to consider is Sushi Main Street - which is a great place to go if you're ever out on Half Moon Bay. Can be a little crowded on weekends, but weekdays it's virtually empty. Very fresh seafood, great service and ambience. Also much better IMHO than that one and only time at Sakae.

                  Sushi Sam's is also IMO a notch better than Sakae, but not as good as Kisaku. The Japanese/White ratio at dinnertime at Kisaku is another personal gauge of how 'authentic' a Japanese place is BTW.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: sanjuro333

                    You're right. I don't know how Kisaku stayed off the Sushi Monster Radar so long. I've hit 36 sushiya between Millbrae and Cupertino/Sunnyvale. I know of about a half-dozen inferior places that I noted at the bottom of the Big Peninsula List but opted to skip. So that's 42. And somehow Kisaku didn't register.

                    I'm e-mailing with KK on this right now. Mostly we've been teaming up for Akane in Los Altos in recent weeks. I may go myself on Friday for lunch, but my gut tells me I want his second opinion on this place. Might take a couple visits before I get a review posted.

                    Sushi Monster

                    1. re: Sushi Monster

                      On second thought, I'm not going to post a full review on Kisaku. I was in there today for lunch (it does a very very busy lunch business, but 90 percent of that is for the kitchen, sushi being far from center-stage here). Grumpy, elderly itamae. Limited selection and no specials whiteboard for nigiri (only rolls). The shari (rice) itself was good. The cuts were ragged and presentation was slapdash. (Yes, this is a Japanese itamae, but not all are created equal.) Box score (including 20 percent tip): eight nigiri plates = $48/$6. Not a bad lunch, but thoroughly mediocre. At that price, there's better value right on the other side of the block at Hotaru. On my Big Peninsula List I'm slotting Kisaku at No. 22 -- about the lower end of the middle tier, just above Jun in Burlingame and just below Tokie's in Foster City.

                      Sushi Monster