Where can I find fugu in san francisco?
[We're moving this post to the General Topics board because the replies have useul info on fugu and where to find it in the US. -- The Chowhound Team]
I'm interested in trying it. Does anyone know a sushi restaurant in SF that prepares it?
About three years ago, I was surprised to find some fugu available at Sushi Yasuda in NYC. Can't speak to current availability there. The only other place I've had fugu was in L.A. at Masa's Ginza Sushi-Ko before he closed up shop and moved to NYC. I still remember the fugu liver - as jbgd says, fugu liver is "historic" and you remember it for life. Last year, I asked Ken at Kiriko in L.A. if he could get fugu for an omakase dinner and he said he could not. Looking forward to trying fugu someday in Japan - I'll have to time my next visit for fugu season.
I never made it to Shiki Sush in Seattle but if you go to their website at www.shiki-sushi.com they do have a seasonal section for fugu, which they claim the season was short this year due to typhoons/bad weather conditions. I believe they basically import the fish with the organs removed, and shipped to their restaurant frozen from Japan (farm). The website says call at least 24 hours in advance to reserve a fugu dinner, but when I talked to who I believe was the head itamae Ken Yamamoto, he said call by Friday (for a Monday reservation) and they were open on the weekend. This pretty much spells farmed and frozen, with needed time to defrost the fish and prep.
For those contemplating Shiki, call ahead assuming they still have availability. Despite the website saying they offer fugu sashi (sashimi) and fugu nabemono (fugu hotpot), or a plain pair of fugu nigiri separately, this is false. Ken-san confirmed that a whole fish must be served, and the dinner set will comprise of sashimi AND nabe, you cannot have one or the other. Cost is $150 for both and enough for one person. And you'll have to sit at the table, there's no room for the nabemono and raw material plate at the sushi bar.
A few years ago he did offer fugu nigiri with bits of the skin salad on the side, for $16 a pair. That's quite a bargain considering a pair of Spanish blue fin otoro at Sakae Sushi in Burlingame CA would run you that much.
Masa in NYC is not only licensed, it seems like he's the best bet in the country for the real stuff. But I'm sure you'd be paying a pretty penny (or just save up fly to Japan and go to the prefecture famous for wild fugu, entire set dinners with multiple courses + hire sake using fugu fin) Also they say that all processed + frozen fugu is shipped to NY first from Japan for inspection/paperwork processing before any other restaurant elsewhere gets it. It sounds like the other 10 or so restaurants in the US that supposedly serve fugu are the farmed/frozen kind (most of the restaurants are in NYC, one or two in LA, one in Seattle). Morimoto in Philly might have it but don't quote me on that.
Actually the kawa-fugu yamada3 speaks of isn't bad at all, in fact quite tasty and perhaps the closest you can get to fugu for the Bay Area. Kitsho in Cupertino offers kawahagi (call before gonig), aka filefish, and they serve nigiri with the liver on top. Great sweet piece of small white fish (if you don't like white fish, don't bother).
Fugu is a seasonal fish because its taste is at its best in the Winter months. In fact, we don't eat fugu anytime else in Japan. Farmed fugu may be available earlier, but the general rule is that wild fugu is best from December to February. Many farmed fugu have been chemically treated while raised, and not only is it not as good but also feared as being dangerous for human consumption by some.
I have been told that it is illegal to prepare fugu in CA, and that's why the only available fugu around here is the pre-cut stuff. There is also fugu that is not poisonous that is called Kawa-Fugu in Japanese; these come from the Boston area, but they don't compare to real fugu in terms of taste...
Sushimonster, I love your posts and highly respect your expertise.
The fugu that Masa served me in Oct. was carved apart right in front of us, the various parts set aside for the different courses of fugu that were served through the night. It was definitely not precut flesh. That isn't his style.
Somewhere else I read that fugu is farm-raised in Japan and a non-poisonous variety is brought into the states. If this claim was true, however, you'd see farm-fugu in SF/BayArea sushi bars.
Is there a time of year when fugu is not poisonous? Is that why people speak of a season for fugu?
I believe that legal fugu gets into this country as frozen flesh only, after being cut by a licensed itamae in Japan and cleared for export. In other words, the most toxic parts don't ever leave Japan. Shiki (on Roy St.) in Seattle was offering a sashimi platter (the classic presentation) and nigiri pairs the last I heard. KK would know more about this, as he was the last of us sushi monsters to speak to the headman at Shiki directly.
According to a recent LA post about Urasawa, the only place in the US serving fugu this season is Masa, in NYC. I enjoyed it there in mid-Oct. Out of a 30+ course omakase, Masa served 3 fugu courses that variously used the flesh, liver, skin, and bones. (The liver preparation was historic: one of those dishes you remember for life.)Urasawa served it in previous seasons, but a recent shipment was confiscated by customs, which makes one wonder how fugu gets into the country. This drifts off-board, sorry, but it answers the original question.