Sebo Sushi: opinions? [San Francisco]
Am headed to SF for a long weekend on Thurs. to celebrate 5th anniversary... we're looking for a stellar sushi experience and need some local opinions on what is the best. We've heard from a few boards and acquaintances that the following are excellent:
At home in Denver we frequent Sushi Den, which gets their daily fish shipped directly from the owner's brother in Japan, who hand-selects the fish from the Tokyo fish market. So absolutely fresh fish is paramount. Also, my husband is allergic to shellfish and frequently orders a lot of all-vegetable sushi...so interesting vegetarian choices would be a plus. We are prepared to spend around $100 per person, so price isn't too much of a concern, within reason. Can anyone comment on the above 3, or is there another sushi temple out there that we absolutely must try?
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I absolutely LOVE Sebo. I followed Michael from his previous restaurant, hounding him with "when are you opening" emails for the year between places. I wish I could afford to go there more often.
I adore Sebo. The fish is amazingly fresh and the restaurant is really intimate, maybe 20 or 30 seats at the most?
Sebo, Murasaki, and Kiss are all very good and quite different. If you're just in town for a few days, and you don't mind spending $100/person, Sebo is a good option. The two chefs there, Danny and Michael, are helpful and friendly. The best experience is really to sit at the bar, where you can interact with them directly. Some of the items at Sebo are more expensive than what you would find, even at sushi bars with comparable quality fish, but $100/person will do you quite well there, even if you get alcohol -- and they regularly stock fish that most places would have on their specials board sometimes, or perhaps not at all. One note though: Sebo is closed Sunday and Monday, so you'll want to plan that into your schedule.
Murasaki is excellent, but I've found you get the best experience there after visiting repeatedly and cultivating a relationship with the itamae. Since you won't have the time to do that over just a long weekend, I'd be tempted to recommend Sebo over Murasaki. Also, I'm not sure where you're staying, but if it's anywhere in or near downtown, Murasaki is also quite a bit more out of the way than Sebo. Sebo is closer to more public transit options.
Lastly, on Kiss: if it's sushi you're after, I would not put Kiss at the top of the list. The real draw at Kiss is the omakase menu, which does include sushi/sashimi dishes -- and the fish is fresh, but the sushi is not really *stellar* here. The chef's strengths lie more in the preparation of the cooked dishes in the omakase. So if it's sushi, in particular, that you're after, you would do better at one of the other places. The omakase at Kiss is very good, though, especially if you want something beyond just sushi and sashimi.
If you decide on Kiss, you should definitely make a reservation. It is a tiny restaurant, and they usually just flat out refuse anyone without a reservation.
The selection of "unique/exotic" fish in no way rivals what one used to find at Takahashi-san's bar at Anzu, but they do regularly (season permitting, of course) stock items that one usually finds at better places. On different visits, I've seen kanburi, kamasu, tairagai, kohada, real suzuki and real tai, nama tako, iwashi, kibinago, sawara, sanma, kurodai, madai, and others. Of course they stock akami, chutoro, and otoro hon maguro (supplies usually seem to be from Canada or Croatia). There's a nice ankimo (though I prefer Ino's).They also carry ikura no shoyu zuke, though not my favorite version of it. On a typical night, there will be something on the order of 20 types of fish, so it's a more interesting selection than what you'll find most places in these parts. They do use fresh wasabi.
On the point of rice, it has been decent, but just for point of comparison, I prefer Takahashi-san's rice at Anzu, or the rice at Hama-ko. I've had some great experiences at Hama-ko, but the two places are quite different. Getting the really good stuff at Hama-ko can take some time investment, while at Sebo, everything is in front of you, and it's all easily accessible, even from a first time, which is why I thought it would be a nice spot for the OP to visit.
Sounds like a nice variety across the board. There are a small few South Bay and Peninsula sushi restaurants that also source a similar variety.
Any sushi restaurant in the Bay Area could open up an account with either or both of the two largest wholesalers (True World who apparently have expanded into the Bay Area with more resources and contacts/buyers to distribute fish from Tsukiji and the ever popular IMP) and if a business owner is willing to pay, he/she could get those afforementioned fish in wider variety, quality and quantity on a semi to regular basis (also depending on the season), unless they have other independent sources, but the problem is with such a variety and/or quality of stock easily translates to higher prices for the consumer. This is why some of the best or best known places around that have the top stuff and variety are never cheap (unless you have a hookup but those are exceptions).
My understanding is that those who can buy in volume and have a great line of credit (ie long term business) will have the best access to the good stuff, which oddly enough isn't that different from a retail standpoint of a frequent customer who develops a good relationship with the sushi chef (and thus getting the choice and/or rare cuts) for omakase.
Other than the quality of the fish, the rest is up to the chef's skills, all other beings being more or less equal.
Just out of curiosity, for those who count # of fish available, do you include the standardized stuff like tuna, hamachi, cooked shrimp, cooked octopus, salmon, hirame, unagi, and saba?
re: K K
I don't like counting cooked items (unless it's grilled fresh eel or torched toro) and I don't like counting halibut, ika, salmon, ebi (even if it's live...unless it's live japanese prawn), and your run of the mill tuna.
You should read about sushi on www.sushiyasuda.com (under "restaurant"). He talks about "aging" fish to get rid of rigor mortis and allowing the flesh to relax. The chef's skills and knowledge, like you said, plays a HUGE role.
Ah, and one point I forgot to add. You might also want to add to your list Koo, which is in the Inner Sunset (408 Irving Street), right on the N-Judah line. This is one of my very favorite Japanese restaurants in the city. It's a restaurant which appeals to modern sensibilities, in terms of creative touches, but it is an excellent place to get traditional nigirizushi, which is my personal preference. They've got a great menu, deeper and more varied than what you'd find at Sebo. They've also got a mean Mt. Fuji chocolate cake, which is great.