During my recent weekend in San Francisco, my girlfriend and I had a very nice dinner at Koo. My goal was finding some Ashai Kuronama (Japanese black beer, see my posts: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/533464, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/528842), and Koo won out over Murasaki mostly because of others' comments on this thread.
We opted for the omakase at the counter and were very pleased with Kiyoshi-san’s selections and preparations, spanning most of the catch of the day:
- An appetizer of scallops, beets, and heirloom tomatoes w/ shiso leaf and miso sauce. Great combination of fresh flavors.
- Spoonfuls of happiness: One spoon with urchin (uni) and quail egg (uzura no tamago); a second spoon of monkfish liver (ankimo) and sea bream (madai). The course was served with a glass of Suigei sake, a drink of which should be taken after each whole spoonful is consumed preferably in one mouthful.
- Selection of sashimi: tuna, amberjack (kanpachi), deep sea red snapper (kinme-dai), and copper river river salmon
- Smoked monkfish liver (ankimo). I think this was a little specialty of Kiyoshi-san. I’ve not had this anywhere else, and it was delicious.
- Three more unique items served together on one plate: tuna, avocado, and nori on shrimp toast w/ scallions, shallots, and nori; a half jalapeno stuffed w/ hamachi; and eggplant with sesame and ginger
- Japanese vegetables – taro, mushroom, mountain yam. Classic Japanese preparation.
- Sushi and sashimi courses: sea perch (akamutsu), barracuda (kamasu), spanish mackerel (aji), flying fish (tobiuo), white salmon, giant clam (mirugai), and fresh scallop (hotategai)
All the fish was top quality. I really enjoyed the Japanese vegetables which brought me back to Japan; I’ve had these in only a few restaurants in the U.S. The fresh scallop sashimi was served pristinely and was a beautiful way to end (on the west coast for some reason, I usually can get it only with some sort of mayonnaise dressing).
The restaurant is very pleasingly appointed and there was nice jazz playing in the background. Although we made reservations (to ensure we had places at the counter), it didn’t seem crowded on this particular Sunday night, and I suspect most diners were regulars as it seemed a familiar group. In fact, the girl sitting next to us at the counter was a Koo waitress dining there on her night off.
I’d definitely return (and not just for the Kuronama, of which I had two bottles). For those on this board who have made comment about SF sushi not living up well to expectations of chowhounds from NYC and LA (and where I have sushi frequently), I think Koo deserves mention as an exception. It’s also a great value, the bill coming in at about a third less than I thought it would.
Thank you for your detailed omakase report at Koo. A shame that not too many people seem to have the same expectation or did not get the equivalent experience for that matter.
Koo's strength is really in their cooked dishes but I think they also do sushi pretty well (especially when presented in the mix) and overall a superb blend of everything in a meal that rivals a fancy haute cuisine Cali French type experience (although at the sushi counter). The spoonfuls of happiness and the smoked ankimo are must-haves especially on a first visit and it is good that Kiyoshi-san had the accumen to serve those (in addition to being one amazing chef who blends the knowledge of Japanese tradition with Western elements, and do fusion extremely well and smooth, unlike many other places).
Kiyoshi-san's wife is also an accomplished dessert chef and I hope you had the chance to try her work that night. If not maybe next time.
I'm happy to report that for mid-priced fresh sushi and sashimi, Sushi Koo still fits the bill very very well.
As usual, very friendly itamae as well, and not averse to providing rather long explanations in English. :-)
Had a number of fresh items straight from Japan, I'll try and post more details later on.
Photos of my first visit in January 2007
This was the $80 omakase. Call ahead 3 days in advance to request it.
-Appetizer of onions, celery, strips of smoked salmon with sesame seed and a yuzu based dressing. The onions were sweet, crunchy.
- spoonful of double happiness - Served with a small chilled sake. Slurp one spoon take a big sip, repeat with the other. Superb. One spoon was kurodai or seasonal white fish (whatever is available) wrapped in ankimo and ponzu sauce, the other was uni with uzura, tobiko, truffle oil.
- Perfect and insanely fresh iwashi (sardine) sashimi beautifully plated like a flower, on ice with an in house made ponzu sauce that had fish stock in it, with minced ginger and green onion on the side.
- California North Coast oysters, one with a little chili oil and ponzu sauce, and the other had wasbi tobiko on top. Very sweet and practically topping the kind I had at Hog Island Oyster Bar. Very fresh and delicious
- Smoked ankimo platter with roasted beets on the side. This was like smoked cheese. Very original, beautifully smoked (esp if you like a fresh house made/cured cold smoked fish or cheese). Way out of the box and sublime.
- duo appetizer of tuna+salmon tatare, and one that had grilled pepper tiger prawn on a bed of Russet potatoes. WOW.
- another sashimi plate. Kona kanpachi, Hokkaido hotate (scallops), North Carolina bluefin (hon-maguro), kinmedai (alfonsino)
- grilled scallops on a bed of western mushrooms. The sauce and plating was like at a very high end French restaurant.
- Toro tartare. Beautiful cylindrical salad mix of toro and other things. So visually stunning I felt sad eating it.
- sugar snap peas in a clear broth with fish shavings on top.
- soy sauce stewed Alfonsino collar (kinmedai no kama nitsuke) - way way way better than kinki nitsuke at Tanto Sunnyvale or San Jose.
- Nigiri course: aji with green onion, ginger, great sauce. Hirame with shiso, momoji oroshi, ponzu that was sublime, bincho (white tuna belly) that melted in your mouth, kohada, monterey ika with superb knifework that looked like ika somen but not separated, the most insanely delicious soy sauce and sake marinated ikura, best in the bay area better than Ino or Sushi Sam's, anago, and a final request by me of uni which was from Mendocino County. Very similar texture to Alaskan uni, creamy sweet and did not need soy sauce, just a dash of hon wasabi on top.
Mt Fuji chocolate cake. Rich flavors but without the filling effect. Plated and shaped beautifully, it was a true work of art and demonstrated that not just the husband can steal the show. Wife Ayumi-san is a terrific dessert chef in her own right. Her strawberry panna cotta is supreme, better than the best of Satura Cakes in Los Altos.
I'm pretty fond of Koo, and I'd recommend it. The sushi is not as good as that at Takara or Uzen, but it's quite good -- a little inconsistent with some real treats. The preparations are not very traditional, but are tasty. The chefs are very friendly and the wait staff is uniformly excellent.
Koo is in the middle of a lot of much worse options. There's Ebisu, where you'll wait forever for overpriced sushi; there's Grande-Ho's, which is twice as much as Ebisu, and half as good (or so it seems); and there's Hama-ko, where the sushi is excellent but the owners will treat you like dirt. Given the options, having a friendly, clean, well-lit, reasonably-priced, high-quality sushi joint nearby makes me very happy.
Precipice or other hounds, could you please describe what you mean by "the preparations are not very traditional"? I'm planning a birthday dinner for a friend who enjoys sushi and we'd like quality sushi of the standard types. We don't need anything exotic.
Also, one of our friends does not eat fish. Does Koo Sushi offer teriyaki chicken/beef? I'd call Koo Sushi, but they are closed today.
Thanks much in advance.