best sushi in sf?
okay, my birthday is coming up and i really want to do a omakase at the best japanese restaurant in sf. i was thinking of going to sebo. is this a good choice? i'm more interested in quality of the sashimi more than crazy rolls or cooked japanese food and my reading on this board leads me to think that sebo is a good option.
Normally, I'd suggest Ebisu, but they're closed to rennovate for the month (actually, i think they've moved the Ebisu operation across the street to Hotei, but I'm not at all sure what that actually means).
I think the big thing is going to be, wherever you choose, that you make what you just said clear to the restaurant and chef; ie, that you want lots and interesting and creative sashimi and not a "regular" omakase. I'm thinking of one poster in the Seattle area who went for an omakase and was dissapointed because he was looking for more sushi/sashimi than he ended up with.
One sort of oddball suggestion might be to go to Ame and get their whole sashimi menu. They are not a traditional sushi bar and don't have a huge selection (in fact, they have a fixed selection) but the setting is wonderful, the service impeccable and the fish remarkable.
Sebo seems like a great choice if you have a high budget. You will get a lot of backround instead of just a plate of tasty fish.
Omakase seems to work best for first-timers at a sushi bar if you specify what you want and don't want. My local itame loves snapper, pencilfish, red and black grouper, flying fish and halibut. I don't like these things as much as he does, I like albacore toro, medium toro, hamachis (baby hamachi, kahala, buri), tiny crabs (sawa kani), sea trout, butterfish (sable or black cod or gindara), aji (best fish ever...), most other jacks except marinated (saba), live scallop, bluefin and big eye tuna.
So when he chooses for me without direction he gives me black grouper and golden eye snapper, which I don't care for. When I'm happiest is when I remind him, "I like hamachi and fatty albacore aji and one or two red tuna, but no halibut or snapper". If they choose everything for you without asking if you like, for example, uni or octopus, you might need to start asking for specific fish. If you are at the bar you have a much better chance of success of course. My chef hates for being asked for omakase because he wants to make you happy yet is not even slightly psychic. If all the fish is probably good like at Sebo or Zushi Puzzle it's more of a question of what you want. It would be really fun to just say $100 omakase and get the perfect flavor every time. It won't always work like you want it to but sometimes it will.
Happy birthday and good eating!
Excellent advice. I think I would love to be served by your local itamae!
Omakase only really works to its best when you've developed a relationship with your chef, or if you have a very opened ended spectrum of likes and low # of dislikes.
But then again with the popularity of the O word, it has different connotations these days and varies depending on restaurant policy. At Sushi Sam's in San Mateo for example, if you order omakase you specify the # of nigiri pieces you want. You will then get a pre-determined set of nigiri based on white board specials, garnished with various toppings, no soy sauce and wasabi needed. Sam and his assistant chefs know the order they will appear in. Has absolutely nothing to do with "I will be creative and decide what customer x will have one after another".
Some places request that you call and reserve their omakase (whatever it may be) in advance. Could be fixed price or name their price (sometimes those prices are known, like the $300 to $500 a head at top places like Urasawa in LA or Masa in NY, not including drinks, tax, tip)
There are other places that have omakase sushi set on their white board. Maybe 7 to 9 nigiri pieces based on what is freshest plus one cut roll (sometimes a scallion and toro 6 pc hosomaki/cut roll) plus a bowl of soup (could be miso, could be house soup like miso with additional ingredients like salmon bones, or a clear broth like tai suimono) at a fixed price, usually in the $30 or so range? So if you request omakase, you will get that. How they will present it to you is another, either mold one and serve right away, or mold all 9 or 12 pieces put on a plate then give it to you. This form of "omakase" or chef's special is very popular amongst the most well known sushi places near Tsukiji Fish Market, and is typically how people order. You get to sample and knowing well you are getting the best of the season. Some might be omakase samplers based on all clams, or all white fish, or mix (typically 7 to 9 nigiri, one cut roll, and one soup). Sushi Dai's highest end omakase set runs a tad under $40 and you have the option after what they serve you to pick one more pieces of nigiri from what they have, or you can let them choose something for you.
But I love old school omakase the best. Sit down and without even saying a word to your favorite sushi chef, he sets the wheels in motion (because you hand him the keys and let him take you on the journey), and automatically nigiri comes to you, not all at once, but well paced, ideally single nigiri pieces. Even better is if the chef surprises me with a free small appetizer (kobachi) or throws in another cooked appetizer in between, and/or some mix sashimi. My ideal omakase would be to have a little sashimi in the beginning, a good selection of nigiri, and one cut roll or handroll near the end, and maybe the option to self pick one or two more if my stomach can handle it. Cooked food always welcome somewhere in that mix.
I adored my omakase experience at Kiss (SF). One my my most memorable meals. I lovingly dubbed it the "Japanese French Laundry." But there were quite a few cooked dishes. If you told Naka-san you were more on the sashimi side, I guarantee he would oblige. A nicer man-and his wife-cannot be found.
Recently when I saw Iwa-san at Naomi in Menlo Park, I got confused and called him Naka-san. =)
Kiss is darn amazing, but it's so tiny it's hard to go there without some sort of planning in advance. As a bonus, Naka-san can speak better English than almost any other Japanese sushi chef. Kiss is a minus in terms of portion size.
Sushi Ran is a much larger restaurant than Sebo, and will thus cater to a variety of tastes. If you are a diehard adventurous sushi/sashimi fan, you must try Sebo.
Although Sebo has unusual and high-quality fish, I was much less impressed by their nigiri than by the rolls and the foods they prepared. The ankimo was the best I've had, and the tuna roll with salt and sesame was exceptional. Based on your description, it might not be the right place for a first time visit on a birthday.
Thanks to lucymom's original question beause all of the insightful answers are appreciated. Agreed with the extra 5 minutes to Sausalito. Outside of Sushi Ran (or further north in Rohnert Park at Hana, same owner, Ken, also at Go Fish in St. Helena), I've not had better in the Bay Area than Sushi Ran. But still, as KK said, I've found a rapport with the chef, or at least a few prior visits, allows a seamless experience where you're served what you enjoy rather than just what's on the menu or at the chef's whim.