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Bushi-tei, a report

My partner in crime and I recently went for a meal at Bushi-tei , post-Michelin star. I know there have been several posts dismissing this Japanese-French fusion restaurant as inconsistent, but I have to say, I was very pleased, especially for the price compared to other Michelin winners. We talked about the food for days on end, as well as the bathrooms. (Go and see what I mean. )

We were seated near the kitchen in the back corner, where apparently Bauer sat when he reviewed them. We ordered the five course omakase (chef’s tasting menu), which changes monthly. In describing the meal, our waiter was charmingly earnest and at times referred to his notepad tucked in a breast pocket.

First course: pike sashimi on a bed of chopped salad (heirloom cherry tomatoes, hardboiled egg and cornichons), laced with shiso-infused oil. This dish – one part nicoise salad, one part sushi -- really exemplified the best of their kitchen’s concept. A little Japanese, a little French. Deliciously delicate fish, firm but pliant, salty but not excessively so. Wonderfully set off by the vinegar and subtle crunch of the cornichons. The shiso – a type of Japanese green ferny thing – lent an excellent herbaceous quality to the oil.

Second course: Breaded oysters with frisee and nori salad, plus herbed Chantilly crème on the side. The breaded oysters were perfect, like three ovoidal gems: crisp on the outside and moist and flavorful on the inside. They surrounded the less fortunate part of the dish, the salad (in my opinion, the worst example of Japanese-French fusion). The seaweed was a tad rubbery, the leaves barren. No dressing (which is usually ok with me) but also no flavor. Chantilly was like whipped butter, but way, way better. Overall, not horrible, but not amazing.

The third dish was the seabass with ratatouille atop beurre blanc. They were running low on seabass and asked if we might not want some John Dory instead. We got some of each. Those with the Dory really won out, IMO. The fish was firm, flaky and delicate. The sea bass were not choice pieces – they really put the ass in bass, if you know what I mean. But they were still tasty, just not as meaty. Regardless, the real star of this plate was the ratatouille. I rarely get so overwhelmed by a vegetable side, but this was something else. So flavorful. Of course the beurre blanc didn’t hurt.

They then brought out what was described as an “intermezzo.” It is a surprise. And in this case, turned out to be most delightful: a scoop of heirloom tomato granita wrapped in a sheath of rice paper. Great palate cleanser, but above all, a wonderfully inventive mid-meal conversation starter. Warning: eat fast or it will melt!

Our next course was a lamb tenderloin with baby potatoes and haricot verts. The most straightforward dish, this won points not for imagination but for execution. Ridiculously tender meat, vegetables perfectly cooked to crisp tender.

The last course was a white peach tartlet. The fruit slices were nano-thin, the crumb on the crust so fine. The opposite of rustic, and in the best way. I found the crème fraiche topping a tad on the heavy side, with a mascarpone-like texture, but jeez it was good.
We finished with espresso (Mr. Espresso brand, my personal restaurant favorite even above Blue Bottle and almost even with Stumptown). It came with petit fours: a lemon cake, truffle rolled in nuts, plus flat tuile cookie. Delish.

My only quibble, which has been noted by other Hounds, is the wine list. There are many pedestrian wines included that one can pick up at Safeway for like $12. In the case of more fine wines, they may or may not list the vintage so you don’t know whether the splurge is worth it. For instance, they have Kenwood and then they have Opus One ($234, I think). Such a peculiar selection to me, especially for SF.

We settled on two choices: with the first half of the meal, we went with a Gary Farrell sauvignon blanc. We like Farrell, we like sav blanc, and it spared us the horror of paying nearly $40 for Kim Crawford. With the lamb, we ordered a glass of Enkidu petite syrah. Again, not sure what year (either because I forgot or because they didn’t list it) but I think it was the Odyssey, their least expensive bottling. This is a relatively new winery based in Sonoma and the wine was quite tasty, actually, and pleased the Europeans amongst us very much.

All in all, though, we had a most remarkable meal. More than that, we had a great time. I am already plotting our next foray.

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  1. Great report - the last time I ate there the omakase didn't exist so you have given me reason to want to go back (which I will probably do before the week is out).

    Thanks!

      1. re: kewlio

        I believe It was below $100. I believe that changes along with the monthly menu, though.

      2. If they still have the sparkling nigori sake on the menu, I strongly recommend opting for that. It's lovely, like a creamy, sparkly and not too sweet Asian pear.

        1. Great report. Funny my only problem with Bushi-Tei is that the Omakase is generally about $95 -- so actually more expensive than a 5 course meal at Fleur de Lys or La Folie and even more expensive than the 6 course tasting menu at The Dining Room at the Ritz (by $1).

          That said, while I agree th wine list is lacking, as I posted a few months ago, the wine service when you BYO is STELLAR. iirc, they only charge $15/bottle and there is no bottle limit. But what truly impressed me was how well they took care of our wines. Without being asked they knew exactly what temperature to serve them at -- even when I asked for a Champagne to be served, I was told to drink a different Champagne first because the somellier did not think the Champagne I had requested was cold enough yet. They gave us new (Riedel Vinum, iirc) glasses for every single wine and they always knew which glass to use, desprite the fact that we had brought lots of uncommon wines. As many decanters as our hearts required. I know this all sounds like what *should* happen. But even in a city where BYO is common and where people are generally taken care of when they BYO, this was a cut above just about everywhere else I've been in SF for BYO wine service. So, in other words... This is one restaurant where even people who normally do not BYO should seiously consider it.

          1. Based on this review, I decided to head back to [b]Bushi-Tei[/i] as my last visit was pre-Michelin ratings and also before the existence of an Omakase offering.

            In all honesty, I'm not sure why this received a Michelin star...

            There were two omakase offerings on the menu; one with meat and one vegetarian. I was intrigued with the vegetarian until I was told it was two courses with a dessert. That's it? I'll take the meat omakase which was five courses.

            An amuse was brought out - a sandwich of tuna rillette between two crunchy crackers which were actually toasted slices of their house bread. Putting *some* rillette on a single slice would have been sufficient but an amuse (which in my mind should be taken in one bite) of two dry hunks of bread with not-enough fish just made for too big of a mouthful.

            Sadly, there is no wine pairing with the omakase and so I was on my own in determining wine pairings for dishes that I had no pre-knowledge of. Big mistake. The waiter did tell me the first few courses were fish so I was fairly certain a white would work and ordered a Riesling (sorry, lost my notes on which one specifically).

            The first course was a layered monstrosity of a giant wasabi leaf, champagne-poached oyster, blue fin tuna tartare, some coconut-based hollandaise, fresh uni, and American sturgeon caviar. I say it was a monstrosity as there was far too much going on and either the oyster or the tartare (or both?) could have been entirely left out. The flavor of the uni, caviar, and coconut was predominate so something as delicate as a champagne-poached oyster (which couldn't be seen so maybe it WASN'T there!) was irrelevant. As was the tartare.

            The next course was a composed salad of fresh heirloom tomatoes, topped with dressed frisée, and surrounded by slices of sashimi of Arctic Char. Recalling my disastrous visit to Valentino in Los Angeles, I wonder why chefs insist on pairing tomatoes with raw fish -- the textures and flavors are so disparate and I'm curious if there exists any good examples of this sort of pairing as my two sojourns into that particular pairing have been exceptionally bad.

            The Riesling finished and not remembering what was coming next, I ordered a glass of Pinot Noir (standby knowledge - it usually goes with everything).

            The next course was a hot fish dish of grilled Red snapper with crispy skin on ratatouille and hollandaise. This was a real hollandaise but there wasn't quite enough of it to pair well with the grilled vegetables and dry fish.

            The last savory course was American Wagyu, perfectly rare, served atop sliced Yukon Gold potatoes and baby shiitake mushrooms. There was a very good sauce with it but I'm afraid I don't exactly recall its components. Regrettably, the sauce did not make up for whatever was done to the mushrooms which were stridently sharp and peppery. I didn't bother finishing this course.

            Dessert was an Orange "parfait" which was actually a scoop of creamy orange sorbet in some orange soup and topped with a small tuille cookie. This was paired with a sparkling sake which was a relatively nice pairing.

            Overall, the service was very good but I question many things about the menu. For starters, in reading through the standard offerings, there doesn't seem to be any evolution in the menu. Similar to my Gary Danko complaints, nothing is different than what I read when I first visited, 18 months ago. The addition of the omakase is week in its lack of wine pairings and I found the dishes overall to be ill-conceived although well-prepared.

            I don't need to go back. Ever.

            Edited to add: BTW, I was given a PINOT glass for my Riesling... Bad.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Carrie 218

              Reading your report and my report, I feel like you got robbed. And Riesling in the pinot glass. WTF. Sounds like the fatal inconsistency of this place rears its ugly head again.

              And about BYOB: I have to say, the girls next to me the night I ate there brought a bottle of champagne. When it was opened, half of it shot into the air ... and then cascaded down into the back waistband of my pants (I was leaning forward at the time).

              Maybe this is why they lost the Michelin star this year!

              1. re: iwantmytwodollars

                Well, considering the amazing restaurants that are opening up and have been open and are succeeding in walking distance, Bushi-Tei is going to have to do some MAJOR fixes if they want to keep the business. It is a shame too -- it had so much potential.