Sebo and Modern Tea
I was over in Hayes Valley the other night and stopped in at Sebo.
It was early and maybe five or six people were there. I was by myself and sat at the bar.
The space is quite beautiful, and everyone there especially the owners was really friendly and proud. I ordered five pairs of nigiri, a miso soup, and a sake.
The menu lists the provenance of each fish, perhaps inaugurating a new trend--Croatian Otoro, anyone?
Despite wanting to love the place, I found the fish a disappointment. Sawara (which I thought they described as king mackerel) was excellent, and I liked the shimoaji. Hamachi was mediocre--frozen, even. I don't remember what else I ordered. Miso was excellent, as it should be for $4. My Happy Fortune sake was fine, but the pours are small for the price.
I loved being served a bottle of water...a trend that continued down the street at Modern Tea. I was disappointed that they don't offer soda.
I'll give Sebo another try but wasn't blown away by anything I tried. Nigiri was $7-8 a pair. I spent twice what I do on a normal night at Yo's.
I walked over to Modern Tea and enjoyed an excellent pot of Yunnan and Texas sheet cake (sold by the square inch). The interior has been beautifully redone from past lives as Terra Brazilis and an Indian place--Hayes Valley is now awash in elegant woods.
Service was friendly. This does feel more like a restaurant than a cafe. Prices are comparable to Samovar for tea--$4-6 is typical for a pot. Desserts seemed a little expensive ($5-7). All I really wanted was a scone or a cookie. Recommended.
Sebo is on Hayes at Octavia. Modern Tea is on the corner of Hayes and Laguna, across from Suppenkuche.
I would recommend trying more of the small plates or non-nigiri items at Sebo next time.
I went again two weeks ago and enjoyed the 5 course omakase and a few nigiri. The 5 courses were different from the 7 courses I had in early March. The courses were:
seared scallop on cucumber and japanese mountain vegetables
seared shimoaji on thin fried potato slices with miso-based sauce
pureed edemame soup with shiso
grilled shishito? pepper, shishamo, and some interesting mushroom
dressed tuna inside a triangle of rice
Forgive me for the not-so-beautiful names/descriptions of the courses, it doesn't do the food much justice. The first two courses were very impressive. The edemame soup was interesting but not quite there. It needed a contrasting element because the shiso flavor was delicate and barely detectable a third of the way through the bowl. And the last two courses were simple and very good.
For nigiri, we had saba, mirugai, and uni - a few of my favorites. Delicious, especially with a healthy dose of wasabi. I did notice this time that the fish was served on the cold side - next time I'll consider waiting a few minutes before eating it.
I am glad to see I am not the only one to think this place is overhyped. I know it is a new waitstaff, but there is no reason to be rude and disorganized. Furthermore, the food is NOT worth the wait.
I found the fish not particularly fresh and mediocre at best. The most galling thing about dinner was ordering toro at $30 bucks a pop for warm and slimy toro. I would definitely not recommend this place.
Modern Tea, however, is one of my new favorites. I was very impressed by the quality of the ingredients and the variety on the menu. Definitely try the sponge cream cake, made in a mini mason jar. Very tasty and creamy.