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Oct 11, 2007 11:51 AM

Sozai - new Izakaya in the Sunset area

Any 'hounds been to this place yet?


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  1. It's mentioned in another thread, , so i thought I'd revive your post and see if 'hounds have more info to share.

    Sozai Restaurant
    1500 Irving Street, San Francisco, CA 94122

    10 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Thanks Melanie. I did eventually visit this place with a group of friends.

      Our waiter was a polite sort, but he was a bit of an air-head. He could not describe any of the sakes to save his life.

      Finally I picked one that I had tasted before, ages back.

      Apropos the food, as mentioned in the link above, we ordered a bunch of stuff - kobe beef skewers, quail, edamame hummus (under-seasoned), hamachi kama (so-so), sashimi (very fresh) platter and so on ...

      The owner was very pleasant and welcoming and made us feel at home. He even comped us some sake - from which prefecture, I forget now.

      All in all, we were not terribly impressed. My preferred izakaya-style haunt in the city is still ... Oyaji on Clement St. We're here at least once a month.

      1. re: osho

        Guess I won't run over there soon.

        Have you tried Izakaya Lounge in Japantown yet?

        Oyaji Restaurant
        3123 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94121

        O Izakaya Lounge
        1625 Post Street, San Francisco, CA 94115

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          I've tried O Izakaya Lounge with my husband back when it first opened. We were really disappointed at the food. Hopefully, the place was still adjusting but my husband doesn't even want to give the place a second shot since he said it was overpriced for mediocre food.

          We had the Agedashi Tofu, Pork Belly (Berkshire pork belly with housemade kimchi and maitake mushrooms), Sanma (broiled saury with arugula and garlic aioli), and a miso soup. The first thing that came to our table was my miso soup. The broth was fine but it was lukewarm and the shitake mushrooms they put in tasted they've been soaking in water, cut up, and placed on top of the soup right before it came out to our table. I would not order this again. The agedashi tofu was okay. I can't remember much about this dish other than I wouldn't order it here again since there's nothing special or remarkable about it. My husband did like the pork belly but I thought it was okay. If I'm remembering correctly (since it's been a while), they somehow crisped the meat, sliced it, and poured sauce over it. I remember thinking it was a bit bland. The dish that we both thought was the best was the broiled saury...the waitress stated that it was a fish that came directly from Japan. It was grilled whole and served with lemon wedges and aioli. The fish was really fresh so we didn't even use much of the aioli. We had four drinks altogether and our tab was almost $100. Not cheap by any means and we were pretty full but keep in mind we don't eat huge meals either. Big eaters will still be hungry with what we ordered.

          1. re: sylphi

            One of my friends went to O Izakaya and had a similar dispirited experience. Still no real Izakayas with great (innovative) food like the ones down South. Since I live and work in the city, it is nigh impossible to actually drive to Saizo or Tanto, have a wild time, and actually drive back safely .....

            1. re: osho

              Thanks, sylphi and osho. Yep, the drive back from the South Bay does cut down on shochu and sake consumption!

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Melanie, have you tried the Izakaya- themed dinner on Sunday nights at Sebo in Hayes Valley?

                I remember some 'hounds raving about this event.
                Fellow 'hounds: Any recent updates ?

                1. re: osho

                  Sorry to say that I've not been to Sebo yet, so someone else will need to provide an update. Today's email from them says they'll be closed tonight and tomorrow due to a minor emergency. If you're planning to go on Sunday, you might want to call ahead.

                  (clicking on the Places link below will take you to linked discussions of Sebo, including the izakaya thread, and other mentions on this board)

                  517 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    on a short izakaya crawl last night, we tried Sozai and then O Izakaya. Very different in terms of ambiance and offerings but both really underwhelmed.

                    The menu at Sozai does disclose that they purposefully lightly (under) season the food, as is tradition (no clue but ok) and therefore invite you to add salt and provide little bowls of salt on each table. this improved but unfortunately did not elevate any of the dishes to "yum taste this!" status. we tried the edamame hummus and then 3 orders of Kushiyaki - Kurobuta pork belly (I know pork belly is fatty but this was insanely so), the chicken yakitori and eggplant w/miso sauce skewer (sticking mostly to what the waiter/GM/co-owner called the "street food" side of the menu). prices are v. reasonable and service amicable, but unfortunately the food did not steer me to a return (or even a full meal).

                    next stop was O Izakaya and i admit, i wanted to try the beer (stout?) battered onion rings but not b/c Mr. Bauer proclaims them a top pick for this food stuff but i guess b/c the fried crackers that came with the edamame hummus at Sozai did not cure my massive craving for fried foodstuffs.

                    they were fine, good even but not great. we also ordered the grilled calamari which seemed neither japanese nor grilled. it was overwhelmed by the accompanying black beans. we pushed it aside and the manager was really nice, acknowledging that it was a new dish. we replaced this with the duck breast, served over an eggplant caponata. the duck lover found it acceptable but man, the ellusive great dish is beyond us tonight. o izayaka is not cheap - i think the duck dish (probably a 3 oz serving) was $17.

                    i'll probably wind up back at OI for drinks as the bartenders were great and it's a really nice ambiance (and close to my house) but I can't shout from the rooftops that you should race there for the food.

                    I'm dying to go to sebo for Izakaya on a Sunday - my sushi meal there was really outstanding.

                    I'll have to try Oyaji on Clement too.

                    1. re: laaronson

                      I had not been here for a very long time.

                      We ordered a host of stuff last night at Sozai.

                      Nothing much seems to have changed. The waitstaff is clueless, the owner remains arrogant.

                      When we wanted to order a 720 ml bottle of Hatsukuru sake, he said he doesn't usually carry the low end stuff. WTF ?!

                      Some of the items we ordered:

                      Pork Belly - over seasoned with soy - killed the taste.
                      Chicken hearts - surprisingly good.
                      Kobe Beef - distinctly overcooked - ruined it for me.
                      Salmon rice with tea (as dessert) - fresh and balanced

                      Then he pretended to be nice by pouring our beer, he asks me to tilt my glass and I was a bit reticent in responding. He asks me - did I go to college ? I was flabbergasted. Just an all round pleasant personality - the owner. Not.

                      I felt realy disappointed because I had dragged my work mates all the way here from the Financial District.

                      Food - stunningly mediocre. Service - pathetic. Sake availability - low.

                      I am never ever coming back.

                      1. re: osho

                        I agree, the food and service at Sozai continue to be shockingly poor. Particularly the service, I've had several similar experiences with the owner/host. Very unpleasant atmosphere in there. And with Koo and the very underrated Kazu within walking distance, there's no reason to even consider going back.

    2. I tried Sozai for the first time last week, and had a very different experience than most of those who have posted so far. Everything our group had was flavorful, well-seasoned (with the exception of it being lightly salted), and the dishes were served at the appropriate temperature. It was very much a similar experience to a true Japanese Izakaya (with the exception that the some of the dishes were a little more upscale than a casual Izakaya), even the friendly neighboring tables. I lived in Japan for two years and have been back many times since, so I have a good base of experience for comparison. There were a number of former Oyaji customers there (I have been there many times too), and they were favorably impressed with Izayaka and some indicated that Sozai will be their new favorite.

      1. Out-of-towner here (Austinite) chiming in with another data-point.

        Sitting at the Phoenix airport waiting for my perpetually delayed connexion, I pondered what I'd eat for my single meal. Despite getting the distinct impression that izakayas were best left for the South Bay, I just couldn't shake the thought. Fortunately, O Izakaya Lounge was closed on Monday, otherwise I might've ended up there out of convenience (staying in Union Sq sans car), but instead I made the trek out to Sozai.

        Gil, the owner, was taking care of me and was gracious, hospitable and great with the sake. I tried a couple of flights and a glass (left my notes in the hotel) and enjoyed most everything, and Gil was good about providing some succinct descriptions without being pretentious or condescending as is perhaps suggested above.

        I started with a couple of pieces of nigiri (Monday is apparently "sushi-kushi" night), which were fine, though the rice was not quite up to snuff, but still nothing to really cry about.

        Kurobuta pork belly dusted with shichimi was fantastic -- nice, big, 2-inch cubes, that danced with a flame long enough to get a good crust, yet maintain an almost molten center not unlike toasted marshmallows. Not sure of the entire prep, but I'm guessing these are fried and/or braised for a while before getting some fire. When I read some of the other comments above I wonder if I even ate at the same place as y'all.

        Sesame miso eggplant, also off the kushiyaki side, was very simply prepared, with varying sizes of eggplant that offered textures ranging from toothsome to fall-apart tender.

        Faced with indecision at my next round, I pondered the possibilities over a couple of miyagi oysters with 'yuzu ponzu granita'. Expertly shucked with a shellfull of liquor, my only complaint was the overpowering flavour imparted by the granita, but then again, my preference is for unadorned oysters.

        Hamachi kama is among my favourite comfort foods and, being in need of comfort at this time, it seemed like the best bet. Again, very simply prepared yet expertly executed, high-quality product to be enjoyed and appreciated. Lightly marinated, good char in all the right places, and slipping right off the bone. A simple spritz of lemon and I was in a good place.

        I sometimes wonder if the simplicity concept would ever really succeed on a large scale here in the US. We need our sauce and our salt and our strong spices to either keep our attention or mask the inferior quality of our starting ingredients. I remember being in Basque country earlier this year, eating a plate of impeccably fresh and simply grilled gambas with nothing but a few grains of salt thinking that this would probably register a complaint back home for lack of cocktail sauce. I acknowledge my broad-brush bent, but simplicity is kind of a risky business here in general.

        I found it hard not to like Sozai - good-quality well-executed simple stuff, free-flowing sake, and I'm sure the mix of old Santana, Bobby Womack, and 90's Grateful Dead had its charm on me too. Perhaps a bit spendy (my bill was about $80), but other than that, I guess I'm a little surprised folks don't like this place more.