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Dec 13, 2007 02:21 PM

Jin Sho -- new top-tier sushi in Palo Alto

Jin Sho
454 California Ave.
Palo Alto
(650) 321-3454

Finally, a new face in the top tier of Peninsula sushi. Two new faces actually. If you haven't heard of Ichiro Takahashi and Noriomi Kaneko, both late of Nobu's mother ship in New York City, chances are you will soon. Their new venture (opened in December of 2007) has tremendous promise.

Although the 90 percent of the customers ordering spicy tuna and dragon rolls would never notice, both itamae have the superlative knife and presentation skills to immediately place them in the top tier among their much older peers. Fish quality is tops as well. There are some front-of-the-bar service issues that Sushi Monster hopes will get smoothed out as the service team comes together. At my first lunch, the servers and kitchen help were all absolutely green, and it showed.

As is true Nobu-style, the sushi tsu will find correct Edomae kata (form) on the nigiri, with some very Western twists. The kanpachi, garnished with a razor-thin slice of Jalapeno (a trick I believe Kaneko-san borrowed from the Naomi crew in Menlo Park) was simply the finest, most buttery and delectible example of the species I've ever sampled. The hotate, garnished with a tiny dab of yuzu and coarse salt, was another home run. Sweet engawa (one piece served no tataki and the other raw) and hamachi sunazuri (the richer belly cut) were also standouts in a lineup that had no weak spots.

Tane selection is good – but not on the level of Sakae in Burlingame or Sam's in San Mateo. There are a half-dozen other top-tier Peninsula competitors offering a deeper list on a regular basis.

The only notable downside to Jin Sho: Value. Seems like it was just yesterday that Sam's and Yuzu blew through the $8.50-per-nigiri-pair mark. Lunch at Jin Sho ran me a cool $85.45 (including my customary 20 percent tip), and penciled out to a rather staggering $9.50 per nigiri plate). Perhaps these Easterners need to consult a map and figure out they're not in West L.A.

For the upcoming v. 4.0 of the Big List -- -- I'm slotting them at No. 8 -- just below Tomi in Mountain View and just above Higuma in Redwood City. There's certainly room for them to move up, if they get their service team trained properly and add more special tane.

Sushi Monster

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  1. Did they have a white board display? What was on there? How many bar seats?

    1 Reply
    1. re: K K

      No white board that I saw. Service from the two itamae was outstanding, though. Let's hope it holds when I'm *not* the only person at the bar. It's so tough to guess how service is going to shake out when any operation is in its first week or two. I will say that I really enjoyed talking to both these young lions. They've got the chops. It's a big four-Hoshizaki bar.

      Did I mention the prices are LA-style? Man that hurt. And I have a feeling it won't be the last time. I want to see a deeper selection and I want to see how they fare when the place is really screaming with a lunch rush. For now, all looks good.

    2. That razor thin slice of jalapeno goes way back to Nobu Matsuhisa when he first started the new wave sashimi bit.

      6 Replies
      1. re: Porthos


        This is your kind of place. Very LA, actually. Even though they're NYC guys.

        1. re: Sushi Monster

          I don't mind the prices as much as long as I'm getting top grade stuff with a huge exotic variety. Prices are evening out anyways between NYC, LA, and SF. I actually like Yasuda bar none and he's a NYC guy.

          Did I understand you correctly that you thought the kanpachi was better than the kanpachi at Zo? I thought the kanpachi I had there was stellar but I know that KK didn't have as much luck.

          Finally, either you or KK should do omakase at Jin Sho's bar and report back. Maybe there's a more extensive selection not available a la carte? Also, how's the rice? Well seasoned? Distinct grains? Fresh wasabi or paste?

          1. re: Porthos

            Yes, that was the best kanpachi I can ever recall today. Maybe luck of the draw. They use both IMP and True World, so who knows?

            Don't even think of comparing these kids to Zo's scene. Not yet at least. I really want to see the selection deepen and some signature items take hold. Not sure if omakase would have been any better than what I got today okonomi --- which was pretty darned good. Rice is a click on the sweet (southern-style) side, but not offensively so. That's my take. I got the paste wasabi, which never bothers me because I don't ever use it....

            The key here is these guys have promise. They have the *potential* to force the rest of the top tier -- particularly Tomi, Koma, Kitsho, Kuni, Sam, Yuzu -- to raise the bar. And (sigh) the prices.

            What we need is an economist among our ranks to do a study on what the tipping point will be where really high-end sushi gets overpriced for Peninsula tastes. I mean, let's get real here: At close to $10/plate, considering that the bulk of that is operating expense (ie: labor, insurance and the lease), not variance in fish supply, there HAS to be some variance between California Ave., Palo Alto and Manhattan, Beverly Hills, etc .... Simply put: NYC and LA sushi has a higher overhead and a clientele that's willing to meet it. Where is the point where Peninsula consumers draw the line? If logic holds here, the profit margins for a good upper-tier restaurant here should be MUCH better than in LA or NYC because the base costs of doing business are so much lower, while the per-plate prices are not.

            On the other hand, maybe dolts like me, who really give a damn, are subsidizing cheap bento-box lunch specials for the masses.

            I'm not an economist. But I'd like to meet one who can explain this to me.

            Sushi Monster

            Sushi Monster

            1. re: Sushi Monster

              I think you're seeing the maturation and growth of the sushi scene in SF. With so few top end competitors, high end sushi places are free to charge whatever they like. As competition moves in and quality goes up, prices will inevitably drop. I may be imagining this but I think even Yasuda's prices have stabilized (ie. dropped) over the past 5-7 years. It actually costs me less these days (in absolute dollars and not inflation adjusted dollars) to eat there compared to when I first started.

              The other possibility is that since the sushi restaurants in SF are so spread out, the sushi restaurants in SF don't get as high a volume and are forced to charge higher prices to cover overhead. But then again, LA is pretty spread out and as you said, the prices are equal, if not higher in SF for less quality. Rent is probably still higher in SF compared to LA though.

              Finally, it could be that the sushi purveyors in SF are just taking in more profit. Let's face it, we are living in a capitalist society here. It's whatever the market will bear.

              Looks like you're going to have to recalibrate Kitsho and add Kaygetsu into v-4.0 now that you're pulling $10/plate places on a regular basis.

              1. re: Porthos

                RE: Your postulation that prices will stabilize or drop in the Bay Area when more high-end competition moves in. I'll believe it when I see it. Right now, what I've noted over the last year is the opposite trend -- with Koma, Sam's, Yuzu now shooting for the sky.

                Ideally, what I want to look for is a Peninsula top-tier restaurant that's longstanding, where the older itamae either owns the building or has a great old lease on a rather plain-ish space that's a couple clicks off the main drag. Just as in LA where the best sushi is in non-descript strip-malls where the overhead is lower. Two examples: Akane and Sakae. Both are anything but fancy. But they're probably able to offer much higher value because they're not chained to some outrageous cost-per-square-foot each month.

                Sushi Monster

                1. re: Sushi Monster

                  Last time I talked to Hiro-san (owner of Sakae) he was exploring finding a new, bigger location for sakae or another sister restaurant in the burlingame area if his lease doesn't get renewed.

      2. My God - Higuma has fallen from 3 to 9?? I am anxious to see the new listing...

        3 Replies
        1. re: cbepicure

          Give me about six weeks to get v. 4.0 flying. Still have six more additions before we lock. There are going to be a ton of new features, including the best sushi glossary on the web, a phrase handbook, an etiquette sidebar, etc. The embedded Google maps are already up on the site now.

          1. Intriguing. I'll check it out when I'm in town next. Ooh, that's next week! thx for the heads up.

            1. A few random things.

              LA has a much higher Japanese population and thus demand and popularity for this sort of thing. You have to be unique and offer something even more compelling to survive down there.

              I'm surprised to see Kuni mentioned SM, considering it fell out of grace and favor (even way more so for me).

              JS per yelp reviews, offer 3 kinds of omakase dinner. $60, $75, $95 or so. Sounds to me they're also modeling after Nobu/Matsuhisa, and in my research for fine sushi in Seattle, reading about Nishino's restaurant resulted in a very similar model (then again Nishino came from LA's Matsuhisa, did not end up eating there though). Basically whoever goes to JS better clarify what they are getting. If you want nigiri only omakase, say so.

              I'm not sure I'm entirely sold on the place just yet, especially one of the guys coming from Naomi and I'm no fan of the restaurant, and a slightly sweet sushi rice receipe, but the knife skills sounds promising.

              Last input, the prices you mentioned, it sounds like you could have a better meal at Sebo in SF, but JS might not be worrysome in the size of the nigiri portion.