I have a Japanese business associate coming to town next week. He only eats Japanese food (even in Paris where we usually work together). Can I get some suggestions for the best non Kaiseki places in SF?
OK you have a few options:
SF doesn't really have any solid kaiseki places anymore that i know of but the closest to that you can get is Kappa restaurant in SF Japantown for koryori (small plates), very elegant, very upscale and intimate/excellent vibe.
On my to try list someday is
24 Geary Boulevard
San Francisco, CA 94121
The reviews elsewhere say this place has good Kyoto style "kappo" cooking and great non sushi authentic Japanese. If your friend likes dishes like kanpachi yuzumiso, or Hokkaido style ishikari nabe (salmon miso soup in ceramic hotpot, where the remainder liquid from the broth can be mixed in with udon or ramen for a real good experience). The chef used to work at Kiku of Tokyo (they closed) and is probably trained in kaiseki (but the stuff he serves is not kaiseki).
Koo in San Francisco is a great experience provided that you reserve a few days in advance, sit in front of Kiyoshi-san and do the $80 omakase of mostly cooked food (with nigiri at the end). Fantastic fusion while keeping solid Japanese cooking elements. While it is not traditional Japanese, there are a few must try things like x2 spoonful of happiness (two soup spoons with one containing monkfish liver wrapped in white fish, the other sea urchin with quail egg, one of the spoons is splashed with a little truffle oil, and you basically down it with a shot of sake), or if available the smoked monkfish liver that is a terrific play similar to hard smoked cheese.
For nigiri sushi, Sebo, Ino, Murasaki are your best betsi. For something even fancier, perhaps drive to Sausalito to Sushi Ran (the key is to sit at the sushi bar) where they have some real high end fish, and the chefs plate the nigiri very elegantly.
For yakitori, Halu on Clement.
FYI those are all open for dinner only.
For ramen you will have to venture out of SF. Halu has ramen but it's not their specialty. There's Katana-Ya (SF's "best" ramen house) but it's for a quick fix.
re: Robert Lauriston
O Izakaya is not very authentic. It's locavore Japanese interpreted by an American with some Japanese family connections and an enthusiasm for the food.
I enjoy it and go a few times a year, but I'm not sure I would take a Japanese coworker there. I'd take them to Hama-Ko for sushi with the delightfully curmudgeonly mom and pop who own and run it, with their "no soup for you" attitude if people disrespect them or show ignorance of what their restaurant serves.
Maki in J-town is very good to excellent. Comfortable and casual, the staff nice but engaging. Good sake selection.
1825 Post St, San Francisco, CA 94115
One more tip, you may want to give your friend (if he likes wagashi) a gift of various mochi's/manju's from San Francisco Japantown Benkyodo Co. Fresh handmade Japanese sweets done the old school way for the past 100+ years since they started the business. This handcraft is so rare that even some Japanese expats and tourists buy boxes to bring home with them. It's still strawberry season, so the fresh strawberry mochi is a must (although they contain no preservatives, so they must be eaten quickly).