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great sushi in the Bay area?

Just moved from NY to Bay area. For the last 1 year, been looking for a decent sushi bar without much success. Actually, we did find one decent place. Yume in Alameda. Overall very good but kinda stuffy atmosphere and they don't take reservation. The server, the wife of the sushi chef, is close to being sushi Nazi. Such a painful experience having to wait if you don't get in on the first round.

Been to Hatsuhana, Shimizu, Yasuda, Kuruma, Sasabune, and Jewel Bako in NY and they have really spoiled my taste buds. Considering huge population of Japanese ancestry in the Bay area, it's shocking none of the restaurants come even close of any of the ones mentioned above.

Tried Kitsho, Tomisushi, sushi ran, and Yuzu multiple times to be sure. They are all just average. Certainly edible but not enough to go out of my way to eat there. The fish never tasted special.

Next on my list

Joy's sushi in San Mateo
Sushi Kiss

Any other recommendations?

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  1. Joy sushi is IMO more of a sushi roll place which I like and is fun but I think maybe not what you're looking for. Maybe Sushi Sam's in San Mateo?

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    Sushi Sam's
    218 E 3rd Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

    Joy Sushi
    30 S B St, San Mateo, CA 94401

    1. Sushi Sam's in San Mateo is great; also try Kaygetsu in Redwood City.

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      Kaygetsu Restaurant
      325 Sharon Park Dr Ste A2, Menlo Park, CA 94025

      Sushi Sam's
      218 E 3rd Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

      1. NY is impossible to top, your standards have spoiled you. Your next best thing after that is to drive to Southern California for generally superior Japanese to SF....

        But do try:

        Ino Sushi (San Francisco)

        Sebo (San Francisco)

        Jin Sho (Palo Alto) - chef owners are former Nobu NY alum, but they are also very strong with traditional nigiri (just sit at the bar and tell them what you like)

        Sakae in Burlingame, Older sister restaurant to Yuzu but has a much fuller lineup. Yuzu is better at cooked dishes than sushi, and has more of a drinking and pub + cooked eats feel.

        Reservations strongly recommended. Not sure if Sebo takes reservations these days, but get there a bit before opening for sure.

        Kiss Seafood is not a sushi bar...it is like a multi course fixed meal with a nigiri course (limited fish selection, but good). Kaygetsu is a kaiseki restaurant with a 6 to 7 seater sushi bar with a very small selection (and small sushi bar) that charges Sakae and Sushi Ran prices, and is only good if they get in seasonal fish (call ahead before you go). Sushi Sam's is a fun neighborhood and very popular place...maybe 25 to 30 kinds of special fish on a good day, but they tend to over garnish their nigiri in order to be creative/innovative, but still worth checking out.

        And there's Morimoto in Napa (and perhaps Hana in Rohnert Park) but I have no gauge on how the traditional sushi fares up there.

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        Sebo
        517 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

        Kaygetsu Restaurant
        325 Sharon Park Dr Ste A2, Menlo Park, CA 94025

        Jin Sho
        454 California Ave, Palo Alto, CA

        Sakae
        243 California Drive, Burlingame, CA 94010

        Sushi Sam's
        218 E 3rd Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

        Ino Sushi
        22 Peace Plz # 510, San Francisco, CA

        Yuzu
        3347 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94123

        Morimoto
        610 Main Street, Napa, CA

        12 Replies
        1. re: K K

          Good list. Worth mentioning: Sushi sam's strength is the whiteboard, where they have fish seen rarely elsewhere anywhere in the bay area. Although I love the place, I agree with KK that it doesn't fit the OP's profile.

          As to why the bay area doesn't have better sushi - it's about money. There's more money and greater flow of supply and demand in New York. Realistically, all the fish has to get on an airplane, so geography is not an issue, only money. The fish at Le Bernardin has no equal in the bay area, for example.

          1. re: bbulkow

            I agree with bbulkow. I had awesome raw fish at Le Bernardin. I believe one of their course is called "raw". Not so different from typical sashimi.

            I think my next will be:

            Sakae
            Sushi Sam's
            Sebo
            Ino

            Thank you all for your contribution. I appreciate that many are able to point out that I much prefer traditional nigiri over the nouveau sushi adorned with lots of unnecessary adornment. I will post more later on when I do hit my favorite go to sushi place here.

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            Sebo
            517 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

            Sakae
            243 California Drive, Burlingame, CA 94010

            Sushi Sam's
            218 E 3rd Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

            Ino Restaurant
            25 Miller Ave, Mill Valley, CA 94941

            1. re: lvolleyer

              Kaygetsu should be on your next short list, even though it's a far drive. You have to find out when they're doing sushi, but when they do they have a very short list and it is very traditional. I think they do every night, but lunch seems more iffy. It is primarily kaseki as KK says, but the one time I had sushi there was peak.

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              Kaygetsu Restaurant
              325 Sharon Park Dr Ste A2, Menlo Park, CA 94025

              1. re: bbulkow

                I'm not sure how long ago you had nigiri at Kaygetsu, but my first two times were 2006 and 2007 and 2006 was way better than 2007. Since then, Toshi-san was working lunch sushi and dinner every day in addition to preparing sashimi courses for kaiseki dinners (as well as making California rolls for the casual lunch crowd) that quality even of a la carte nigiri orders was inconsistent. Not sure what it is like now, but he either has an assistant or another chef on duty during that timeslot (best to call ahead). You definitely need a reservation at the bar (since they seat only 6).

                Kaygetsu in my estimation based on those two old visits, will be a gamble. The bar space (as well as fish storage) is so small that the selection will also be the same.

                If they have something seasonal and rare, sometimes it is saved only for dinner courses, but one must call ahead to find out (and hopefully get the answer), at most it will be one or two really interesting fish (like chicken grunt/isaki which is a white fleshed fish), unlike Sushi Ran or Sakae for example (or Sushi Sam's for that matter).

                Quality of even the nigiri making is going to vary. Prices are going to match Sakae level, and honestly I'd rather eat at Sakae where the pieces are bigger and at least you know what they have.

                The only thing I wonder, is that what prices and availability of seasonal Japanese fish is like these days in the top sushi bars with the earthquake/tsunami/radiation leakage into the waters around Fukushima disaster.

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                Kaygetsu Restaurant
                325 Sharon Park Dr Ste A2, Menlo Park, CA 94025

                Sakae
                243 California Drive, Burlingame, CA 94010

                Sushi Sam's
                218 E 3rd Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

                Sushi Ran
                107 Caledonia St., Sausalito, CA 94965

          2. re: K K

            I'd go to Sushi AKA Tombo over Ino any day, especially if you care about friendly service.

            Sebo has its days when the fish is hard to top. But helps if you're used to NYC prices and can get a seat at the bar. I rarely eat there as a result.

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            Sebo
            517 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

            1. re: Windy

              Well Ino is clearly not for everyone. It is one of those places where you and the chef develop some sort of unspoken relationship and take it for what it is with his behavior and character/temperament. Not like he will explode or anything, but he's not one of those super fun loving chatty friendly chefs trying to make buddies with you, and not doing this as an act like some of those "sushi nazi" types as characterized by a WSJ article some time back.

              But I will have to agree just based on talking to friends, that Aka Tombo is definitely a better value option in relation.

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              Ino Restaurant
              25 Miller Ave, Mill Valley, CA 94941

              1. re: K K

                I've spent years building relationships with chefs, especially sushi chefs.

                My experiences at Ino weren't good enough for me to be interesting in making that kind of investment. I'm not looking for friends, nor do I order a lot of wacky rolls. But I do expect welcoming service.

                1. re: Windy

                  I always get better food at Ino when I go with my Japanese friend than when I don't. But I do think he's the best in the area.

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                  Ino Restaurant
                  25 Miller Ave, Mill Valley, CA 94941

            2. re: K K

              I also am a Sushi Sam's fan. I agree that occasionally some of the Nigiri are over garnished; however, it is easy to remove the excess. Also the Omakase always seems better when we manage to get a seat at the bar (which is hard to do because they are so busy). They definitely have some amazing fish.

              Like another poster said, Joy is definitely not what the OP looking for.. They really only do rolls, and the only time I tried it a few years back, the fish was just mediocre didn't seem real fresh.

              1. re: lrealml

                Not sure what you mean by removing the excess, but you can't unfortunately remove the fire and burn marks off a blowtorch sear on a fish, and once sauce is splashed on a fish, it's not like dabbing it off with a napkin can do much. I suppose one can request with the chefs to make it plain, but in some cases, depending on the quality of the fish, if they just mold the nigiri as is with no sauce no searing no condiments, it does not taste as good, which makes you wonder about the consistency of the batch that day.... Like for example if they do seared black cod nigiri, it HAS to be seared/blowtorched. If alfosino (kinmedai) is not in pristine shape, then of course they have to maybe slightly seared it, douse some sauce.

                1. re: K K

                  i don't like sushi sam's for that reason -- dressed up too much.
                  i like ino in sf. esp. ankimo
                  kiss is also a very nice meal
                  but if you're looking for yasuda level, save your money and fly down to LA for mori and zo, etc. otherwise might have to lower expectations a little.

                  1. re: K K

                    I mean in the cases where there is too much daikon or too much aioli... obviously you can't remove searing... I've only had the trouble with a piece being seared past my liking twice I believe.
                    I agree that once the sauce is on the fish, there is no removing it completely, but I often like a little sauce and normally find the sauce/fish combinations at Sushi Sam's quite good (once I scrape some of the excess off).
                    If I am in the mood for plain fish, I don't go to Sushi Sam's, I go to Higuma in Redwood City for there omakase charashi or sashimi (which is great quality for the price IMO)

                    I need try Sakae soon (although I can't afford for them to be my regular place since they are definitely a price point higher than Sushi Sam's and over twice as expensive as Higuma)

              2. geta in the piedmont district of oaktown has cheap sushi and rolls. unfortunately, only seating for 6? at the sushi bar and 4ish tables.

                it's not new york city but pretty damn good! japanese owned.

                1. The esteemed poster "Sushi Monster" has done some extensive research on this subject. Definitely worth a read or three:

                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/45649