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Izakaya Yuzuki -- my favorite new Japanese restauarant in SF

I stumbled on Izakaya Yuzuki, at the corner of 18th and Guerrero, a week ago Sunday.
It was closed, but the posted menu was enticing, and the people inside (conferring over papers) smiled up as we looked through the window. Tuesday I decided to give it a try. It was so good that I took friends back again on Saturday.

This is a special place. The food is genuine Japanese cooking. The menu includes but does not stress raw fish. The appetizers and the grilled, fried, steamed and braised dishes give the overall meal a more hearth-like than shore-like feel.

The ingredients are fresh and pure, and the chef's touch is light. The presentation is artful, and tends more towards the serene than the fancy. The result is a cuisine that tastes refined but feels comfortable.

The menu has many small plates. The kitchen and the staff know how to do this format the way I like it. We ordered a bunch of plates all at once at the beginning and asked to get them slowly -- only one or two at a time. The meal was perfectly paced and they picked an order to bring the dishes that made a really good progression.

Service was great. Our waiter JR was a joy. A very nice man who advised us well in making menu selections. And another small thing I like: whenever he mentioned a special or anything off the menu, he told us the price so we did not have to ask. We met a couple of others from the staff (and the second time, Chef Takashi came to say hello as well) and all were very nice people.

I like the atmosphere too. Low-key, good table spacing. The music was a lot of Gilberto, Billie Holiday, thinks like that. The stuff I play at home for dinner parties. :-)

Onto the food!

I went there twice, with different friends, and so I tried a lot of dishes. We did not try the sashimi plate either time. There was too much else calling my name....

--- Obanzai: Kyoto style cooked local vegetables 3 ways ---

This was three little bowls. The first we tasted was the hijiki salad, and this was very telling. Clearly home made. Perfect temperature, texture; broth made with dashi (I think) and a very wonderful umami flavor. It gave us high hopes of things to come. Second little bowl had a sesame tofu with a little dot of wasabi. Creamy and delicious, the dab of wasabi perfect. Bowl #3 had cooked potato (yam) with a black sesame sauce. Ordered this both times, a lovely starter.

-- Zaru Tofu: House made fresh Tofu with Sansho-koji Soy --
I just love fresh-made tofu. When I've had it before (Eiji in SF, En in MYC) it's been very soft with a kind of dashi sauce. This was a little firmer, kind of a 6-inch pancake. It was persented beautifully in a lovely little basket within a low ceramic bowl. Each person gets a cozy bowl and wooden spoon. Once served, you top with micro-thin sliced scalliion, grated ginger, and a really wonderful soy sauce. The sauce the 'sansho-koji soy'; It's made with koji they make themselves. (I believe Koji is kind of like the equivalent of sourdough starter for bread, or mold for a French cheese. It's a living thing they keep going that's used to flavor stuff deeply. They use the Koji in several dishes and I believe that the koji and dashi are behind a lot of the wonderful flavors here).

-- Pirikara Cucumber: Cucumber with sesame oil and shichimi --
Refreshing and tasty, I'd order it again, though this is not a standout here were so much is so good. If you must choose, go with the tsukemono first time.

-- Suji Nikomi: Beef Tendon cooked overnight in miso --
This is a very strange dish, at least to me. It is fantastic. Odd chewy-gelatenous texture, rich flavor. It was maybe my boyfriend's favorite thing the first visit. But the second time we did not even order it, as one diner wouldn't go near the idea.

-- Satsuma Age: House made fish cake with seaweed and local vegetables --
A delicous fried dish. Little clumps of fish & stuff, fried with a wonderful touch. I will order again, but on your first visit, if you like shrimp, go for the Kakiage instead.

-- Tsukemono: House made "nuka" (rice bran) fermented vegetable pickles --
As good as any tsukemono in SF. I always order tsukemono when I try a new Japanese restaurant. I find that if they are excellent, the restaurant is usually excellent also. These are house made. Very light in touch -- not pickled for very long, I don't think. Our dish came with 3 kinds: little carrots, little radishes, and cucumbers. I could eat these every day. Sublime.

-- (Yakitori) Tsukune: Grilled chicken meat ball --
Another dish I love. Delicious, but not as good as....

-- (Yakitori) Teba: Chicken Wing --
Now this was amazing. They marinate these overnight and have two wings on a skewer. I am not a fan of chicken wings, but they were so good we ordered them both times.

-- Yaki Surume Ika: "Salt Koji" marinated and grilled Hokkaido Surume squid --
I want this again right now please. The body of the squid is perfectly grilled and cut in rings. Beautifully tender. The tentacles are perfectly fried and served with the body. Oh how I love squid!

-- Grilled Mackerel --
This was a special, not on the menu. Wonderful. Flavor, perfectly cooked.

-- Kakiaga: Deep fried White Shrimp and burdock with Green tea salt --

This was my favorite fried item on the menu. Totally amazing. I've had this dish in Tokyo a couple of times, and I liked this better. Pieces of shrimp and vegetable kind of bound loosely together by threads of something starchy (don't know what) in a flat fried cake. Also, the vegetables were slightly different on the two nights. I like when a place adds small variations. Don't know whether this is because they are settling in on a menu, or if they will continue to play and change; I hope it is the latter.

-- Agedashi Tofu: Deep fried tofu dipped in sauce with salmon roe --

This was also made with their house-made tofu. Same pancake shape as the Zaru Tofu, with grated mountain yam and salmon roe on top. Delicious and unique, not the way agedashi is usually served. However, the Zaru Tofu shows off the tofu better. It's funny, we split this dish as we did all the others. I think I would like this more if I had the whole thing to myself, because in serving it the toppings moved around and I didnt' get to have every bite the way I wanted. :-)

-- Chawan-Mushi with Uni: Egg custard with sea urchin --
Unbelievable. My favorite chawan-mushi in SF. Not served in a tall skinny bowl. Lower and wider. Had this both times. Each time with different goodies buried underneath. Both times, on top, a beautiful piece of uni that was warmed but not cooked, some dashi, and a little hint of grated yuzu. The dish comes with a wooden lid, and when they lift the lid, the delicate smell with its hint of yuzu is glorious.

-- Koshihikari rice cooked in Japanese earthen pot --
We ordered this the second time. We asked for it last, to be served with pickles and miso soup. The miso soup was not on the menu, but they made it for us any way. This was how we ended the meal. It was sublime and perfect and in a way epitomizes the meal. The miso soup appeared to have a little tuft of mushrooms levitating above it; turns out it was sitting on a little sculpted bit of potato. The pickles, as I've said, are amazing. The rice. Perfect rice, totally clean with no added flavors, nothing fancy about it. Perfect way to end the meal.

We did not order dessert either time. They have some, but at a place like this, it's not my thing.

I hope the above tempts you into going. They are not filling up yet, but they get everything right and I am pretty confident they will succeed. But we need to get the word out.

Izakaya Yuzuki is new, but on a par with Wakuriya and Kiss (my two other non-sushi Bay Area favorites). And to me Yuzuki is better than some other favorites: Kappou Gomi, Izakaya Sozai, Nihon Whiskey Lounge, and Chotto,. It is definitely the place I'm most excited about returning to.

Also: They are planning a special New Years Eve menu. 6 courses for $65, I believe. I am trying to convince my friends to change our plans and go. :-)

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    Izakaya Yuzuki
    598 Guerrero St, San Francisco, CA 94110

    Izakaya Yuzuki
    598 Guerrero St, SF, CA 94110

      1. Great review, I'm a fan of Yuzuki as well.

        5 Replies
          1. re: Melanie Wong

            I liked the sunomono with crab, light touch and a good starter. I enjoyed their version of agedashi tofu, but it's quite different than anything I've had. It's served as one big piece and not battered.

            The marinated wings were our favorite of the yakitori, no binchotan here though. The miso tendon had big flavor and perfect texture.

            1. re: DezzerSF

              Went back last night and the tsukune was better than the first time around. They served it with salt/shichimi on the side, and it added the extra kick it needed. The chicken meatballs were really juicy, we even ordered seconds.

              The koji marinated kara-age was nice as well, moist and nicely fried.

              1. re: DezzerSF

                I'm headed back again tomorrow night.

                I think it may be time to try the kara-age...

                1. re: pauliface

                  I didn't notice the kakiage on the menu last night, I need to try that.

                  Also, forgot to mention that the buta kakuni (pork belly) was meltingly tender with a delicious kombu broth along with a perfectly braised slice of daikon.

        1. thanks for the great write-up; I am always on the look-out for places just like this

          1. I've tried coming here three times (when they were listed as being open) and every time it was closed. Are they on a restricted schedule right now? How many dishes would be good for a party of three in your opinion?

            3 Replies
            1. re: tjinsf

              That's strange about being closed. What I did was go to the website and reserve online before going. That way you can be pretty sure they are open. Or call first I guess...

              The dishes are different sizes, but most can be shared among three. (The chicken wings you'd need 2 orders, and the pickles 1 1/2 or 2 as well). I think we ordered about 11-12 things for 3 of us, but we really wanted to try a lot. We specifically asked them bring it slowly, drank tons of sake, and were there for probably over 2 hours. Depending on how big your appetites are, you could probably get away with less....

              1. re: pauliface

                made a res for tonight, before the reservation wasn't working on their website. must be getting the kinks worked out.

                1. re: tjinsf

                  Enjoy! Everything is great, but I'd say my absolute favorites are the Obanzai, Zaru Tofu, Tsukemono, Teba, Yaki Surume Ika, Kakiage, and Chawan Mushi.

            2. I don't think I'm as big a fan as you. I think I also tend to compare these new upscale American Izakayas with real ones in Japan so of course the prices and the style is always a bit of a shock. So I'll try to judge it compared to the other american "Izakaya".

              The two favorite dishes we got were the Kaikaige and the Yaki Surume Ika. The Kaikaige was a good size compared to some of the other dishes and crisp without being greasy. The Yaki Surume Ika was as you said cooked perfectly and the dipping sauce was good too. The Zaru Tofu was pretty good homemade tofu but not exceptional. I found the texture of the Chawan-Mushi to be off from what I am used to.
              We also had the Sunomono with dungeness crab. I found the sweetness of the crab overwhelmed by the pickling liquid.
              They didn't have the local sardines in miso that they have listed on the website menu.

              The only dish that was really horrible to my taste was the dessert. I like that Japanese dessert aren't usually sweet but the "pannacotta" which was basically bland cold tofu with sickeningly sweet brown sugar was inedible for us and we left it.

              The sake selection is quite good, no surprising and there are pricey non-alcoholic drinks like very sweet ginger ale that is uncarbonated and a selection of teas.

              We asked that the food not come out all at once but even still it was served very rapidly with one course hot on the heel of another, another different from izakayas I've been to where you spend a while eating, drinking and hanging out.

              The space was pretty cold when we were there, the music was a bit loud and there is no sound baffling so it can get pretty noisy even half full.

              The food is better than at Chotto and Nojo. The prices are just too high in my view but in keeping with the current SF prices it would appear. Without alcohol or tip our bill for two was 75 dollars.

              I think with the current influx of more upscale places in the Mission and the foot traffic around 18th, it may break the curse of that location.

              Izakaya Yuzuki
              598 Guerrero St, San Francisco, CA 94110

              2 Replies
              1. re: tjinsf

                Is it typical of Japanese service for all the dishes to come at once (or as soon as they are ready)?

                Years ago, when I first started visiting izakaya and sushi bars with Japanese friends, they usually ordered a few dishes at a time. We incrementally ordered more as needed.

                If I get a chef's selection or set meal, I notice that the pacing is usually good. However, If I order many dishes at once at an izakaya, they are often brought out one after the other; way to fast.

                The only way to control this seems to be the above mentioned manner of ordering only a few at a time (like at a tapas bar) and ordering more when ready. Is it just a cross cultural misunderstanding to order everything you want upfront?

                Oh, and regarding dessert; have you tried Sumika in Los Altos? It's one of the few Japanese establishments where I make a habit of ordering dessert.

                1. re: jman1

                  Yes that is true at japanese izakayas you do order as you go along so yes it would be better to do that if you want so space between courses although in other Japanese restaurants you don't do that. So yes there could be a cultural element. it may also be that most izakaya is really "fast food" and is best right after it's been grilled, steamed or fried so i think that's a big reason it all comes out quick. There was only 2 tables full when we got there although it was 1/2 full when we left so it could also be that the kitchen wasn't busy so it was just putting out the food as soon as it got the order.

              2. To the original poster, or anyone else... How does this place compare to Ippuku in Berkeley?

                5 Replies
                1. re: peterme

                  I have not been to ippuku yet, but would like to try it. If I do I'll post a follow-up...

                  1. re: peterme

                    Ippuku definitely has better yakitori, since it's their specialty. It's hard to compare the rest though, since their menus aren't too similar.

                    1. re: peterme

                      I prefer Kiraku to Ippuku. Better food and better service.

                      2566B Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

                      1. re: peterme

                        The dishes are quite different from what I've had at Ippuku. Ippuku is primarily yakitori, whereas there are only three yakitori offerings on Yuzuki's menu. I would say, broadly, that Ippuku is satisfying drinking food, very savory and well-prepared, where Yuzuki has some more unusual and nuanced offerings. I haven't really had a meal like this elsewhere in the city.

                        We ordered quite a few things off their fairly limited menu, including the chicken wings (standard yakitori, maybe slightly less awesome than Ippuku or Nojo), the beef tendon (amazing, tender, flavorful, and really satisfying), chawan mushu (very silky and delicate, fragrant and subtler than Kiss Seafood's version), the cucumber salad (refreshing, tasty), the pickles, the soy panna cotta (unusual), the grilled squid (probably our least favorite dish of the evening, it was flabby, not as grilled as I like, but still above average, with a nice piquant aioli-style dip that helped offset the underflavored squid).

                        Sadly, the restaurant was completely empty for our entire meal. I hope more people support this restaurant. It's certainly one of the best meals you can walk into (with no wait) anywhere in the neighborhood. Will definitely be coming back!

                        1. re: peterme

                          it's like comparing almost two different styles and cuisines. Ippuku is much more a yakitori joint while Yuzuki is doing the range you see at an Izakaya but at much more refined level than the ones I've been to not in the states. They both are the same price wise.

                        2. Great place, some of the best cooked Japanese food I've had. Tskukemono, silverskin (tendon), chicken wing, grilled horse mackerel, fried shrimp and burdock thingies, all great. Looking forward to going back and trying more things.

                          The only thing I wouldn't order again was the Koshihikari rice, good texture but no flavor, maybe there's some subtle Japanese point but to me it was a waste of $11.

                          It was completely empty at 6:30 and only had a few customers when I left around 8:00. A photographer was there taking pictures for SF Weekly, presumably it'll be reviewed next week, maybe that'll bring in more customers.


                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Glad you liked! And great news about SF Weekly -- this place needs some publicity and love...

                          2. Echoing the love for Yuzuki. I've been twice for amazing meals. I particularly liked beef tataki, served with onion and citrus, and the elegant onigiri, which look like toast points topped with either uni or ikura. On my second visit, miso tendon wasn't on the menu; I loved it on my first visit.

                            Like others, I missed the subtlety in the koshihikari rice and was happier with onigiri as the rice course.

                            They were pretty empty last night. If you haven't been, go -- both to keep them in business and to get a great meal.

                            1. agreed - we ordered a bunch of different items - one was just OK, everything else was very good or excellent.

                              great sake (list) too.

                              it's not cheap and the plates are small, but it doesn't seem over priced - given the quality of the ingredients and the labor-intensive preparations.

                              they still don't have it together service/timing-wise though, surprised after 10 months.

                              there was a small wait on friday night which was refreshing to know that they're doing well, but i still see it half-empty most weeknights. hope they can break the curse on this space.

                              definitely go wit a lot of people to try many different things

                              1. I went to Yuzuki with two friends last April. I spend one or two months each spring in SF, and the rest of the year in Tokyo. Yuzuki really surprised me; it would be really hip in Tokyo and I couldn't believe it is in SF. We brought sake (from Japan) and the corkage was reasonable. The food was quite good by Tokyo standards, which made me feel that SF is really lucky to have a place this fabulous. Highly recommended.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: Tripeler

                                  It sounds awesome. Do you know if there are enough vegetarian items to make a meal of?

                                  1. re: Josh

                                    there are enough to make a meal...but we actually didn't have any so i can't speak to the quality

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Thanks. Booked for tomorrow night, can't wait. Menu looks fantastic.

                                    1. re: Tripeler

                                      i wouldn't really say i'ts hip - hasn't quite caught on yet....

                                    2. Went last week with a group of pals I think on a Weds ~ 730. Dining room was only partially full but we did see more people arriving ~ 900. Is it open late? Our server made a point of explaining how their housemade koji influences every dish. Highlights were the tofu (toppings really made this dish), tsukune (really tasty), kara-age, onigiri topped w uni, Coedo beer made from yams. We also tried the chicken wings, beef tendon, mizuna w dungeness, pork belly, ika, chawan mushi w uni (decent but the one at Mission Chinese Food trumps), corn and shrimp fritters (listed in order of enjoyment). I love perfectly made plain rice so I would have ordered it if anyone else had wanted it. No dessert menu was offered so we ended up going to Bi Rite ice cream. The biggest minus was parking, which is ridiculously difficult in the Mission these days, but harder still when you're trying to make a reserved time. I had to park on 14th St. I wish I had known about the valet at Locanda before going (though Delfina is around the corner and would be handier).

                                      1. I went to Izakaya Yuzuki last week and was really impressed! After a couple bad experiences in SF (Nombe, Chotto) I wasn't looking for much but this place is on a whole different level & is my new favorite Japanese restaurant in SF.

                                        Highlights were obanazai (local vegetables served three ways), kakiage (shrimp & roots tempura), kobe beef tataki, and teba (chicken wing). The tsukemono (pickled vegetable) was even outstanding & fermented in rice bran.

                                        We also had the special bluefin tuna sashimi, which was fantastic. The yaki omusubi (grilled rice ball with uni) was very good. The zaru tofu (homemade) was also very good (although I eat so much tofu it was my least favorite dish even though I liked the preparation). There were no misses at all in any of our dishes.

                                        Really good sake list as well.

                                        I think they are experts at fermentation -- the vegetables and pickles in particular showed really high skill.

                                        There are many other dishes that looked great that we didn't have a chance to try -- salt-koji marinated squid with yuzu mayonnaise, chawan mushi, shiokara, koshihikari rice. Maybe next time..

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: calumin

                                          Definitely try the Chawan Mushi next time. :-)

                                          Also last time there was a rice with mushrooms that I found delicious.