Yu Zen report - sushi in the Outer Richmond
Visited Yu Zen yesterday (7/5/2012) at around 6:30pm for nigiri sushi. My only previous visit was about a year ago when I had the deluxe chirashi which I thought was very good.
This time I really wanted to get a proper evaluation of the sushi here, so I ordered six nigiri items, five of which were listed on the white board behind the sushi counter as the current specials. I was dining alone and sat down at the bar. There were maybe a total of ten patrons in the restaurant.
Service was very good. I was greeted warmly by the wait staff and received a complimentary cup of good green tea, which was frequently refilled. I was served my meal by Chef Ito within 10 minutes of ordering.
The meal overall was good but far from great. My favorite aspect of Chef Ito's sushi is definitely his shari. It is very nicely vinegared and very close to body temperature, significantly warmer than the shari served at most sushiyas. It has a wonderful tangy taste that does not overpower the other flavors, but complements them nicely.
Unfortunately, the neta was not nearly as good as the shari last night. Highlight of the meal was the saba, which was the only item NOT listed on the "specials" board. It was delicious and comes close to the saba at Okina's, which is my favorite in SF.
I also ordered chu-toro (medium fatty tuna), aji (horse makerel), hirame (fluke), kasago (Japanese rock fish), and tsubugai (Whelk clam). These ranged from pretty good (aji, kasago) to mediocre. The chu-toro was particularly chewy and bland. This is not surprising when you consider that two pieces of chu-toro cost only $7. At that price point, chef Ito will not be able to source high quality chu-toro. The aji was topped with grated ginger and scallions but was not sauced which was disappointing, as the ponzu sauce would have balanced the bitterness of the grated ginger.
Good yellow (MSG-free) gari. Fake wasabi which is to be expected at this price.
Total cost of the meal (12 pieces of nigiri + complimentary agari) with tip came to $41. Very reasonable, however in my mind Okina in the inner Richmond and especially Sushi Aka Tombo in Japantown are much better options in the same price range. I have been spoiled by Chef Ryoji-san at Aka Tombo who sources much better quality seafood and is somehow able to offer this higher quality product at the same price. Aka Tombo's nigiri omakase set runs $30 for roughly the same amount of food, and is much tastier than the meal I had at Yu Zen.
I would return to Yu Zen for their deluxe chirashi but Aka Tombo remains my favorite place for nigiri sushi in San Francisco.
4036 Balboa St
San Francisco, CA 94121