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Oct 11, 2012 03:41 PM

ISO Sushi advice (current info)

I'm heading up to SF from LA, and was looking forward to trying Ino Sushi, but when I called to make reservation, I was informed they are closed next couple of weeks. I've been to Kiss and enjoyed it. Omakase is my preferred style. In LA, I frequent Sasabune (No CA or Spicy Tuna!!!). I searched prior threads on CH and have narrowed the field to:

Zushi Puzzle
Wayo Sushi
Warakubune Sushi
Sushi Aka Tombo

Looking for some current info/suggestions on these places and what would suit us best. We'll only be a party of 2 or 3, no kids. Good Sake selection is a must. I'm staying at hotel Kabuki in Japantown. TIA

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  1. Sebo is a bit closer to Sushi Zo in LA in terms of quality, though I haven't been in a long time.

    Another possible contender is Akiko's Restaurant on 431 Bush Street...they stock some very unusual imported Japanese fish that is not easy to find at most places, although you might end up spending more despite the quality.

    6 Replies
    1. re: K K

      Thx for reply. Sushi Zo is great, or it was the 2 times I dined there, but that was also a few years ago. I'm willing to spend some extra $ for a superb experience.

      1. re: PhilLevel

        It is important to note that Sebo ( focuses on the more sustainable side of seafood as of late, so the fish selection, while mostly from Japan, is limited to about 20 or so selections. Not sure if the current menu off the website PDF is up to date, but will give you an idea. If you are used to the 30+ types of fish offered at the likes of Zo, or are used to those softer textured fish at Sasabune (like albacore, salmon, toro etc), you might not get the same experience at Sebo. Sebo tries to source sustainably raised bluefin from Japan (Kindai maguro), but they don't have it all the time, and as un PC as this is, it's nowhere near the taste of good bluefin.

        General comments about the other places

        Eiji - good value moderately priced "cheap" sushi, but not even high end. Good for a budget fix. The signature item there is actually the oboro tofu, where it is served in a claypot and you put various condiments on top (a distant parallel to say eating savory Shanghainese style soy milk/bean curd)

        Zushi Puzzle - can be very expensive...but more towards new style/fusion.
        I'd much rather go to Koo where they do sushi and fusion right.

        No comment on Wayo, Domo, Warakubune, but I'd rather go somewhere else. If you have a hankering late

        Sushi Aka Tombo - probably the next best sushi restaurant in SF J-town with a much friendlier and nicer chef than Ino (Ryoji-san will actually engage you in conversation, super nice guy to boot). In addition to value you also get quality, but not as wide of a selection as Ino.

        If you are hankering for a late night fix, there's always Ryoko's which closes at 2 am.

        1. re: K K

          K K, I'm not sure that I agree that Aka Tombo's seasonal seafood selection is lesser than Ino's. Have you been recently? Ryoji-san has been absolutely killing it; bringing in esoteric selections (for SF at least) like kinki, kinmedai, tachiuo, shishamo, awabi, kagarei, buri, hamadai, ara, and medai. I usually discover something I've never had before on a weekly basis! Having said that, I never go to Ino anymore, I just can't stand the man's attitude and it ruins the meal for me.

      2. re: K K

        I have been going to Akiko recently and I have to say the quality and selection of fish is easily on par or better than Ino or Zushi Puzzle or even Sakae in B'game. The high-end sake selection is also excellent.

        Try the ankimo, done sous vide. And chef Ricky is a blast to chat with.

        1. re: osho

          Yes but how much is a meal there if you do straight up nigiri and order from white board/exotic imports? It's quite expensive from what I understand.

          1. re: K K

            Yes it is a bit expensive. No more than Sakae or Zushi Puzzle though. $90 pp will fill you to the gills (no pun intended).

      3. I think Sebo is a great place for really good sushi. As a plus, the sake retailer True Sake is just across the street, and any sake purchased there can be enjoyed at Sebo without a corkage charge. Visiting True Sake first, and picking out a good 720 ml bottle of sake (enough for four people) would be a good prelude to eating at Sebo.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Tripeler

          SCORE!!! I've ordered some excellent Sake from True Sake and had it shipped to LA. Not sure I want to pick a fight over whether a 720ml is enough to satiate 4 (unless 3 of them are 90lb women)...


          1. re: PhilLevel

            Sebo's sake list is or at least was curated by the True Sake guy.

            If you want to branch out of sushi, Izakaya Yuzuki is the best non-sushi Japanese food I've had.

            1. re: PhilLevel

              I suggested 720 ml sake as enough for four since I was under the impression you were coming by car. In my experience, 720 ml is great for two people but will certainly leave them a bit tipsy. Anyway, YMMV and I am sure you and your friends know how to handle alcohol.
              Yes, True Sake has some Truly Great Sake -- the best place in SF to shop for sake, buy a large margin.

              Also, at Sebo you will certainly not get any Monster Truck Rolls, Jalapeño Mayo Monstrosities, or any other of that Crazy-Ass stuff ordered by people who don't really appreciate fish.

              1. re: Tripeler

                +1 on "Crazy-Ass rolls". That's not sushi in my book. I was trained (as a diner) by Nobe at Sasabune, where the sign prominently states "NO California Roll. NO Spicy Tuna Roll. TRUST ME!"

                If I arrive by car, it's going to be Taxi or Uber. LOL.

              2. re: PhilLevel

                At Sebo, try to score seats at the sushi bar, where they also serve their $80 6-course omakase menu, Portions are very small at Sebo, and the omakase won't include a rice dish if you're thinking of kaiseki. Make sure you share your sake with the chef in front of you! Each chef prepares a different set of omakase courses for the customers in front of him at the bar--an interesting concept to me. So your neighbor at the sushi bar may be getting stuff you wish you would be eating instead of what's in front of you.

            2. I suggest Ino Sushi, near where you're staying, in Japantown. Sushi Zo is my go to whenever in LA. The quality of fish and temperament of the chef is very similar at Ino. Hardly a sake selection (like Zo) but high quality fish and excellent technique in the preparation of each piece.

              23 Replies
              1. re: Dan Wodarcyk

                Ino is #1 on my list, but when I called to make reservation, he told me he is closed for 2 weeks. Will have to wait for next SF trip.

                I think Sebo is my Tuesday night pick. I notice many places are closed Monday, but I arrive Monday afternoon. Any suggestions on where to dine Monday?

                  1. re: PhilLevel

                    Since you're staying in Japantown, what about Kappa? Not really sushi, but more Japanese cuisine

                    1. re: cloud2poof

                      Kappa looks great! Thx for tip.

                      Couple of tips for those who come down to LA, in the Japanese, but not sushi dept.

                      Wakasan - Recommended to me by a Japanese friend as type of place/food in Tokyo people go after work to drink and eat. $45 for 8 course Omakase meal.

                      Nanbankan - grill (robata) style food. Only open dinner time.

                      1. re: cloud2poof

                        Question about Kappa. I'm a little confused by the reservation policy on their website. First it says" *We take same day reservations by phone only (After 4:30 pm). No email please. ".

                        Then it says "Pre-Fixed menu - Starts from $85.00 (Require one day advance) "

                        Do they take only same day reservations, or can I reserve a week in advance?

                        1. re: PhilLevel

                          I believe I have called more than a day ahead.

                          1. re: PhilLevel

                            I checked out the Japanese part of Kappa's Web site; there's an e-mail address listed there. What they mean is that if you would like to make a same-day reservation, you should call (and not e-mail) after 4:30 PM. Of course they take reservations days ahead.

                            1. re: PhilLevel

                              I have definitely made reservations up to 3 weeks in advance. As vincentlo said, I believe they will take reservations as late as same-day if you call. But if you want the omakase, you need to call at least a day in advance.

                              When you get there, you'll see why- they will purchase/make just enough of the special omakase ingredients for your meals. I imagine you can't get the omakase if you just walk in unless they had a cancellation or they made extras for some reason. They are a small place (about 8 seats at the bar and one 4-6 person table) so I would recommend making a reservation but since you will be a small party of 2-3, you may be okay without one.

                              I have eaten at Kappa several times (each time doing the omakase so I can't speak to how it is to order off the menu) and really enjoyed it. I haven't been there in a year so I don't know how it is recently. The husband and wife who run Kappa are really sweet, if very quiet until they get to know you a little.

                              If no one has warned you, you should be aware that Kappa is a little hard to find. It's up the stairs above the New Minnie restaurant, through an unmarked glass door next to the Korean restaurant/Karaoke bar Playground entrance.

                          2. re: PhilLevel

                            Monday, perhaps take BART over to Berkeley and try Ippuku. An Izakaya place downtown. Try the chicken tartare. Very good and much written about online. Plenty of great Yakitori items (livers, hearts, gizzard, thigh.)

                            1. re: Dan Wodarcyk

                              I'm not sure if it's worth the BART trip if you're coming from LA. Generally, LA has much better Japanese options than the Bay Area over all - including some great Izakayas.

                              1. re: goldangl95

                                there is no sushi at ippuku (which is what the OP was looking for). it is probably better than any of the izakayas in san francisco, however.

                                the sake selection is all right, but it is known for its shochu selection.

                                1. re: calumin

                                  Truth is I'm not locked into sushi. I was in SF and stayed at Kabuki in August for a wedding, and as much as I wanted to explore the local offerings, we had rehearsal dinner one night, and the wedding the next night, so it was a bit of torture to see so many restaurants, but no chance to try any. This time I'm up in SF for 3 days of biz meetings, and I have 2 dinners to plan with friends. I'm really looking forward to Sebo & Kappa, and Ino for a future trip.

                                  I really appreciate all the tips provided to me here. It's a bit off topic, (and definitely not sushi), but has word of LA's beef mecca Totoraku made it up north? For those of you who visit LA, Totoraku is a must to round out the Japanese culinary repertoire.

                                  1. re: PhilLevel

                                    Don't know if you are into old school Japanese sweets (wagashi, mochi, manju) but while you're in SF J-town during business hours (8 am to 5 pm), check out Benkyodo Co . 100+ year old family run Japanese American business that is comparable, if not better than Fugetsu-Do in Los Angeles in some ways and/or Chikara Mochi in Gardena. The fresh strawberry manju is very popular and one of the better selections.

                                    Totoraku, isn't that the "secret invitation only" beef place where it is customary for one of the dining customers to bring some good wine to share with the owner (or at least from what I've read)? We don't have a place like that up here, closest thing to yakiniku is our branch of Gyu Kaku in Cupertino, and our Korean BBQ standards aren't anywhere close to that of Parks in LA K-town. But we have Alexander's Steakhouse in SF and Cupertino that supposedly can now re-stock real Japanese beef after recent restrictions were lifted, but best to call ahead before going to avoid disappointment (frankly not a fan of spending $$$ on Japanese beef only for it to be grilled like a steak American style). But there may be better places in LA that can legally get imported Japanese beef and prep it better.

                                    1. re: K K

                                      Totoraku... "invitation only", yes.... "secret", well I think the secret is out. I found out about it using the Yelp app on my smartphone. That begun a 4-6 month period of trying to find someone to get me in the door. I collect wine, and asked my food & wine friends, several in the wine business, and most everyone gave me a blank stare. I asked my Japanese friend who called (twice) and was rebuffed (thrice). Finally one day my efforts paid off. I've been 3 times and am planning the next dinner there with friends in December. I've been to Gyu Kaku in LA, and the one in NYC. I don't want to come off as a snobbish type, but the comparison really isn't fair. Cut gets top quality meat, including Kobe beef from Japan, and I much prefer Totoraku.

                                      1. re: K K

                                        Haha Danny Dunham used to sneak rare Japanese beef chunks ($10 a piece) to me as we had omakase at Sebo. Where did he go?!

                                      2. re: PhilLevel

                                        I've been to both Ippuku and Izakaya Yuzuki (recommended by Robert Lauriston above) and love them both. I think Ippuku will give you more of the classic Izakaya feel, with the smoky air, dim lighting, low tables with foot wells, semi-private booths, and as was mentioned by Dan Wodarcyk, a really lovely yakitori menu (I love the knee cartilage, grilled mushrooms, and chicken tartare). The food at Izakaya Yuzuki is has some creative combos and is more varied than Ippuku, but has fewer yakitori items. Atmosphere is very different too, with regular tables, huge glass windows and a bright light space.

                                        I think you could find really enjoyable and interesting things at both, but logistically, with your short stay, Izakaya Yuzuki may be easier to fit into your schedule this time around.

                                        Hope you have a great trip through SF! Hotel Kabuki can be fun- are you staying in one of their traditional Japanese suite rooms (comes with futon bed, tatami mats and in-room sand garden)? They were a little shabby/time-worn when I've stayed there, but atmospheric.

                                        1. re: greymalkin

                                          This time I've got one of the suites. Last time I had a corner room on a high floor. I saw some reviews that said the rooms were "tired", but it was OK for me.. I've seen much worse!

                                          1. re: PhilLevel

                                            Heh, I wonder if one of those reviews was mine! Yes Hotel Kabuki is definitely worn around the edges- the traditional suites are very clean, but the tatami is worn and stained in places, the fixtures are tarnished and the shower is faintly musty. At least they did replace the rice paper screens which were hanging in disintegrating shreds when I first stayed in the room. I've toured their more updated garden rooms that look out into their interior courtyard at ground level, and those are quite nice and everything seems new. So it may just be a matter of time before they get around to remodeling and updating all the rooms.

                                            Despite what I say above, I really like Hotel Kabuki. I've stayed there twice (even though I live in the area) and will likely do so again soon. The traditional suite is a relaxing and unique space and I've found the staff to be pleasant and helpful every time we are there. Their regular suites look really nice too.

                                            Hope you have a nice stay!

                                        2. re: PhilLevel

                                          Phil - I have dined at Totoraku; have Chef Kaz changed his stance on how one get's in? When I was there, I had to be brought by someone who had dined there before and was given their phone number. The name on the door was entirely different and if someone just showed up without a reservation, they would be turned away.

                                          Truly a "secret" dining restaurant, if ever there was one!

                                          1. re: CarrieWas218

                                            In that respect nothing has changed. The storefront signage say "Pico Teriyaki House" (there are many photos on the net) and the phone number is incorrect. My hunch is the name & phone # belong to the prior tenant. It took me a few months of asking around to find someone who would take me there the very first time. I don't think it's much a "secret" but more of a "members only". One must go with a member, and hope that at the end of the meal Kaz presents you with his card, that's the sign you have attained membership status. It sounds a lot more snooty than it really is. Once inside, it's a total jeans & t-shirt party.

                                            1. re: PhilLevel

                                              So it hasn't changed.... Good.

                                              It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I think. The friends who took me live there and go often, but I was happy with the one experience.

                                              1. re: CarrieWas218

                                                First time was great for me. 2nd & 3rd, were equally as good, mostly because I took some "virgins" and got to watch their faces. Personally, the 1st time was such an explosion on my palate, the 2nd & 3rd times, I enjoyed it much more. While the menu is pretty stable, I've also had fun picking the wines to pair with the food, and the friends.

                                  2. re: PhilLevel

                                    Apologies, didn't see the mention of Ino in your original post.

                                2. +1 for kappa.

                                  if you are going to travel, i'd suggest Sawa (sashimi) in sunnyvale or sushi sho in el cerrito.

                                  Sawa is like an obnoxious, irreverent version of la's urasawa, but probably too far away.

                                  22 Replies
                                  1. re: Dustin_E

                                    One more Q about Kappa. Website says 'Pre-Fixed menu - Starts from $85.00 ". Does one go for the $85, $100, $125? Suggestions on this aspect?

                                    1. re: PhilLevel

                                      I think the omakase has always been $85-$90 for me. I believe the "starts from" allows them to adjust the price if certain seasonal ingredients are more expensive than they expected. You can probably tell them if your budget would allow them to splurge a little or not and that will adjust the price scale.

                                      1. re: greymalkin

                                        yes i think you pay the base price and then you can ask for more later if you wish.

                                        kappa is one of my favorite restaurants in san francisco. i think if you are native japanese and grew up on traditional japanese food, you may find it a bit basic for the price. but they serve food that i don't think is easy to find anywhere else and everything is very high quality.

                                        not sure if you're planning to travel outside SF, but I would say the best sushi restaurant in the bay area is Sushi Ran in Sausalito. it's the only one that is comparable with the best places in NY or LA.

                                        1. re: calumin

                                          I'm definitely not native Japanese... native NYC (with very blue eyes), and when I first moved to LA and experience sushi for the first time, I was nothing less than shocked at the very notion of eating raw fish. That was 25 years ago, and things are very different! Not planning to travel outside SF this trip. 3 days of biz meetings and then back to LA, however I do appreciate the tips and maybe one day... on a leisure trip, will be able to try Sushi Ran.

                                          1. re: calumin

                                            Sushi Ran, though respectable, doesn't have the variety to their daily board that many of the others already listed do. It's sort of on a par with Morimoto in Napa. One can go to Sakae, Sushi Sho, Ino or Hana and experience a far better Nigiri or Sashimi variety. SR does have some creative non sushi dishes, but doesn't come close to NY or LA places like Sushi Zo, Yasuda or 15 East.

                                            1. re: Dan Wodarcyk

                                              Quick plug for my favorite NYC hole in the wall, Sushi You on E 51st. Overlooked, and I'm often the only patron who does not speak Japanese. Get Omakase. I posted a review on Yelp.

                                              1. re: Dan Wodarcyk

                                                I've never thought of Hana to be in the same league as the other sushi houses mentioned above; I've never been there with all the mediocre reviews. Should I give Hana a chance? This is the place in Tenderloin right?

                                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                    Yes, thanks Melanie. In Rohnert Park. They're taking things to another level, in terms of the types of fish they're bringing in, the cuts of fish, specialty menu items as well as sake pairing with their somm. Ken, the chef/owner, takes great care in what he prepares. The "egg paradise" is worth the trip alone, soft boiled egg, uni, tobiko, soy. Seared pork jowl with yuzukosho, also great. Then just go with what's on the board. Some of the best Aji I've ever had. Ankimo sashimi is always very good. Overall equal or better than I've had at Ino or Sakae. My Bay Area equivalent of Sushi Zo, though Zo has next to no sake list.

                                          2. re: PhilLevel

                                            always $85, at least in my 4 or so visits over the years.

                                          3. re: Dustin_E

                                            Sounds like Kappa is the answer for this trip. If venturing out of the City, Sushi Sho agreed, Sakae in Burlingame (well know for their sake list and tasting events) and Hana in Rohnert Park, my current favorite in overall quality for fish, variety, as well as one of just a few certified Sake sommeliers in the Bay Area.

                                            1. re: Dan Wodarcyk

                                              Oops I missed this whole thread.

                                              Nobody has mentioned Yume for Sushi, in Alameda.
                                              To me, after Ino, this is definitely #2 for straight-on omakase sushi.

                                              I would also definitely go to Izakaya Yuzuki over Kappa.
                                              Full disclosure, I've posted about Yuzuki before and it is my current favorite in SF.
                                              But I JUST went there last week (missed the summer season and this was my fall visit) and they are as good as ever. I'm convinced that this place could even be considered very good by tokyo standards.

                                              As I've said before on this board, I was underwhelmed by Kappa, primarily because much of the food was room temp instead of hot because it was prepared ahead.

                                              1. re: pauliface

                                                Yes, Yuzuki is very good by Tokyo standards. I have lived in Tokyo since 1977 and there are really not very many places like it. The people there are very nice, too.

                                                1. re: pauliface

                                                  I really liked Tekka when he did the omakase, but haven't been in a couple years. It's just hard to time it. But someone told me have to ask ahead of time for omakase now?

                                                  How does Izakaya Yuzuki compare to Izakaya Sozai / Chotto? I still haven't made it to Yuzuki yet. keep hearing about it. Have been to Sozai / Chotto a number of times and Ippuku over in Berkeley.

                                                  One of my current favorites is actually Kappou Gomi -- I know these are all different types of japanese cuisine.

                                                  1. re: cloud2poof

                                                    First off, I should say that I do like both Sozai and Chotto very much.

                                                    Sozai has a real Izakaya feel - bustly and crowded. It is also, I think, the least expensive of the three. They have a lot of fried specialties that are delicious, but as a result you need to be careful not to order too much fried stuff. They also once had some of the best Uni I've tasted, a very generous portion. But the second time I went back and ordered it, it was not quite as good. Still, a real fun place with solid food.

                                                    I was only to Chotto once. It was a weekday. Given the look of the place (upscale, sleek, dark, modern) and the location (Marina) I would never go on a weekend. I'm betting it's a zoo, and that the sound levels could rise very high. But for a week night, it was great. The food was delicious. In particular there was a fantastic broiled whole squid. But almost eveything was great. The only disappointment was their okonomiyaki which I did not like. They just kid of got it wrong, IMHO. That said, I'd devinitely go back (on a weeknight).

                                                    But Izakaya Yuzuki is just in a different league, food-wise. Everything there is so refined. The flavors are clear, distinct, complicated. There's a thing that happens with really good japanese food (for me) where the flavors seem both simple and complex, - ancient and modern. I know 'zen' is an overused word, but when Japanese food is its best it just calms me down (until the sake kicks in). Hard to explain, but this place absolutely nails it. Also, they do many different styles of cooking (steamed, raw, fried, broiled, etc) and each style feels totally mastered. Great care goes into everything down to each garnish, and each sauce. During my recent visit, I could notice improvements to dishes they've been serving since the beginning -- so either is was an especialy good night, or (I suspect) the chef has been refining his techniques even fuirther.

                                                    I also love Kappou Gomi. I just wish they would take reservations. The chef there used to be chef at Kiku of Tokyo (in the hilton hotel). Kiku was my favorite japanese restaurant in SF uintil they closed. Kiku used to do something that Kappou Gomi does not. They had several 'course' dinners with lots of different courses and no decisions. Close to kaiseki cuisine.

                                                    1. re: pauliface

                                                      Izakaya Yuzuki doesn't have the kind of bar atmosphere I expect from an izakaya, it's more like a casual but refined restaurant. No complaints, the name just doesn't make total sense to me.

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        Agreed. I think that in SF, the word Izakaya is being used to signal "a variety of small dishes that are not necessarily sush or sashimi," which is not really correct.

                                                        Of Yuzuki, Chotto, and Sozai, it is definitely Sozai that feels most like an Izakaya.

                                                        1. re: pauliface

                                                          O Izakaya, Oyaji, and Ippuku feel like bars to me.

                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            I agree that the three places Robert mentioned are more izakaya-like than Sozai or Chotto (haven't been to Yuzuki). The latter two feel more like regular restaurants that serve small plates.

                                              2. re: Dustin_E

                                                If visiting SF Japantown for the first time, especially not speaking Japanese, I highly recommend Kiss over Ino, though Ino is strictly a traditional sushi house, and one has to deal with the loud flushing every time someone uses the very nice bathroom in that ultra-tiny restaurant of Kiss.

                                                I used to frequent Sawa, but I don't because close to a grand for two with sake is just too much (a few years ago). Steve at Sawa has started to cater to non-Japanese as he explained that the Japanese expats have started leaving since the late 90s. I really miss when he would cook many really nice little dishes back in the 90s to complement the sushi and sashimi. These days it's all sashimi at Sawa, sauced differently and of course all fresh and fancy, as it should be at that price point.

                                                1. re: vincentlo

                                                  This will be my 2nd time in Japantown. I'm in SF at least twice a year for meetings, but in the past have stayed near Market St area. I tried Kiss, which is excellent, last year with my buddy, who lives SF. We always try to hit something new. Last time was Lot 7, so we aren't locked into sushi/Japanese cuisine.

                                                  1. re: vincentlo

                                                    close to a grand for two at sawa? wow, never had that experience. been 5ish times in the last couple years, and highest has been ~250 pp including expensive sake, but usually closer to 140 pp all in. sometimes less than 100. the unpredictability is a bit annoying though.

                                                    can't comment on whether his style has changed.

                                                2. PhilLevel (the OP), where did you end up going in SF?