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Best quality sushi in San francico

I would appreciate assistance in this search

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  1. Sakana, on Post near Taylor.

    1 Reply
    1. re: GH1618

      Sakana was ok at best. It was dirty.

      Aka tombo is terrible. The rice is flavorless.

      Ariake is terrible too.

      And the search goes on for a sushi restaurant similar to Sushi Gen.

    2. quality or value? no reflection on you, but that is a distinction. it's a sliding scale.

      1 Reply
      1. re: hill food

        Yes. $25? $50? $100? More? Big distinction IMO.

      2. My top five (not necessarily in order):

        Sushi Aka Tombo
        Kani Kosen (Pacifica)


        Gee, can't think of a fifth one!

        8 Replies
        1. re: CarrieWas218

          Sebo? I haven't eaten at the other four so I wouldn't know but does it even deserve to be listed?

          1. re: JonDough

            I hate, hate, hate the attitude of the people who work at Sebo as well as the prices.

            I have been given nothing but attitude on how they are the greatest thing since sliced bread while being charged way too much for the "honor" of eating there.

            No thanks on Sebo for me.

            1. re: CarrieWas218

              Thanks for your feedback. I'll have to try the other 4 you mentioned then.

              1. re: CarrieWas218

                I really like Sebo and have never felt any attitude. But I haven't been there in about two years. Maybe there has been a change?

                1. re: Tripeler

                  we didn't get any attitude either, but, like Tripeler, it's been awhile.

                  1. re: CarrieWas218

                    Sadly the only time I've had nice service at Sebo is when I was with friends of the owner or celebs. The rest of the time, it's been either dismissive or condescending. The quality of the fish has been quite good though.

                    1. re: CarrieWas218

                      I've never felt any bad attitude at Sebo either—quite the opposite, in fact: Michael Black has actually done some special things impromptu seemingly just for being friendly and asking informed questions (I'm not anyone special either). I've never dealt with Nao Hashimoto, but I know other regulars seem to get along very well with him.

                      Yes, it's expensive, but I really do think it is the best sushi in the Bay Area—Bourdain and Alice Waters etc are right on this one. Working with importers who source directly from Japan is not cheap.

                      That said, it's also true that other places, such as LA or NYC or especially any major city in Japan, have better sushi, even at for lower prices.

                  1. re: Cynsa

                    Cynsa - that's my exact list. In that order. In fact, I think Sushi Aka Tombo is pretty much the best value in the city for proper sushi.

                    Sushi Aka Tombo
                    Ino Sushi

                    1. re: osho

                      I love the quality of Ino's food, but hate his attitude also. I lived in J-Town for four years and ate there a lot, but he was never very nice and I think he over applies the wasabi - like a LOT...

                      1. re: osho

                        Every time I go to Sushi Aka Tombo, I wonder why I don't eat there more often. They have a few wonderful non-sushi items too including fresh tofu, nasu dengaku, and an umeboshi plum and rice soup.

                        Koo is excellent, especially if you can sit at the bar (make a reservation).

                    2. Does anyone have an explanation (or theories) why the sushi isn't better in SF?

                      55 Replies
                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          Yeah, I suppose demographics has something to do with it.

                          But think about NYC, I don't believe the size of the Japanese population -- nor the socio-demographic mix of Japanese people -- are that much different.

                          Given the proximity of SF to the sea, the city's general passion for food, and it's rather significant centers of commerce, it is rather befuddling.

                          But I suppose there will always be weak spots in any major metropolitan city that also moonlights as a culinary destination.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Proximity to the sea doesn't have much to do with it, because very little sushi in North America is local. Excellent sushi can be found in the midwest.

                            1. re: GH1618

                              Proximity to the sea doesn't have much to do with it, because very little sushi in North America is local.

                              Not so.

                              Some of it is from Japan, but some of it is also local.

                              And the stuff from Japan arrives via boats, which dock and unload in coastal cities, not,for example, Des Moines.

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                Hmm... do the best stuff from Tsukiji get fedex'ed here to the distributors, or do they really stay on ice chugging across the pond?

                                1. re: Cary

                                  not just 'on ice' - it is frozen. I've had nigiri served topped with frozen neta - not good to eat - and I never returned to that sushi chef.

                                  this was an interesting thread to read:
                                  "And the most popular sushi neta in Japan is?...."

                                  1. re: Cynsa

                                    Very strange. don't recall ever seeing anyone eat salmon sushi or sashimi in Japan.

                                    1. re: od_sf

                                      Just thinking out loud, with no google research, but I wonder if nigiri sold as "ocean trout" which makes people go oooohh, and ahhh, is actually just a renaming of chinook/king, coho, copper river, sockeye SALMON.

                                      And regarding the top neta list, I would agree that I prefer chuu-toro over o-toro. Maybe there is something in too much fat isn't better.

                                      1. re: Cary

                                        I would think "ocean trout" was steelhead.

                                      2. re: od_sf

                                        Salmon sushi in Japan is a new thing, but salmon sashimi is rarely seen. However, salmon is more prevalent in Hokkaido-style dishes, sushi or donburi type of things.

                                      3. re: Cynsa

                                        Bleh, no excuse for serving the fish still frozen, that's just nasty. But I thought it was preferable for hygiene to have fish such as tuna and salmon flash frozen at sea. When you see footage of the great fish markets in Japan, the giant tunas are all stiff as board and covered in iciness.

                                    2. re: ipsedixit

                                      Fresh seafood comes from Japan via DHL or whatever. We were at the bar at Sebo once when a guy came in with a package of Hokkaido uni, which was the best I've ever had.

                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        errr.... by boat???

                                        By air my man, By air.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Why would you eat nigiri fish that has been frozen?

                                              1. re: sarafinadh

                                                "Why would you eat nigiri fish that has been frozen?"

                                                Fish at Tsukiji (including the famed bluefin tuna) are flash frozen through bidding, processing, portioning, before being sent off through the distribution chain.

                                                1. re: Cary

                                                  There is a category of bluefin tuna at Tsukiji and other Japanese markets, sold completely fresh, never-been-froze., It's probably caught off Japan. It's called "nama-maguro". Nama (生) is the generic term for raw but in this case means unfrozen. There are separate auctions for nama and frozen tuna at Tsukiji.

                                                  Plenty of the other fish and seafood sold out of Tsukiji, meant to be consumed as sashimi and sushi, is not frozen as well. There is a complete hierarchy of who gets what (fancy restaurants down to supermarkets, etc.), but daily fish market deliveries of styrofoam "chill boxes" with raw seafood are a ubiquitous daytime sight outside restaurants in Japan.

                                                  1. re: Silverjay

                                                    Yes true. Nevertheless...those nama items won't see the shores of the United States (without further processing).

                                                2. re: sarafinadh

                                                  "Food and Drug Administration regulations stipulate that fish to be eaten raw -- whether as sushi, sashimi, seviche, or tartare -- must be frozen first, to kill parasites."


                                                  1. re: od_sf

                                                    Flash freezing at -70 degrees isn't the same thing as sticking it in your freezer.

                                                    I've seen that NY TImes article quoted a lot, but does anyone have a link to the actual regulation? I thought it was an FDA guideline but not a law that was enforced.

                                                    1. re: calumin

                                                      As far as I can tell, it is indeed a guideline and not a law. But the point is that the majority of sushi that is consumed anywhere is the world (including Japan) has been frozen.

                                                      1. re: calumin

                                                        The regulations are enforced at the processor level. Compliance is complicated.


                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          The FDA regulation that the NY TImes refers to is only a guideline:


                                                          1. re: calumin

                                                            The law requires fish processors to have an approved plan in place. The guidelines are for developing such a plan, so effectively they have the force of law.


                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              Maybe I'm missing something, but the documents say that these rules are only guidelines:

                                                              "This guidance represents the agency's current thinking on the hazards associated with fish and fishery products and appropriate controls for those hazards. It does not create or confer any rights for or on any person and does not operate to bind FDA or the public. An alternative approach may be used if such approach satisfies the requirements of the applicable statute and regulations."

                                                              The question I had was who is actually enforcing regulations, and what requirements must be met to be in compliance? What are the "applicable statute(s) and regulations" mentioned above?

                                                              I've heard a few people say that raw fish must be frozen prior to being served legally in the US, but these documents actually say something different.

                                                              1. re: calumin

                                                                The rules are enforced just like those regarding meat: the FDA inspects processing plants. The plants have to have a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point plan in place, which covers among other things how they control parasites. The guidelines are for drafting such a plan.

                                                                Parasite controls are less stringent for seafood that's not intended for raw consumption since cooking destroys many parasites.

                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                  Thank you, that makes more sense. So there is no law related to this that restaurants have to abide by.

                                                      2. re: od_sf

                                                        I used to think that parasites in raw fish was overblown as a concern. Until a few years ago when we purchased some fresh wild Alaskan Salmon from Whole Foods. I spread the fish with olive oil and then a spice rub and let it sit a few minutes while the grill got hot. Came back to get the fish and noticed a half inch long glistening translucent worm still half imbedded in the fish was wriggling on the surface. Looked like it did not care for the spice rub. Some research revealed that this parasite (the name of escapes me now) can infect humans. It can be found on many types of fish including tuna. The fish infected likely has eggs which hatch in your digestive tract. If you are lucky you will be really sick for about 10 days until the things are all out of your system. If you are not lucky you can go into anaphylaxis or the worms can get into your bloodstream and end up in your heart or liver and you can die. The eggs and worms are killed if the fish is thoroughly cooked. But we like our grilled Salmon on the rare side.

                                                        It was a while before we could bring ourselves to eat fish again.

                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                              NY has the Japanese corporate ex-pats that SF does not. I mean, there are Japanese language elementary thru high school that qualify their kids to enter the Japanese university system.

                                              The Japanese chain restaurants and the high end places closed as the Japanese economy tanked and the numbers of expense account visitors to SF dwindled. SF's Japanese scene is poorer for it. The centers of commerce are further south, per my note in that linked thread to look to Silicon Valley cities for better Japanese food, or maybe you didn't read the rest of it. I see groups of visiting Japanese business men in restaurants in Cupertino and Sunnyvale all the time, not for many years in SF.

                                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                I second that. NY has the business clientele on expense accounts, and when Japanese come in for work trips, there's a number of places set up to cater to them with rare fish overnighted in.

                                                It's still strange that there's really nowhere to go even send someone who wants that upper end quality of sushi grade fish. Ebisu and Koo type places are good for neighborhood places, but that's about it.

                                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                  I've seen Japanese businessmen on expense accounts every time I've been to Kappa in J-town.

                                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                    Although I agree that there are fewer Japanese corporate ex-pats in SF, I don't think that's the issue. It seems to me if there was a place in SF at the level of 15 East or the other top NY places, it would be extremely popular. There are also enough Japanese corporate types to support 1-2 high-end restaurants at that caliber.

                                                    I think it's more that Manhattan has a higher concentration of potential customers and can safely support more high-end restaurants than SF can. So people who are at the very top of their craft are more likely to go to NY (1st) or LA (2nd) to develop their careers.

                                                    1. re: calumin

                                                      I'm not sure it's just about "expense account" dining, or wealthy diners.

                                                      There are sushi connoisseurs who are neither on expense accounts, nor "wealthy" and yet will demand and seek out the very best in terms of sushi, sashimi, nigri, etc.

                                                      I'm there are plenty of those in SF -- just like there are NYC or LA -- just not sure why the sushi connoisseurs in SF (and whatever level of expense account dining there may be) cannot support a better and deeper quality of sushi restaurants.

                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                        You're right about sushi connoisseurs, but that's not who the NY places were initially geared for, and it took time to catch on. Nobu was still winning awards at the time, and unlike the Bay Area, there is a community of Japanese who attempt to duplicate their lives in Japan, right down to the daily household products they use.

                                                        In SF, it takes effort to even find a Japanese owned sushi place. Many of these places are non-Japanese connoisseur types, or Koreans, and they don't have a built in tradition of people who will pay the crazy prices for whatever fish they overnight in.

                                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                                          I find it a bit odd too. Instead of fostering truly high quality sushi we get crap like this:

                                                          "...new upscale Japanese restaurant Katsu......a dish called the Decadence priced at $1,200..."


                                                        2. re: calumin

                                                          Kyo-Ya was an expense-account sort of place and it closed.

                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            Yes but Kyo-ya stopped being good. I remember the last meal I had there about five years ago was actually quite bad.

                                                  2. re: ipsedixit

                                                    "Does anyone have an explanation (or theories) why the sushi isn't better in SF?"

                                                    It is a somewhat similar question and answer as to why the best Korean, Taiwanese, and Japanese food are in Southern California (Ktown/OC, SGV, and Torrance/Gardena/LA respectively), compared to Northern California (and while we're at it, regional Chinese is wider and deeper in SGV, not to say NorCal's good regional Chinese is insufficient...they're good but not as much variety).

                                                    The real answer I believe is a lot more complex, and a number of reasons go around it.

                                                    SF restaurant business thrives more on popularity, trying to be more cutting edge with offerings, innovative/different, and hip. You can call it fusion, Californication, or just adjusting to local tastebuds, or reinterpretation. The other fact is just simply a stark difficulty in replicating the same experience, or that it is far more costly to do so.

                                                    It could also be the fact that the average nigiri sushi eater in SF has different standards. I'm not talking about those who really understand Edomae style sushi....but when you have a demographic content with eating run of the mill fatty farmed fish, stocking gizzard shad, mantis prawn, a gazillion varieties of pristine white fleshed fish/shiromi (which to many have a bland and boring taste) is a losing proposition.

                                                    The other side is the significantly cost involved to import high end crazy good fish over. IMP (distributor) I know has headquarters in Southern California, I think True World also does have offices/distribution down there....up here I think it's further out (San Leandro last I recall). So for a competent place to get the best, they have to use a # of different distribution channels, which comes at a cost. I remember I asked Michael from Sebo, and he told me their source is IMP.
                                                    Basically if a restaurant is willing to pay top $, they can get good product. But they also need to sell that product quickly since it has a very short shelf life (and in some cases, won't last more than a day or two).

                                                    I don't believe restaurant owners up here for the most part are willing to invest so heavily into a wide array of super high end fish, it's too much of a risk factor, plus many of them know their demographic. It's easier to try to find American sources or substitutes, or lower end alternatives, charge a similar price for a high end import fish, and make a better profit. In reality the profit margin for fish is small, the bigger margins are in alcohol (sake, soju, beer).

                                                    1. re: K K

                                                      Having lived in SoCal for a dozen+ years, I chalked up the better Asian cuisine to the businesses in that area...

                                                      My favorite Japanese restaurant in the STATE is ShinSenGumi in Gardena. That area of Los Angeles (near the 405 and 110 interchange) is full of very large, Japanese and Korean corporations like Mitsubishi and Hyundai, just to name two...

                                                      There are a lot more *professional* Japanese nationals in that area which warrants more authentic and higher quality cuisine than our tourist and locals-driven restaurants.

                                                      1. re: CarrieWas218

                                                        Yep that's right. But in the late 80s/early 90s, San Mateo was a bit of a hotbed with Sony and a few other Japanese companies. Nowhere near the level of Torrance/Gardena nor the quality of restaurants. Now the number of Japanese expats sent from Japan to work in Northern California has dropped a lot. Despite the fact that San Mateo has a large # of Japanese restaurants, the quality is only sufficient for Asian/Asian Americans, but those with Japanese tastebud sensibilities might find it rather tame, even if an establishment is Japanese run and owned.

                                                        Never been to Shin Sen Gumi...I know it is popular...although perhaps not necessarily the best place for tonkotsu ramen or yakitori.

                                                        1. re: K K

                                                          ShinSenGumi has a number of different branches; one that specializes and only serves yakitori, one that only serves noodles, etc...

                                                          Their yakitori restaurant (Western & 186th in Gardena) has been my benchmark of great yakitori for years and I have found none near its quality in NoCal.

                                                          When I fly to SoCal, I always take a 10:00 a.m.-ish flight to arrive at LAX around 11:30 so I can head straight there for lunch!

                                                      2. re: K K

                                                        K K,

                                                        Do you really think -- from the restaurant/supply side equation -- it's really an issue of being risk-averse in terms of buying high-end fish?

                                                        Because personally, while I am not a sushi connoisseur or savant like some of my brethren in SoCal, I would garner to say that quality sushi can be had without the use of high-end seafood.

                                                        While no doubt sometimes the two go hand-in-hand, part of what makes a sushi restaurant "good" or "great" has to do with how the itamae treats the fish -- in terms of cutting it, dressing (or not dressing) it, the rice, the plating, the proportions, etc. All of that is critical -- regardless of the quality, kind, or type of fish you are serving.

                                                        I think it's that level of attention and care vis-a-vis itamae and food that's a bit lacking in SF.

                                                        In fact, I would dare say that there are probably more B and B+ type sushi places in San Diego than in SF.

                                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                                          Skilled Sushi expertise and presentation on the level of the higher end places is one element of it, sure - but finesse, and handling of the fish isn't a substitute for the product itself.

                                                          It's true that there is another level of really good sushi made with higher end domestic catch, but my sense is most places aren't strictly using the top product due to the overhead issues, or just their ability to get the quality they're even paying for on a routine basis. A lot of places rely on smoke and mirrors. So the question is, why in SF of all places, is it impossible to find that upper tier?

                                                          1. re: sugartoof

                                                            Totally agree with you.

                                                            Didn't mean to say that finesse and skilled knife-skill is a substitute for quality. Didn't mean to insinuate that it was, only that you *can* have quality sushi without the use of high-end seafood if your skills as an itamae are, well, skillful.

                                                            And, as to your last question -- "why in SF of all places, is it impossible to find that upper tier? -- why, indeed.

                                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                                              The answer is simple, supply and demand, along with customer demographic and preferences and the fact some are forced to accept status quo (ie mid to low tier places charging mid to upper tier prices, look at most of Union Square area Japanese restaurants, some not even doing things the Japanese way).

                                                              It's the same with dim sum in Hong Kong vs LA or SF.

                                                              You can go to a cheap efficient fast yet tasty/fresh/steamed to order one Michelin star restaurant, that might use frozen shrimp from Vietnam to make ha(r) gaos, but charges less than the competition owned by a conglomerate due to different overhead.

                                                              Or you can splurge on 2 to 3 Michelin star quality dim sum, like Fook Lam Moon in Wanchai that is like brunch and dinner for the uber wealthy, where they take fresh live shrimp from the South China Seas to make their har gaos. A price to pay for a vastly superior product.

                                                              They both serve their purposes. Would someone pay more to get a better quality har gao? Yes the demand is there in HK. Would that bode well in Koi Palace or Sea Harbor? Would people pay $15 for har gao made with fresh from the tank Santa Barbara spot prawns? Very debatable.

                                                              But bringing the subject back to sushi...will someone pay $60 to $70 for two small pieces of Japanese wild Bluefin? Don't know...maybe, but not something sustainable for most restaurants.

                                                              I have favorite neighborhood places that offer value, and I know they are not high end by any means, but they hit the spot in a jiff. Much like cheap dim sum.

                                                              Then there are some really nice once in a while luxury places. It's like a treat to reward and motivate.

                                                              I still think demand for fancy Western restaurants are far greater than high end sushi in SF (unless that high end sushi place gets a James Beard or rubber tire star). In LA at least you have Urasawa and Mori that have won rubber tire awards, ditto for Masa in NY. In SF proper I can't think of a sushi only restaurant that landed a star. Sushi Ran in Sausalito maybe had one can't remember...Sakae I think got on the Michelin recommended, don't think they got any stars.

                                                              When I vacationed in Hong Kong earlier this year, they had just opened a new branch of Ginza's Sushi Yoshitake in the Western District. The Ginza location got 3 rubber tire stars, and the HK branch nabbed two within 3 months of opening. The most expensive fixed meal set includes some appetizers, only 11 or so pieces of sushi, and you're looking at a tab of US$680 (10% service charge included) which is far more expensive than Urasawa and half the amount of nigiri sushi in the course! They are still in business, so demand is strangely there. Does this drive up the standard of the upper mid tier places? I would certainly think so.

                                                              1. re: K K

                                                                I’m not so sure it’s just a matter of supply/demand at work as a simple explanation as to why there aren’t many quality Japanese restaurants in the bay area, and why it differs from NYC/LA. I have a different take on this. Through a friend who was a chef at some well-known (by CH) restaurants in NYC, and witnessing his struggle to find a way to open his own restaurant, I can say that it is extraordinarily difficult, and costly especially without the backing of a restaurant group or investors.

                                                                But first, let me step back and offer another theory as to why the quality differs in these regions. It has to do with the structures of opportunity for young and talented chefs. Most of these Japanese chefs have undergone some rigorous apprenticeship or other training in restaurants in Japan, and found an opportunity to cook in the US. Most of them who eventually went on to open their own places first worked as cooks at places like (I’m using NYC as my example here) Hasaki, Sushi-den, Ise, Sushi Seki, Hatsuhana, mostly back in the 80s-90s during the heyday of the Japanese economy before their economic bubble burst by the early 90s. It was these established restaurants that sponsored their visas, got them in the front door of the restaurant scene, and most likely provided them with the investments necessary to open their restaurants.

                                                                My chef friend was in this exact situation, having been offered opportunities to be the head chef of new restaurants (some rather large and fancy) within the restaurant group, but it was his dream to open his own place with his own ideas and menu, and so he declined those offers. He looked into ways to open in NYC, and when he saw that the costs to open would be prohibitive, he looked to open something in the bay area (mostly southbay). But even that turned into a pipe dream because the costs to start there turned out to be not so different the figures he calculated for opening in NYC. I’m sure he solicited investors, but investors in the restaurant industry tend to be more hands-on than he liked. He eventually gave up on the idea of opening in the US, and moved back to Japan, and opened a place in Ginza with help from investors in his own family. It also turned out that startup costs were less than half of what it would have cost in NYC or the bay area. He’s been open for a few years now and I was pleasantly surprised to see that Tabelog (the Japanese user-rating restaurant website) had his place with scores high enough to place it in the top 5000 in all of Japan.

                                                                So perhaps for the bay area, it could be a simple case of “build it, and they will come”, but the “build it” part seems to be the biggest constraint. Even in NYC, many of the Japanese restaurants that have opened in the last decade are mostly chains from Japan. The smaller independent restaurants are more likely to be located on the fringes of residential neighborhoods in Manhattan or the outer boroughs nowadays. Even though there’s not much of a Japanese immigrant community to speak of in NYC, LA’s Japanese restaurant scene seems to have developed in much the same way with cooks/chefs brought over from Japan to work in established restaurants or for large restaurant groups. However, having the large Japanese immigrant community gives LA’s Japanese restaurants a slightly more homegrown appearance (and perhaps lower startup costs). That seems to be the difference I see between the ramen scenes between LA and NYC (I don’t know enough about the bay area’s, so I can’t compare).

                                                                One other impediment might be the economy of high-end restaurants versus lower-end/higher volume restaurants. For the most part, it’s pretty difficult to make a profit operating a high-end Japanese restaurant (with costly ingredients, labor, overhead), which is probably the case with restaurants generally. In Japan, for example, many high-end sushi restaurants break even serving high-quality tuna, some even take a loss with it in the attempt to bring in more customers.

                                                                So to summarize, my theory is that the bay area hasn’t had the successful established restaurants that could bring over talented chefs who could be turned loose to open their own high-end restaurants. I’m sure it hasn’t helped that since 1990 (when I last lived in SF, when it was still really cheap to live there), property and rents have skyrocketed creating a bigger economic hurdle for those looking to start up new restaurants there. On top of that, there is probably a higher probability of failure and lower profits trying to operate at the high-end, especially without significant outside investment.

                                                                1. re: E Eto

                                                                  Thanks so much for sharing your insight and your friend's experience!

                                                                  Actually there's also a thread going on in the General Board about Chinese/Korean/J-food being the best in variety and depth in LA (compared to SF or NY), where your input on the LA/NY J-food would be extremely valuable, vs those speculating or observing from afar/making assumptions.


                                                                  But moving back, it seems like there are far more non Japanese run Japanese restaurants (including sushi) across SF Bay Area than Japanese run places, thus making the competition of those who want to work for existing better places higher. So adding to that higher investment/startup costs for those wanting to own their own restaurants, real estate/rents, permits, and doing business in certain parts of the Bay Area (as well as the business/customer culture/climate and having to adjust) factored in make it very challenging, if not in some ways cost prohibitive also in SF Bay Area for chefs (who are already here and are experienced) to run their own places and order great fish, and do good with them. Many are thus, forced to work for others.

                                                                  I know of a few Japanese sushi chefs who are pretty good at what they do, certainly not Michelin class, but they can take a neighborhood type place and perhaps kick it up 5 notches if they had their way, and there is one guy who I think can do really great, but he's restricted.They too do not have the capital or backing to run their own place, and have to end up working for others. Three of these folks I know, work for Chinese owned sushi restaurants. One guy is lucky enough to be given a budget to order better seasonal Japanese fish but this is going to change due to the bosses clamping down (and he doesn't want to serve inferior fish, the new direction, to his customers). The other guys already work with a defined set of fish...not high end by any means, but for the neighborhood, it's not bad at all.

                                                                  Then the other side of the equation is what I call the demand and lack of appreciation factor. One restaurant is in an area where it is the only Japanese restaurant, but pales compared to the better ones in SF. The other is in a high traffic area that has a lot of Japanese restaurants (both Japanese and non Japanese owned), but if one studies the customer demographic in that area, their tastebuds are all over the map...and maybe 15 to 20% of them have Edo-style inclinations, and perhaps don't have the level of eating experience and appreciation like the LA or NY CH board nigiri hounds. The rest would rather eat big portions at lower quality (and be happy with farmed salmon, Hamachi, toro, medicore uni in quantity), or go somewhere that's been popular for ages but is actually not that great (and very poor value). You cannot change the minds of some Chinese/Asian Americans who equate salmon sashimi = Japanese food (this is also the case in Hong Kong for those who don't give a smell about proper Edo style sushi, and care more about value). Even for non Asian customers, there's the chance that if a neighborhood restaurant were to stock magochi, ainame, makogarei, isaki, they would think they're eating hirame, or find it bland/boring (unless it were splashed with ponzu, and scallions). Some might not even like iwashi, sayori, kisu, or kohada. Then again it takes a very skilled chef to spend additional time and effort to process/prepare such fish, which is totally different than just taking a slab of farmed fat from the sea and slicing it (in some cases butsugiri style which is not lost on those not understanding Edo style), dousing it with truffle oil, searing, and calling it "works of art". Then there's the rice factor which some don't care about as much, so long as the fish is good to them. It's not a win for those who want more high end traditional Michelin-esque type places in SF Bay Area.

                                                                  Sakae in Burlingame, the owner hired Jun-san back in the early 1990s who had kaiseki experience from working at a Ryokan and sponsored him to come over to work. Not sure what the decision was behind that, so his skills aren't being fully put to use, but they do invest a lot in high quality fish (as mentioned elsewhere, $30 for seki saba, high end fish is not getting cheaper). But he does make good nigiri. Sakae is mentioned in the Michelin guide (recommended) and Zagat.

                                                                  Jin Sho in Palo Alto was Steve Job's favorite restaurant and I believe mentioned in the biography. But Steve's a vegetarian, and I think he went for udon and maybe some vegetarian sushi rolls, not the restaurant's strengths. Not too many people know that Kaneko-san trained in kaiseki and can make a killer dashi shiru. But is there if one is adventurous and willing to go there. Both chef owners are ex Nobu NY alum, and can do fantastic Edo style nigiri w/o the fusion stuff if requested.

                                                                  Akiko's in SF on Bush... A5 Kagoshima Miyazaki, members of the tai family I have not heard of (and not mentioned in Kazuo Sakamoto's top 94 kinds of fish used for sushi in Japan), plum snapper, Russion/Tokujyo uni at $30 for two plops etc. They are spending top dollar on the good stuff, maybe at a cost to the customer similar to mid tier high end sushi in Hong Kong. Looking at photos, this looks more like a shock and awe place, I'm sure the quality is good. But I don't know what their sushi rice receipe is like, or their molding. Or how they dress nigiri. Some of the stuff looks a bit fusiony, or just relying on high end ingredients to do the talking, which is fine for those willing to pay for it, but they are not getting Mori Sushi or 15 East. Anyone can wrap seared A5 beef around uni or toro to get a reaction from the customer, but will that impress those who really know what's going on, or a Rubber Tire guide rep measuring the restaurant for stars for that matter? (Granted that caused an uproar in Japan and Hong Kong but that's a separate topic altogether).

                                                                  1. re: K K

                                                                    KK, Despite Nobu's one time popularity, they never served the high end. Ebisu in SF serves higher quality. I wouldn't get excited over chefs having worked for Nobu.

                                                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                                                      Sugartoof, in regards to Jin Sho, go check out their yelp review pictures of nigiri, and their website www.jinshorestaurant.com.

                                                                      Jin Sho owners are ex Nobu alum. While they have cloned a bunch of Nobu signature dishes (dobanyaki, gindara saikyo miso zuke, toro tartare with yamamomo, new age sashimi with oil and jalapeno) with varying results, their fish selection for nigiri on a good day isn't bad at all, and I like their vinegared sushi rice prep. They also have experience preparing traditional sushi.

                                                                      When I went during the first 3 months of opening, they even had live anago which they prepared in house. Kaneko-san served me the liver in dashi shiru, which was one of the best things. Nowadays I'm told that live anago (per pound) surpasses toro in wholesale cost, so I'm guessing that's not something you will see much.

                                                                      Ebisu? I was told that the best experience is if you were to sit in front of the head honcho, that was 2007. Not sure if he is still there, but I see this restaurant mostly catering to the Sunset district crowd (of which the Chinese/Chinese American crowd make up a larger percentage of the customers at times). And this place never struck me as anything but average to forgettable from visits a while back. Kazu (Irving) and Koo are vastly superior.

                                                                      1. re: K K

                                                                        I wasn't endorsing Ebisu, I was putting Nobu into context for quality.

                                                                        Nobu was never anything but average at best, with really good marketing, and hype about celebrities. A few tasty dishes caught on, like the cod, and people copied it, but the sushi was always sloppy there.

                                                                        It's not like you're talking about Yasuda alum.

                                                                        1. re: K K

                                                                          My last ebisu run was likely a decade ago. I used to love it, mid-90's, but I found quickly that the fish quality friday night was excellent but degraded heavily by Sunday. I would prefer low quality places using frozen that always gave the same quality, or high quality places with daily delivery. Then I moved to Berkeley (where the sushi quality is terrible by and large except for Sho and a few other places), and just stopped eating sushi.

                                                                      2. re: K K

                                                                        I have to agree that Jun-san is sadly underutilized. Most of the time he's saddled with large orders of rolls or run-of-the-mill sashimi (salmon...run for your life...). Which is a shame, because he can knock out some stunning nigiri if you sit at the bar and order off the whiteboard or from the stash.

                                                                      3. re: E Eto

                                                                        We've moved a digression about the Japanese food scene in NYC. We do want to keep the focus here on chow in San Francisco.

                                                            2. re: ipsedixit

                                                              Maybe it's not sushi per se but unreconstructed foreign cuisines in general. We don't have high-end French, either.

                                                              Japanese and French influences instead appear in hybrid / fusion forms with a strong influence of local ingredients. Joshua Skenes buys blue wing sea robin from Japan but does things to it a sushi chef would probably find bizarre.

                                                            3. Koo, Aka Tombo, Okina, in that order.

                                                              Omakase at Koo is fantastic. Great service, well paced omakase, 1 piece at a time, very good neta, great shari. I usually spend about $100 with drinks. I'd consider this mid-level quality in Tokyo, and I think the price is very fair for SF. Similar in quality and price to Sushi Gen or Sushi Go 55 in LA. Not high end sushi by any means, but the best that we can get in SF I think. It's my favorite sushi experience in SF.

                                                              Aka Tombo - great value. The "base" nigiri omakase is $30 for 10 pieces. I always start with that, then get a few more pieces of nigiri based on what's on the specials board. Ryoji-san is an amazing chef and gets great seafood, and his shari is good too. Unfortunately the omakase is served in 2 servings of 5 pieces or one 10-piece plate instead of one piece at a time. Still, its a great value, the neta is always good quality, and Ryoji-san is one of the nicest guys you'll meet.

                                                              Okina in the Richmond district has limited neta options but his shari his great, nicely vinegared and at the right temperature. Very cheap prices but again, very limited neta options and, although the neta is always good, it doesn't quite measure up to Koo or Aka Tombo. Still, I've had very filling omakase meals there for $40 or $50 that were very good.

                                                              Sebo: heh. Their neta is too small and I think they are overpriced compared to Koo. Very good quality but expensive. Would pick Koo over Sebo any day.

                                                              Ino: Sorry, the sushi is good, very good rice and great ikura, ankimo, and his magurozuke is fantastic, but the guy is such a jerk that I can't bring myself to go back. He needs to remember the concept of omotenashi and apply it to his business.

                                                              1. People are correct when they say that NYC is better for sushi than SF. There is no place in SF of the caliber of Sushi Yasuda in NY which I thought was better than sushi I had in Tokyo.

                                                                There is much better sushi just outside of SF than in the city itself. For example Sushi Sho in El Cerrito and Sushi Ran in Sausalito. Sushi Ran can be very pricy though. My favorite sushi in the Bay Area is Sushi Sho. The chef Akisan is very serious about his sushi.

                                                                I never noticed the rudeness at Ino but some friends of mine who would go there regularly apparently did something that annoyed the chef and he was extremely rude to them. They have not been back since.

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: Ridge

                                                                  I agree that Sho in El Cerrito is better than anything in SF, and I would also add Sakae in Burlingame to that list. I disagree about Sushi Ran though. Kiyoshi Hayakawa, the owner and head chef at Koo, worked at Sushi Ran for 15 years. I think Koo is as good, if not better, and significantly cheaper.

                                                                  1. re: Ridge

                                                                    It's not just Ino, it's also his wife and the whole experience. I've tried enjoying it multiple times and never had anything that warranted such unwelcoming or disinteresting treatment. No reason to return.

                                                                  2. "Best quality sushi" - to me this has multiple definitions and components

                                                                    -definition of "sushi". Traditionally this should just mean nigiri. OP could be asking about American rolls as well, but we are guessing not.
                                                                    -overall experience
                                                                    -amount and quality of interaction with the chef
                                                                    -variety (do they use "95% of fish from Japan" like Sebo?)
                                                                    -variety and quality of seasonal seafood
                                                                    -handling and treating of product
                                                                    -sushi rice receipe (some are very particular about this)
                                                                    -craftsmanship, from knife cuts, size of the fish, the molding, to form factor
                                                                    -what else can the chef do beyond nigiri sushi (or rolls)
                                                                    -if you are looking for a complete high end experience, what side dish options or appetizers are available (if this is more than just a nigiri and sashimi only restaurant).
                                                                    -does the chef have a specialty or more that outshines the competition by far and is it worth returning just for that
                                                                    -the rest is the restaurant's service, vibe, and what price points you are comfortable with.

                                                                    I seriously do not think there are restaurants in SF Bay Area that meet all of the above. There may be a select few outliers that come close (or remotely close). And in many ways selection of such restaurants is a very personal matter. Which is why Sebo, Ino and those types of places have typically been controversial.

                                                                    But I will say that if you want some really high end fish and are willing to pay, seems like Akiko's Restaurant on Bush in SF is the place to go. Look at their Facebook page pictures and you can decide, but be prepared for $30 Tokujyo / Russian uni, and maybe similar range for A5 Miyazaki heavily marbled beef.

                                                                    58 Replies
                                                                    1. re: K K

                                                                      I am so dated in the sushi game these days in the SF Bay Area...as I tend to just stick with my old favorites. How do the old places like Sakae, Kitsho, and Sushi Yuzu, stack up with all the places mentioned in this thread?

                                                                      Interestingly some of the old school sushi chefs here prefer the Santa Barbara uni over Hokkaido/Japan, but I don't know if cost or availability has anything to do with it.

                                                                      1. re: Cary

                                                                        Have not been to Sakae in a while, but last visit at the table 2 to almost 3 years ago was average...I should try the bar again one of these nights.

                                                                        Kitsho's owner Howard sold the business in April and retired. Now it is operating under new ownership/management/chefs. I have no plans on trying it out.

                                                                        Yuzu? Always more of an izakaya bar and grill type of place. Never had super stellar sushi there, it was like Sakae light with about a few notches below on random nights. It can be a fun good place if you spread out your order beyond sushi/sashimi.

                                                                        A top notch joint and chef would select both Hokkaido and Santa Barbara uni, premium quality, and pair them with your dinner (assuming they can get them and resell at a price point that customers are willing to live with). If Santa Barbara uni is not in season (e.g. January/February), East Coast/Maine uni can be pretty good too. If the chef plays a game above the rest of his peers in the field, he (or she) would know when to and when not to serve either with seaweed (nori), and how to apply the right touch and pressure to make uni nigiri (and not the battleship/gunkan) and not damage its integrity. But that's just me :-)

                                                                        1. re: K K

                                                                          That's too bad about Howard of Kitsho. I've only been there a few times at the bar, and sometimes if you sit at the wrong end you get his apprentice and not Howard. I remember one time after a solo omakase, he tallied up the bill and remarked, "oh. wow. You eat a lot." haha

                                                                          Sakae, is one of my longtime favorites, but since moving away to SJ, I have to admit that I haven't been there in over a year. Supposedly Jun-san still remembers me, according to my sister, but who knows, he may just be polite. I preferred their old location in downtown Burlingame versus their new place on California but they didn't have a choice in the matter as the landowner wouldn't renew the lease at a low price point. Their sake list is pretty impressive although they sometimes don't have every bottle in stock. I got teased for ordering the "pretty boy" (bishounen) sake on a couple of visits. We probably tried everything on that list at some point.

                                                                          Yuzu, as Sakae-lite is a good descriptor. The sushi bar is small and fills up but the experience is more fun I think because of Arima-san. Later into the night, after he indulges in a few sips of sake, he'll break into his Jun-san and Hiro-san impersonations (both of Sakae) in good nature and crack jokes. Fish wise, they source from the same distributors as Sakae, but the whiteboard won't have some of the cooler stuff.

                                                                          I don't have any experience with the sushi joints in SF, so just curious how they would stack up against the peninsula places.

                                                                          1. re: K K

                                                                            Went to Sakae just a few weeks ago and had an excellent experience at the bar. Been going for years and don't think there is any significant downhill trend. We basicaly ate off the white board, which seems to be one of the more extensive in the area and indeed had high quality Hokkaido and Santa Barbara uni (in a tremendous upset based on past experience, I preferred the latter on this day). There was a special Japanese saba for $30 that we passed on but did have Hokkaido hotate and baby lightning squid (both outstanding) the latter which I've never seen or had before.

                                                                            I frequent Sushi Sam's more often since the value's better to me, but Sakae is a tier above in my mind.

                                                                            I did try Kitsho post-Howard (I think he left as of late 2012 or thereabouts according to my conversation with the new owner/itamae) and definitely will not return.

                                                                            1. re: bouncepass

                                                                              Thanks for the updated summaries. I am personally not a fan of Sam's (at least not anymore), but the cooked side dishes are still great.

                                                                              $30 is probably for the prized and hard to get Seki saba (if they are charging this much for Japanese ma-saba or goma-saba that's a super steep markup). I still remember paying $16 to $18 an order, but that was 10 years ago.

                                                                              1. re: K K

                                                                                I'm almost positive it was called Seki saba on the white board.

                                                                                If not Sam's, then, may I ask what your go-to nigiri spots are in a roughly similar price range? Preferably south bay or peninsula but I'll travel anywhere in the bay area.

                                                                                Sushi Sho has been on the to-try list for some time now. May have to move it up.

                                                                        2. re: K K

                                                                          I agree with KK completely.

                                                                          Akiko's serves the best sushi I have had in SF.

                                                                          1. re: K K

                                                                            I finally had sushi in LA at Sushi Zo, and although I don't have the number of data points that some folks here do, let me share some thoughts.

                                                                            Look at the problem from the owner's perspective. You've spent 20 years training as a sushi chef in japan, and you're at the top of your game. You're not just a good itame, you're a great itame. You could go anywhere in the world. Would you go to SF?

                                                                            I wouldn't. SF is small time. It's a city of less than 1M that does care a lot about food and has international cachet, but it's not REALLY a world class city. It's a cute little toy city with nice light and some marginally interesting architecture and one world class industry: tech.

                                                                            Your best customers will be regulars. Serving to tourists is a chump's game. You need a steady supply of locals who don't sneeze at dropping $200/pp for a meal, and can appreciate what you do because they're in Tokyo frequently.

                                                                            You want a local food press that'll appreciate you.

                                                                            You want competition at the same level you are, and since you're one of the handful of the best, you know where those guys are.

                                                                            Put all that together, and LA's built up a cluster of great sushi places. And by "great" I mean I'm sure there's places like this in Tokyo, but they're not well known or available to casual food tourists like myself. I have had chi-toro better in Tokyo, because there's that little place in Tsukiji that stays open late and buys fish from boats that come in during the evening, before they get haggled over the next day, and is an everyday place.

                                                                            I mean, sushi zo, are you kidding? The place is a lousy strip mall next to a bad taco joint sharing a parking lot with a Von's. Sushi Sho had a lot more class (haven't seen the new incarnation).

                                                                            I discount the traveling executive idea. That's enough to get you good sushi, but not best-of-world sushi. I had great sushi in Manaus, Brazil, because they have a few japanese plants and regular business visits from execs and a steady supply of actual fresh fish from the amazon (one of the few times I've had fish that was certainly not frozen). The knifework was good but not at the highest level. I thought the place was about at the level of Sushi Sam but a little better because of more worldly japanese customers, but worse because of less competition. That's what the travelling executive class gets you.

                                                                            I loved the omakaze only concept, which I don't think is in the bay area (it must be in Tokyo but I don't have access to those kinds of places). By doing omakaze only, they can line up the fish they want to serve and have much less waste. There's a more uniform experience - it's not just for celebs.

                                                                            LA county has the largest number of millionaires in the US, with upwards of 240,000 according to Wikipedia. Fellow diners at Zo were fans like myself, kids with too much disposable income, a Korean guy who might have been famous, and closer to the end of the night was a real regular, a very fashionable japanese girl who was fussed over and clearly Someone. All of these people paid the freight and recognized the quality without being studio execs or traveling japanese.

                                                                            Think of it: people with that level of skill won't optimize for the highest dollar, so it's not all about supply and demand. They live for kudos and community, as long as they also make good money. Same thing with the bay area software scene. I came to bay area out of college with a degree from one of the best computer science departments at the time, having already shipped product several times, and there was no contest. I wouldn't take the better offers in Raleigh or New York simply because that's not where the scene was - I wouldn't meet the right people, wouldn't get involved in the right scene.

                                                                            After sushi zo, I think the right answer when I want good sushi is simply to fly down to LA for the evening. I live 20 minutes from the airport, and could leave for the airport at 3:30 and make a 6:30 reservation, be home by 11pm. Sure, that's a little crazy, but unless someone can tell me a sushi place even remotely in the class of Zo (and Zo's not considered the best of LA) in the bay area (gotta try sakae), I might just start skipping sushi completely (ok, the occasional hello at Naomi where I'm getting to know the place).

                                                                            About the only thing we have great in SF is the "new modern cuisine" thing ("cal/ital", whatever), where SF is on the map and regularly sends chefs to the Bigs in NYC.

                                                                            1. re: bbulkow

                                                                              If wealthy residents automatically drew great restaurants, the top food cities in the Bay Area would be San Ramon, Pleasanton, and Palo Alto.


                                                                              Or Stamford, San Jose, and DC would be better restaurant towns than SF.


                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                LA does have the largest number of millionaires by more than 50% over the next closest.

                                                                                Still, point taken. Given that, say, San Jose makes that list means there should be a few decent restaurants. There aren't. There are other confounding factors, like the global nature of the residents, the amount of surrounding wealth, the history of the area.

                                                                                Part of my point is that sushi is such a personality driven experience that a head itame will settle where he damn well pleases, and that means usually heading for a world city, not SF.

                                                                              2. re: bbulkow

                                                                                The question still remains why at least one of these top places wouldn't also open an SF operation as well. There's no competition at that level, and instant prestige.

                                                                                1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                  Aggregate demand?

                                                                                  Also fewer ultra fine dining places of any cuisine are opening in sf. Costs has something to do with it.

                                                                                  Also the head itamae has to trust his lieutenant enough to open a branch in sf and find a replacement at his flagship. Few and far between imho.

                                                                                  1. re: Cary

                                                                                    Saison, Benu, Coi, Acquerello, Ame, Quince, Atelier Crenn, and Michael Mina all seem to be doing fine, and Hakkasan just opened a branch.

                                                                                    I can't believe the lack of top world-class sushi reflects a lack of people who could afford it.

                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                      We're talking about a level of sushi that would put them in the Saison, French Laundry tax bracket.

                                                                                      We're also talking about a level of service far beyond most of the places on your list....and most of which have been open so long they shouldn't even be mentioned in a discussion of what's opening recently.

                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                        I can't believe the lack of top world-class sushi reflects a lack of people who could afford it.

                                                                                        It's a reflection of people who can afford it, and who *want* it.

                                                                                        We sometimes forget how myopic the audience here is on Chowhound, but sushi (or even Japanese) is not nearly as universally accepted or loved as say something like haute-French, or nouveau Italian, or (cough, cough) sustainable farm-to-table.

                                                                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                          What? Everybody likes sushi. There are maybe 200 sushi restaurants in SF. It's far more popular than French. You can buy sushi at Costco.

                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                            Sushi at Costco isn't really the stuff we're talking about here.

                                                                                            Plus, there's a lot of price inelasticity when it comes to sushi. People have accepted that French or high-end Italian will be $$$$. Whereas, sushi? No so much.

                                                                                            There are probably more than 200 places selling burger in SF, but that doesn't make SF a good burger city necessarily.

                                                                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                              SF is a good burger city. You can easily take a burger tour here that rivals other cities known for them.

                                                                                              I think people realize Sushi is a big ticket item. That was part of the sex appeal when first introduced to the States. People also know when they're eating moderate sushi, they're not getting anything a high roller in Japan would respect.

                                                                                              1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                Just an aside and point of clarification. I was *not* making any commentary (good or bad) about SF as a burger city. Just using it as an example that volume or numerosity of eateries does not, ipso facto, make for quality. That's all.

                                                                                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                                  Japantown itself is proof of that theory, so I agree.

                                                                                                  If we're talking burgers, sandwiches, breads, or a ton of other categories...SF has some of the best in the country. Not so with Sushi, which is why this thread is still going. I will say, I do think there's a group of Sushi fans who think otherwise, and aren't entirely exposed to what's happening in LA and NY.

                                                                                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                                    You said, "sushi (or even Japanese) is not nearly as universally accepted or loved as say something like haute-French, or nouveau Italian, or (cough, cough) sustainable farm-to-table."

                                                                                                    The existence of 200 sushi restaurants, even if most of them are pretty mediocre, make it clear that that's not true.

                                                                                                    Most of SF's 200+ Italian restaurants are pretty mediocre, too, but the best are as good or better than their counterparts in NYC and LA.

                                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                      Sushi is still considered an adventurous eater food. It's not meat and potatoes or pasta. A lot of people won't touch raw fish, whereas, if you don't like spaghetti, you're just a picky eater.

                                                                                                      I also think you're inflating SF's Italian offerings, to an absurd degree, but that's another topic.

                                                                                                      1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                        There are around 4,000 restaurants in SF. Around 10% are Chinese, 8% Italian, 6% sushi, 3% French.

                                                                                                        "Sushi is still considered an adventurous eater food."

                                                                                                        Most places in America, maybe. Around here, it's totally mainstream. Ask a group of local kids what their favorite food is and sushi will be one of the most popular choices.

                                                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                          Out of the 6% sushi demographic, none fit this discussion.

                                                                                                          California rolls with imitation fish are mainstream, not Sukiyabashi Jiro. It's like talking about In and Out in a conversation about fine aged steak.

                                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                            Robert, are you seriously hewing to the position that sushi in SF is not a weak spot?

                                                                                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                                              "are you seriously hewing to the position that sushi in SF is not a weak spot?"

                                                                                                              I don't get how you could get that idea from my posts. I'm just curious about why.

                                                                                                            2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                              Robert is 100% right. Sushi isn't a chowhound thing. When I walk into my safeway, there's a big pile of sushi and a sushi chef. The number of people in the bay area who think sushi is adventurous is vanishingly small. Those would probably also consider french adventurous.

                                                                                                              There is a problem in the bay area where there seem to be few who appreciate high end sushi. There are many aspects to this. Once you have one or two places, you get more. If you have more money, you get more. If you have people who commonly travel to tokyo, you get more. A larger general population gets more. In each and every category, LA trumps SF, so we should expect more high end sushi in LA.

                                                                                                              Lack of general acceptance of sushi isn't a problem.


                                                                                                              1. re: bbulkow

                                                                                                                I think 10-15 years ago we had higher-end sushi than we have now (original Kabuto, Kyo-Ya in its prime), and I'm pretty sure we have more rich people, more people who travel to Japan a lot, and more rich gastro-tourists than we did then.

                                                                                                                Maybe people in LA just like sushi more. Eater put together a list of LA's most expensive restaurants, and Japanese is much more heavily represented than it would be on a similar list in SF.


                                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                  Someone said it well a few posts ago -- I think the lack of very high-end sushi reflects more on supply rather than demand. It's not easy to replicate the quality you find at the best places in NY or LA (or Japan). The chefs who are trained at that level who go to the US tend to go to NY or LA first.

                                                                                                                  I think if Naomichi Yasuda decided to open a flagship restaurant in SF, it would probably be very popular.

                                                                                                                  1. re: calumin

                                                                                                                    The chefs who are trained at that level who go to the US tend to go to NY or LA first.

                                                                                                                    But the question is why? Why do they tend to go NYC or LA first?

                                                                                                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                                                      Sponsorship / immigration, and related higher costs of hiring skilled labor from overseas that might not be as sustainable in SF and perhaps lack of contacts involved (vs LA or NY). Part of the supply and demand factor from business and customer ends.

                                                                                                                      1. re: K K

                                                                                                                        I think there is just a more basic phenomenon which is that if you're trained in Tokyo, and you want to make it big in the US, NY comes up first and LA second as desirable places to go.

                                                                                                                        I don't think it's limited to just chefs. In Japan as well as Korea, people view NY and LA as the two big metropolitan hubs in the US, with SF falling somewhere high in the list of the next 3-4 cities.

                                                                                                                        1. re: calumin


                                                                                                                          San Francisco is _NOT_ a world city. In a global sense, it's a very pleasant quaint smaller city, and one that has a strong reputation for food - well above its size and global importance.

                                                                                                                          LA and NYC are America's only two global cities, that's where you can get bragging rights.

                                                                                                                          Again, being the tallest guy in midget town is not interesting.

                                                                                                                          1. re: bbulkow

                                                                                                                            In the past 40 years, the SF Bay Area has had more influence on the world than any other metropolitan area, and more influence on American cuisine.

                                                                                                                            NY is nothing but finance, fashion, and Eurotrash. It's probably the lack of imagination, quaint concern for status and conspicuous display, and excess of money that accounts for them getting better sushi.

                                                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                              Hmm, Robert... I don't recall your posts/reports on current first hand dining experiences in NY. Which ones justify that comment?

                                                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston


                                                                                                                                In all seriousness, I think both statements might be true. I do agree that SF is far less cosmopolitan than NY or LA, but also think it could fairly be argued that SF cuisine has had a greater influence than those cities' cuisines.

                                                                                                                                1. re: dunstable

                                                                                                                                  Hm... keyword being "had".

                                                                                                                                  I'm trying to think what thing SF/bay area came up with "first" or popularized "first" before the other cities in the recent years.

                                                                                                                                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                  The minor leagues have the greatest influence on the big leagues.

                                                                                                                                3. re: bbulkow

                                                                                                                                  Whatever makes a world city in your view, who knows, but it's a technology and think tank epicenter known for it's food.

                                                                                                                                  The outside world also thinks San Francisco has great weather, and again, the best food. That's the reputation. I see more SF chefs on the Food Channel than LA chefs. When the SF chefs go to NY for events, it's treated like a big deal by their press.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                                    Hm... I think few people would agree that the overall food in SF is better than the overall food in NYC. We may have the better ingredients however.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Cary

                                                                                                                                      Better ingredients = better food.

                                                                                                                                      People who think otherwise are overly impressed with New York.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                        This is veering to a general topic suitable in a different subforum.
                                                                                                                                        We're not eating raw produce and raw protein on a plate. Somebody has to transform them into a desirable, edible dish.

                                                                                                                                        If simple is your thing, then go for it. It certainly is a popular held belief by foodies around here as food has become simplified in the past decade. It's easy to be overly impressed by the lists of organic ingredients from dinky farmers on the menu in SF.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: Cary

                                                                                                                                          Better ingredients != only simple cooking. The French Laundry, Manresa, Coi, Benu, and Atelier Crenn all benefit from the superior local produce.

                                                                                                                                          I suppose that's of little or no importance to sushi chefs, though.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                            It's not always superior to the best of New York, Pennsylvania, Main, Vermont, New Jersey, even Ohio. How do you think Per Se operates? Was Patterson trying to open in NY so he could use canned produce?

                                                                                                                                            1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                                              A better question might be why Patterson came back.

                                                                                                                                              "When I traveled to Italy earlier this year, I felt right at home. Much of the produce was the same as we have here, and I recognized dish after dish from local restaurants. It was like growing up with Prada knockoffs and then visiting the factory to see the real thing — except that I found myself pining for the Bay Area versions. With few exceptions, the products were better, the cooking more careful in my hometown."


                                                                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                Are we talking about Italy now? Patterson is, in that quote. He also references the mindset that SF has better ingredients as cliche.

                                                                                                                                                Once again, I encourage you to form an educated opinion, firsthand.

                                                                                                                                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                          NY isn't lacking for excellent local ingredients. In many cases their ingredients are far superior.

                                                                                                                                          Sounds like it's time to schedule a visit.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                                            Just Sunday night I was just talking with a chef friend who's from NY and used to cook at one of Batali's places there. He goes back to visit regularly and was laughing about how people there are so impressed by the sad stuff at Union Square Greenmarket.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                              So you're not sharing an educated first hand opinion?

                                                                                                                                              That could be why your friend merely cooked for Batali, but isn't Batali or any of the chefs who made a great name relying on it. Both cities have great ingredients.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                Batali is more successfully phony than Michael Minna.

                                                                                                                                                At least, I went to one of his two stars, and it was a joke.

                                                                                                                                                I'm sure the man is brilliant, but - like MM - the chain he's created is a monstrosity. Just a bigger more successful monstrosity. So NYC.

                                                                                                                                          2. re: Cary

                                                                                                                                            Well, if this is going to turn into an SF vs. NY debate, then it must be said that ingredient quality goes a long, long way. If we are going to cherry-pick the best restaurants of a particular cuisine, then yes, NY wins nearly every time. However, I do not eat most of my meals at Per Se, or The French Laundry, or Yasuda, or wherever. I eat them at home, or in cheap fast food places. Here in SF, I can get a grass-fed organic steak at the local market for $10 as I come home from work. Here the local taquerias and burger chains use produce that doesn't taste like it's been sitting in some form of storage for a week. Unless I win the Powerball lottery, I'll take SF food for now.

                                                                                                                                4. re: calumin

                                                                                                                                  "I think if Naomichi Yasuda decided to open a flagship restaurant in SF, it would probably be very popular."

                                                                                                                                  It would be insanely popular.

                                                                                                                                  (But not really because people buy California Salmon rolls at Safeway)

                                                                                                                              2. re: bbulkow

                                                                                                                                "There is a problem in the bay area where there seem to be few who appreciate high end sushi. "

                                                                                                                                Agreed. I actually work part time at a high end sushi place in the peninsula, and this statement is sadly true.

                                                                                                          2. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                            Why would there be instant prestige? They'd be a big fish in a small pond. Being the tallest in midget town isn't a rave review.

                                                                                                            Sushi doesn't scale well, Michael Minna style, as Cary says, because the best places have a Head Guy who can't be cloned and you know when he's in the house.

                                                                                                            Witness Morimoto - is anyone going to say the Napa branch is as good as the home office when he was at the helm? Has anyone even mentioned Morimoto in this thread?

                                                                                                            1. re: bbulkow

                                                                                                              It's a city where we make celebrities out of people with a food cart. This is a small pond that gives national recognition to chefs with neighborhood restaurants.

                                                                                                              Morimoto isn't really on the level we're talking about right now, even on the East Coast.

                                                                                                              1. re: bbulkow

                                                                                                                I've spent HUNDREDS at Morimoto and HUNDREDS at Urasawa.

                                                                                                                I deeply regret the money I've spent at Morimoto at the sushi bar (but not the $25 Bento Box).

                                                                                                                I do not regret -- and still fondly remember -- the money spent at Urasawa.

                                                                                                                Different animals entirely. Some of the quality of sushi I have had at Morimoto is on par with, or not nearly as good, as the places I have already mentioned with Morimoto exponentially more expensive. Urasawa's level of quality is exponentially better than anything I have had in the Bay Area.

                                                                                                            2. re: bbulkow

                                                                                                              I'm not sure that its the number if millionaires per se but a combination of things including high overhead and how far your dollar goes. It's the same reason the Chinese food is less than stellar in the city(ducks). Chefs don't want to slave away and then go home to an 800 sq ft apartment that they are paying over 2800/month for. LA has a large Japanese population and more space and larger houses. After that you have to look at the supply chain. There are probably fewer high quality fish suppliers up here vs so cal for the same reason.

                                                                                                              1. re: chezwhitey

                                                                                                                "Chefs don't want to slave away and then go home to an 800 sq ft apartment that they are paying over 2800/month for."

                                                                                                                Sounds plausible, except NY is even more expensive.

                                                                                                          3. I agree with everything stated in this post regarding Sushi quality in the Bay Area. However, there is one diamond in the rough that I believe is notable and has not been mentioned yet.

                                                                                                            Yume in Alameda. It is a tiny sushi bar that is only open if they have fresh fish and you need to show up around 4p to get in line to wait for a seat. If you don't get seated in the first seating they give you a playing card to hold your place and you need to be back before they start seating again. Price is reasonable considering the quality and the experience.

                                                                                                            1. I wonder if to some extent the ceiling on sushi quality around here reflects a self-fulfilling prejudice?

                                                                                                              That is, connoisseurs who know that sushi is better in LA and NYC don't patronize the places here that could operate on that level if the clientele would support it.

                                                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                Like who? There's nobody even set up or trained to do that quality.

                                                                                                                The bigger problem (and it's evident in this conversation), is a lack of education. If San Franciscans were more aware there was a decadent higher end experience, they would want it, at any cost. Meanwhile, if you've had the good stuff, it's hard to go back to the mediocre version. That's not a prejudice that's just raising your expectations.

                                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                  Sure they do.

                                                                                                                  They're just disappointed, but they eat there anyway. I had a guy who was my worldwide VP of sales, he had a great appreciation of Sushi, had a set of favorite places in Tokyo, and he would eat at Sakae and, when he didn't want to drive far, Sushi Ran. If there were higher end places, he'd eat there.

                                                                                                                  1. re: bbulkow

                                                                                                                    If they're getting customers like that, why don't they cater to them?

                                                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                      Because there are few chefs in the world who can do so, and they rarely want to set up shop in a small town, regardless of how profitable it is.

                                                                                                                      Despite our generic american belief in profit being everything, artists don't work that way.

                                                                                                                      Sometimes you find artists in obscure places for obscure reasons, that's (arguably) the point of chowhound - any good food, anywhere.

                                                                                                                2. I wonder if ecological concerns might be more of a factor in SF than in LA or NYC. I'll drop $500 on dinner, but I wouldn't set foot in a restaurant that served bluefin tuna.

                                                                                                                  9 Replies
                                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                    Interesting. Do the high end places around here, Japanese or otherwise, tend to stick to sustainable seafood? You get that sense in the mid-range. I was surprised, but then again not really, to see bluefin at Michael Minna.

                                                                                                                    1. re: hyperbowler

                                                                                                                      Exactly. What Sushi place around here is sticking to "sustainable" fish? Nobody seems too concerned by that. I think that's just doing intellectual backflips to rationalize what's just a fluke. Within 2 years, we'll see competition in this area.

                                                                                                                      I will say this though, for whatever reason, my Japanese friends here in SF aren't the most discriminating when it comes to Sushi.

                                                                                                                      1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                        Tataki in SF claims to have only sustainable fish. As a result their fish menu changes and they don't always have everything a typical sushi restaurant would have.

                                                                                                                        1. re: Ashley12

                                                                                                                          Looks like they're making a good attempt, and noting when it's farmed. Also looks like they're using fish from all over the place( Japan, Norway)....I'm not sure if that counts as sustainable, or not, but transparency is nice...and they're really good sushi places.

                                                                                                                      2. re: hyperbowler

                                                                                                                        Anyone have concerns about Sushi fish contaminated with Fukashima radiation?


                                                                                                                        1. re: Mission

                                                                                                                          I asked this question on the General Board in November 2011 and got a reply from a knowledgeable Japanese sushi chef


                                                                                                                          I did ask another chef fairly recently and his answer was somewhat similar, basically some level of scanning still done in both countries.

                                                                                                                          1. re: K K

                                                                                                                            great overall thread on sushi. thanks for the link.

                                                                                                                      3. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                        And where do you draw the line re ecology and sustainability? Hamachi ok?, Ankimo?, Unagi?, Yellowfin?

                                                                                                                      4. probably Kappa in Japantown. Small Seats about 10.
                                                                                                                        Koryori style. Chef chooses menu of what is best and freshest.
                                                                                                                        Have not been there in a long time. I hope the quality remains the same.

                                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                                        1. re: stanbee

                                                                                                                          Kappa isn't a traditional sushi restaurant, as you indicate. Lots of small plates, many of which are not sushi whatsoever.

                                                                                                                        2. Okay! Let's get back on track talking about sushi!

                                                                                                                          Side question to everyone. You're considering the Millbrae/San Bruno down through to the Cupertino/San Jose area only.

                                                                                                                          What is:

                                                                                                                          1) your numero un top sushi joint that you'll brave hail and traffic to visit. Cost no concern

                                                                                                                          2) which joint has the best sake list?

                                                                                                                          3) which place provides the best quality and experience for the money?

                                                                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                                                                          1. re: Cary

                                                                                                                            Can you glean a restaurant list from this thread?

                                                                                                                            1. re: Cynsa

                                                                                                                              Only the ones that I mentioned.
                                                                                                                              Everything else has been in SF proper.

                                                                                                                            2. re: Cary

                                                                                                                              I enjoy Ino, Sushi Sho and Sakae (in Burlingame), but my favorite is Hana in Rohnert Park. When Ken, the owner, is behind the bar, and you put yourself in his hands, the experience is the best I've had in the Bay Area. Sushi Zo in LA is the one superior experience in CA that I've had.

                                                                                                                              Stewart, the sake sommelier at Hana, makes it even better. Cost is practically equal among the 3 I listed, so for the money Hana does it best.

                                                                                                                            3. I visited Sushi Sho last night. Highlights were saba and hirame sashimi, and tara-ko, which was my favorite nigiri of the meal. The anago was also very good. His shari was fantastic, vinegared perfectly and at room temperature. The gari he uses tastes better than other sushiyas in the Bay Area too for some reason.

                                                                                                                              On the downside, the neta selection was very limited. His hikari-mono selection was non-existent, other than the saba. Hirame was the only white fish served. Maguro, uni, and other selections were run of the mill. He served two different types of smoked salmon, which I'm not a fan of. The lack of exciting neta options made the meal somewhat forgettable.

                                                                                                                              Omakase (sashimi course + about 10 to 12 pieces of nigiri) plus one beer and tip came to $110.

                                                                                                                              Sushi Sho
                                                                                                                              10749 San Pablo Ave
                                                                                                                              El Cerrito, CA 94530

                                                                                                                              1. Yes we have to settle.. some reasonable bets

                                                                                                                                Sushi Sam (San Mateo)
                                                                                                                                Sakae (Burlingame)
                                                                                                                                Kani Kosen (Pacifica) - Strip mall but they are pretty passionate about not using frozen fish

                                                                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                                                                1. re: Foodnut8

                                                                                                                                  Not using flash-frozen sushi-grade fish is quite eccentric, and certain kinds of fish should be frozen to kill parasites.


                                                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                    Ate at Kani Kosen last evening and had the large sashimi plate ($60) which included a whole, fileted Sea Bream and ample offerings of toro, maguro, hamachi, hotate, and sake.

                                                                                                                                    Some friends orgered nigiri of uni, ikura gankan, and quail egg. We also shared goma-ae, fried soft-shell crab, and a house specialty, Kani Kosen Yaki, a mix of scallops, shrimp, mushrooms, and green onions baked in their special sauce and served in a large clam shell.

                                                                                                                                    Love this place...

                                                                                                                                2. Often overlooked is Kiji on Guerrero Street. The quality of this fish there is excellent and they also do a number of very interesting dishes. It is recommended by the Michelin people, but I don't think it is known outside the neighborhood.

                                                                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                                                                  1. re: SFDude

                                                                                                                                    I completely agree about Kiji....small but quality. Also Ebisu on 9th Ave. near Irving...

                                                                                                                                    1. re: SF Shoim

                                                                                                                                      Kiji was my worst restaurant experience in SF in the 8 years I've lived here. Their service was horrible and the sushi chefs were the slowest I've ever experienced. If you look at reviews, many like Kiji, but many have experienced the lack of decent management. Never, ever again, even if he gives me free food.

                                                                                                                                    2. re: SFDude

                                                                                                                                      I LOVE KIJI. My favorite for sushi in SF. How anybody could have their worst dining experience there in 8 years is beside me. I am here at least once a month and love it.

                                                                                                                                      Great to sit at the bar and eat what chef recommends.

                                                                                                                                    3. So stoked to find this discussion as I've been lamenting the same thing lately!! Have doubled down on resolve to go to Aka Tombo, and was glad to hear that Okina is still around...I always loved his vibe and sushi, even though the selection was limited. Has anyone checked out Murasaki lately? Sasaki-san used to be a good go-to source for excellent sushi and cooked items, although quality did vary depending on the day you were there. I've tried to love Akiko's and am delighted at their adventurous and ambitious neta selection but find their portions just too tiny and their rice disappointing.

                                                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                                                      1. re: dosankosan

                                                                                                                                        That's interesting you didn't like Akiko's. I agree the portions are small, but they're one of the only places in SF where I've found them get the temperature of the rice correct. What did you not like about the rice?

                                                                                                                                      2. Regarding the rudeness of the owner (him and her) of Ino's. I am constantly surprised at the abuse that SF "Foodies" put themselves through for the sake of appearing hip and savvy. So many people on Yelp defend this guy as a Master of Sushi, a Sage of raw fish serving (common, cut it up and dish it out - not too tough, neh?). Why? I am at a loss to understand. As I am with the raves about the House of Chungking (oh, NanKing) - and their famous level of customer neglect and abuse. But I digress......

                                                                                                                                        Case in point. The quality at Ino is a B at best. But the incredible arrogance and rudeness of both owner's is legendary and very very real. I was so disgusted at the level of incivility (is that a word?), that after the first two plates, I canceled the rest of my order, asked for the check and in lieu of a tip, I clearly explained on the receipt that no abuse warrants a positive reinforcement such as a gratuity for service. Which, in case anyone in this town still remembers is what a tip is for. Soooo, that's my two yen's worth.

                                                                                                                                        1. I suggest Ichi Sushi on Mission. They are in the old Yo's location, and while I wish Yo the best in his well deserved retirement, I miss him and his fine food.

                                                                                                                                          Ichi has been a happy entry into the field

                                                                                                                                          6 Replies
                                                                                                                                            1. re: od_sf

                                                                                                                                              Tim Archuleta, who trained under Kiyoshi-san of Koo.

                                                                                                                                              Yo-san is not retired. You can find him at Chinese run sushi/ramen restaurant at Izanami in South San Francisco every day except Wednesdays and Saturdays.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: K K

                                                                                                                                                Tried Ichi tonight, and was very pleasantly surprised. Sat at the counter in front of Tim and ordered omakase. The shari was very good, and Tim's neta selection was varied and of high quality. Lots of great seasonal neta including kamasu (Japanese barracuda), shima aji, meiji maguro, mirugai, inada, samekawa karei (shark skin flounder), good uni from Hokkaido, delicious anago, and really amazing fresh aji and saba. Total of about 15 pieces of nigiri for roughly $75, which I thought was a bargain for the level of quality. My only complaint would be that some of the nigiri was a little bit over-sauced. Very friendly and relaxed atmosphere (especially after last week's visit to Sushi Sho in El Cerrito, which is very sterile to say the least) and a fantastic meal overall.

                                                                                                                                            2. re: sarafinadh

                                                                                                                                              Yo's!! It filled a great niche, definitely not my splurge sushi joint, but perfect for a Tuesday with the kids, especially with Yo-san's great banter. Heard he was also working someplace in the city, but can't recall where. My understanding was that he didn't want to retire, but was ready to give up the stress of being the owner. Ichi isn't bad.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: dosankosan

                                                                                                                                                Yo's was okay. Super blah in my book. Without fail, he gave me crappy pieces of hamachi. Ichi is a dramatic improvement and just a whole different level.

                                                                                                                                              2. re: sarafinadh

                                                                                                                                                Very much not a sushi expert, but I'll second the Ishi rec. I've had excellent meals there.