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May 22, 2013 10:07 PM

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:

                                                          " 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

                                                                      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 ( 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.