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Oct 12, 2013 11:43 AM

Koo omakase -- first of what will be many visits. [San Francisco]

Based on the recommendation of od and Dustin in another thread, I tried Koo for the first time last night. In a word, fantastic.

First off, everybody was very friendly. Ayumi-san, who took my reservation, greeted us, and handled our drink orders, was a delight. Her husband, Kiyashi-san (whom we requested thanks to od's recommendation), prepared our food. He was friendly, engaged (moreso as the night wore on) and eager to talk about ingredients and preparation. The other two gents behind the sushi bar were also delightful.

The food was terrific. As it was our first time, we left all decisions to the chef (except for when my husband asked for natto, a request he handled expertly by mixing it with other items into a very tasty hand roll). So we received a mixture of hot and cold items, prepared things and sushi and sashimi.

Of the sushi and sashimi, highlights were kampachi sashimi, razor clam sashimi, sanma nigiri, katsuo (in season right now) japanese barracuda nigiri, and blue shrimp (amaebi) nigiri, properly served with the fried shrimp heads.

I really appreciated both the freshness of the items I knew, but also especially the introduction of some things I haven't had before. I've cooked sanma but never had it raw; and the barracuda is something I'd never seen. This combination is what makes an omakase at a sushi bar really special.

Of the other items, we really enjoyed the 'spoonfuls of happiness' that began the meal. One spoon with tai (?) wrapped ankimo and the other with mendocino uni and quail egg (I'm leaving out a couple of other magic ingredients). It was a good way to welcome us and get things started. Refreshingbut lush. I also really loved a hot vegetable course that had miso eggplant, an amazing yellowtail-stuffed veggie, and some wonderful fried smelts with curry salt.

One thing I found interesting about the restaurant was that the sushi bar was making a lot of crazy rolls with sauces (things I usually avoid, and which we were not served). Often places that serve those things don't have the highest quality straight-on sushi, in my experience. But here they seemed to do everything.

I should also mention that the price was quite reasonable. The food charge was $75 each for a very satisfying meal with lots of interesting and high quality ingredients, as well as the full attention of a the chef. Although he was making many other things for the whole restaurant, we never felt ignored.

I feel the need to compare Koo to Ino, which has been my favorite for many years. I do think Koo compares favorably. Another poster mentioned that at Koo he often asks to skip the prepared items and sashimi, and just get a parade of nigiri. I might try this next time in order to be able to make a true comparison, as that is what one always gets at Ino. Based on what I know so far, I'd say that for the 'staples' like tunu, hamachi, I think Ino's is a touch better, but it's been a while and it may just be the rice making the difference (see below). But I get the feeling that at Koo there will always be highly seasonal variations beyond those staples that will not be found at Ino. Ino has some of that, but I feel that Koo is trying harder to do this, and it makes a difference. Koo's fresh grated wasabi is excellent; I don't recall whether Ino does this. One place where I have to say Ino wins, though, is the rice. His warm, flavorful rice affects the flavor of the whole bite, and there is a certain, whole-body satisfaction that it adds which is hard to define. Also, I believe Ino's soy sauce may be better; a bit thicker, with a deeper flavor. Last off, on price, Koo would have to be the winner. Better value.

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  1. Great report, pauliface! I had omakase here a few years ago, but it has escaped my memory.

    I'm a huge fan of Koo and often suggest it to people who ask about my favorite sushi in SF.

    One tip for a cheaper visit if you're tight on budget is Koo happy hour Sun-Thurs. $5 handrolls and some other specials and I usually get out around $30/pp with a beer. Visiting for regular meals comes in around $60/pp with beer.

    1. For many, the friendliness of the chef alone makes it a no-brainer to head over to Koo instead of Ino.

      1. Very glad to hear that you enjoyed the food at Koo.

        I had omakase at Ichi last night and what a disappointment compared to my Friday evening meal at Koo. Most everything was over-sauced and out of balance, it reminded me of Nozawa sushi. I got there at 5:10 (20 minutes prior to opening) to insure a spot at the bar with Tim (who ended up not being there) and by 5:30 a line thirty deep had formed. I understand Ichi's popularity; heavily sauced and flavored nigiri will be more appealing to the untrained palate. But in my opinion Ichi is really overhyped, while Kiyoshi-san is doing really good work at Koo while somewhat flying under the radar.

        1 Reply
        1. re: od_sf

          I've always found Friday the best sushi night, and I continue to wonder why.

          In the "old days" I used to think the global sushi delivery chain must move most of its fish on Thursday. Even the fanciest restaurants can't get fish flown in Sunday, or will have few flown in.

          Now, I guess everything's frozen on boat anyway, and stays frozen to the restaurant --- so could it be that some restaurants thaw overnight for Sunday, some don't ?

          I remember a meal at Ebisu on a Friday that made me think it was the best sushi in the world. Although my palate has improved, I think it was a particularly good night - a trip 6 months later (sunday, perhaps) had me realizing Ebisu's limitations.

        2. >> Koo's fresh grated wasabi is excellent; I don't recall whether Ino does this.

          he does not.

          great report.

          1. I like Koo a lot. Maybe I should add it back to the rotation on nights Sushi Aka Tombo's not open.

            Worth noting that at Koo, it pays to sit at the bar, and you should reserve unless you're willing to wait a long time. The restaurant is big, but the bar isn't.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Windy

              Both Koo and Aka Tombo are closed on Mondays, and open Tuesday to Sunday.