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Maruya on 16th, best sushi in SF?

Or better said, how does Maruya stand up to some of the great sushi spots in Tokyo?

After a show at ODC my girlfriend and I walked over to Bar Bambino only to discover its out of business (moved?) and Maruya sushi has taken its place.

The quality of the fish was superb as was the Uni, although the rice seemed a little too sweet. The presentation and service were heads above. I cannot remember the last time I was at sushi place, nay any restaurant, and did not have to catch the waiters attention at least once.

Maruya is the best sushi experience we've had in San Francisco.

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  1. Did you order a la carte or omakase?

    2931 16th Street
    San Francisco, CA
    415 503 0702
    Closed Monday and Sunday


    3 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      can one order a la carte? menu online doesn't seem to imply that you can

      1. re: vulber

        The linked Tasting Table review says this:
        "You're not obligated to order the set menu (though we'd recommend it). Chef Sueyoshi prepares nigiri and hand rolls à la carte. Bonus bite: Order a boozy, jade-green macha tiramisu to finish the meal. "

      2. re: Melanie Wong

        A la carte, they allow the ordering of separate pieces and as pointed out they are on the pricey end of the spectrum with per piece at $8+ ... but worth it!

      3. I've heard that one of the chefs here gave a great omakase presentation and the other one not so much. It'd be great to find out which one is the good one.

        1. Wow, thanks. They're open nice and late too.

          1. This place is practically across the street from us, so we knew we would be giving it a try. Excellent selection of fresh fish--easily Sebo or Sushi Ran quality. I ordered the sushi combination, my dining companions had Hide's omakase. All of my sushi was pristine, though the rice was maybe a tad undercooked. Lovely, restrained use of fresh wasabi, ginger, and other garnishes.

            Dinner ended with an awesomely savory bowl of red miso soup and mushrooms. Uni was some of the freshest and sweetest I've had. Very happy about this addition to the neighborhood.

            1 Reply
            1. re: possumspice

              I am waiting for them to settle down before my visit (being selfish here). It would be nice to hear from someone who tried Masa-san's omakase at Sebo back then. My personal experience was excellent, and I don't expect any less from him at Maruya.

            2. I had a great meal last night. Ordered the Masa Hide omakase, which has a few set items from the kitchen and as many nigiri as you like. Standouts were super-fresh Mendocino uni, a cured fish something like saba, and something seared with a blowtorch just before serving.

              I sat at the counter right in front of the chef so had the optimal experience. He said he gets 80% of his stuff from Japan and was talking about how important it is that the fish is killed properly and eaten after the optimal amount of time for the species.

              They have an "orange" Vermentino by the glass that goes really well with sushi. Ten pieces and three glasses of wine came to $165 before tip.

              I haven't been to enough of the top places to rank it, but it was some of the best sushi I've had. I'll have to go back and ask him for a more esoteric selection.

              21 Replies
              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                I tried both ala carte and the Maruya omakase ($85), was less satisfied with the omakase (since they gave me several fish which are not my favorites and which I would not normally order, they only served to fill me up prematurely-- e.g. 3 giant pieces of maguro in an omakase, come on?!). The side dishes provided with the omakase were good but did not knock my socks off. Have not tried the Hide omakase. I would probably go ala carte in the future. Their botan ebi was particularly good. They could use some nama sake in their list. Enjoyed the anmitsu. The ambiance is much more relaxing and zen-like (reminiscent of Urasawa) than say Saru or Hamano but prices are also much higher than either of those.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Did they have an ala carte option when you went last night? Stopped in last week and the only menu we were shown at the door was for two set menus. Decided to go elsewhere as we weren't that hungry.

                  1. re: tjinsf

                    I think if you get the Masa Hide omakase you can ask for anything you want from the list I photographed. Or maybe you can just order a la carte, period, I didn't ask. Note that I split the list into two photos to make them readable.

                    I think the botan ebi were the only item I got two of. The fried heads were another highlight.

                    1. re: tjinsf

                      Ala carte is always available. That's why the menu they hand out inside shows prices per piece.

                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Setting aside Japan for a sec, because I've never had sushi there, how does this compare to top-flight places in NYC / LA? I'm curious because overall, I've been very disappointed by Bay Area sushi versus my favorite places in NYC (15 East), LA (Shunji) and SD (Kaito) and would love to have this be a legit substitute... How much did the wine cost of the $165? Even setting aside $15 per glass, the $120 for 10 pieces seems ridiculously expensive and far more than it would cost me at someplace like 15 East.

                      1. re: FattyDumplin

                        Maruya is ridiculously expensive, and probably doesn't compare that well to the best of LA / NYC.

                        1. re: Dustin_E

                          Does anyone have an inside scoop on this? Why is the sushi so not up to par here. Does the best fish just not come to the area at all? Is Mayura paying an ultra premium to get better fish?

                          1. re: goldangl95

                            Let me say this....most of these high end restaurants, their sources of fish/distributors are more or less the same.

                            Michael Black and Danny Dunham back in the Sebo days once told me that they used IMP (wholesaler) and they pay for essentially boxes of "mystery fish", think "fruit of the month" or your mail order organic grocery box delivered to your door. These are kind of like bulk discounts, and usually lots of seasonal delights but sometimes you would see other things. Quality could vary but they should not be that far off. Without saying too much, it is very likely most of the restaurants out there (the good ones) are going this route as it is likely more economical, despite the risk of not necessarily knowing what is inside. The really really really good places would not just rely on one source for seafood and get them elsewhere. The rest is up to the relationship of the restaurant with the supplier to determine the quality. The remainder of the equation is skill, service, experience, and what the chefs are allowed to (or not allowed) to do if they are not part or full owners.

                            For the really top notch premium stuff available in NY and LA sushi places, if a restaurant is willing to pay, they can procure the good stuff (and if there is demand for it). The prices they pay may differ if in LA or NY...of course the more you buy (wholesale) the better. They just have to balance the books at the end of the day and see if it is worth it. Would you as a customer pay $60 to $70 for two pieces of wild Oma Japanese bluefin for a restaurant to just break even? Perhaps if you had a 3 Michelin Tokyo sushi restaurant in SF, but will you fork out $400 to $500 for a dinner with no drinks.

                            Not sure if this partly explains some of the madness and differences.

                            1. re: K K

                              My impression is that the differences between high-end sushi places depend a lot on how much time the chef spends on the phone to Japan.

                          2. re: Dustin_E

                            ok, so i'm not missing anything... because i've walked out of 15 east totally stuffed with 2 - 3 beers and been under $200. and 10 pieces is like a starter for me. guess i got my hopes up for nothing.

                            1. re: Dustin_E

                              I have trouble reconciling "probably doesn't compare that well to the best of LA / NYC" with your earlier "isn't as good as the top spots in Tokyo, but it isn't THAT far off."

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                >> I have trouble reconciling "probably doesn't
                                >> compare that well to the best of LA / NYC" with
                                >> your earlier "isn't as good as the top spots in
                                >> Tokyo, but it isn't THAT far off."

                                I mean adjusted for price. I suspect there are places as close as maruya to top tokyo spots for a lower price in both la and new york. i've been to urasawa, masa, bar masa, yasuda, kuruma, but some of these were a while ago, and none of these are at the same price point as maruya. Which is why i say "probably" and not "certainly".

                              2. re: Dustin_E

                                Maruya may be expensive but sometime in the last year I spent a similar amount at Sakae and was even more disappointed (despite the fact that I got bigger cuts at Sakae, but I wish I went to Maruya that night instead).

                                1. re: K K

                                  Yeah, i've definitely had far more disappointing meals at price points similar to Maruya.

                                  Maruya will definitely be the place in SF I return to the next time i want an expensive sushi meal.

                                  1. re: K K

                                    Wait do tell us what disappointed you at Sakae!

                                2. re: FattyDumplin

                                  You can see the price per piece on the photos I posted.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Yikes. Thought that way too cheap to be per two but too much to be per piece. Thanks for clearing up! Feels pretty expensive even relative to other high end sushi in other cities, too bad as reviews make it seem like a really good place.

                                    1. re: FattyDumplin

                                      I dunno how it compares with other cities, but I'm not sure I spent more than I did at Sebo.

                                  2. re: FattyDumplin

                                    No comparison with my favorite places in nyc, at least (I'm thinking Sushi of Gari). Have yet to find someplace which even comes close out here.

                                    1. re: FattyDumplin

                                      I just moved to SF after having lived in NYC for many years, so I can give my perspective. I thought Maruya was pretty good, and much better than the only other sushi restaurant mentioned on Chowhound that I've been to in SF, which is Ino.

                                      In comparison to NYC sushi, I would put it just a notch below the top tier, which includes 15 East (my favorite) and Yasuda. Others would include Kuruma Zushi, Sushi Nakazawa, and Ichimura in that tier, though I personally thought all three were overrated (Kuruma serves you horseradish and not real wasabi unless you ask, Nakazawa doesn't cut his own fish half the time, and Ichimura precuts/refrigerates slices of fish when serving). I personally think Maruya is comparable to a place like Sushi Azabu in terms of quality. It's good enough that I'm not making excuses to go back to New York just to eat sushi, but if Maruya and 15 East were in the same city, I would go to 15 East, no contest.

                                      My tab came out to $200, including tax, tip, and a pricey glass of white burgundy - I asked for chef's choice, and I ate 15-20 pieces (didn't count exactly). I was definitely pretty full when finished, and I'm used to Masa at 15 East stuffing me to the gills.

                                      1. re: NYAngeleno

                                        interesting. that's helpful. i still get back to NYC once every couple of months, so it sounds like i'll save my sushi binges for there. that said, good to have an option in SF for sushi, as i'm finding myself increasingly hitting other lacking cuisines when in NYC... for example, looking forward to Takashi in a couple weeks because the asian grilled meats scene in the Bay sort of sucks.

                                  3. As good as Tokyo, not sure about that but the quality of fish was some of the best I've seen on the West Coast.

                                    We got the Maruya Omakase and were very pleased with almost everything. really liked the trio of small dishes we started with, so much that I broke my no picture rule and the spouse took a picture. It was housemade tofu with uni on top, toro prepared tartare with gold leaf and tobiko on top and pickled veggies with miso dipping sauce.

                                    The we had a cold noodle dish in a tomato consommé .

                                    The next dish, the grilled fish was the only real miss. It was overcooked fluke.

                                    The assortment of sashimi and nigiri that followed was very high quality fish and prepared with a light hand. I liked that there was no bottle of soy sauce & fake wasabi for people to drown their nigiri in.

                                    We also ordered ankimo which was as good as any I've had in Japan.

                                    They give everyone a yuzu lemonade shot to finish the meal.

                                    While they did present a list of just nigiri and sashimi as well as the main menu that has the two omakase and the two Moriwase choices, they never said anything about being able to just order al a carte.

                                    The service was pleasant but restrained, wish we had been at the counter. When we were there it was completely full at 8pm. They do close on the early side.

                                    9 Replies
                                    1. re: tjinsf

                                      When they gave me overcooked sanma as one of the courses, I told them that I thought it was overcooked (tough actually) so they took it away and replaced it with black cod (gindara) which was much better. i'm sure they do not encourage a la carte but it is certainly an option (I've done it several times). If you liked the trio at Maruya, you might like to try the dish which Melanie showed a picture of in a recent thread http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/973115 (seared toro and tuna dice over uni panna cotta w/ truffle jus and edamame)

                                      1. re: barleywino

                                        yeah I could have sent it back for sure. Black cod would have been better.

                                      2. re: tjinsf

                                        I would say Maruya isn't quite at the level of Sushi Ran in terms of fish quality and selection, but the sushi chef preparation elevates it. Very good attention to detail with things like temperature of the rice and understanding unique qualities of each fish.

                                        I still have never had a good chutoro in the US to match the best I have had in Tokyo. I think there are lots of premium cuts which just won't make it to the US.

                                        1. re: tjinsf

                                          How was the ankimo prepared? Was it formed into a cold terrine or was it served warm? I haven't had good ankimo in SF in more than 5 years, and would be delighted to find some.

                                          1. re: felice

                                            cold and served in large slices without any ginger or scallions. I don't why ankimo I've had here is different from what I've had in Japan but it is.

                                            1. re: felice

                                              Sushi Tomi in mtn view has great ankimo iirc and their aji tataki is even better if it's still available

                                              1. re: barleywino

                                                Heh, Sushi Tomi has the best especially if you take their prices into consideration. Good luck getting attention from their staff and parking, even at off hours.

                                          2. I think Maruya is pretty clearly the best in the bay area. It definitely isn't as good as the top spots in Tokyo, but it isn't THAT far off, and really is the only place in the bay area I think that is at all close to the best spots in Tokyo.

                                            16 Replies
                                            1. re: Dustin_E

                                              i would choose Kusakabe over Maruya (ymmv)

                                              1. re: barleywino

                                                Kusakabe is good, but nothing like sushi in Tokyo.

                                                Tokyo chefs don't use Truffle oil, and don't serve half their fish as smoked.

                                                1. re: Dustin_E

                                                  What do you like about Maruya? I trying to decide between Kusakabe and Maruya when I get back to SF next month.

                                                  1. re: JonDough

                                                    I like that some of the ingredients at Maruya are very seasonal and rare (for the US). Hamo in particular I remember. I think I was served ayu as well, but i don't entirely remember. I also like that the sushi is very traditional, without much "decoration".

                                                    Kusakabe is also very good, it is just way way less traditional.

                                                    Biggest deciding factor for me would probably be length of the meal. Kusakabe took at least 2 hours. Maruya more like one hour.

                                                    I'd go to Kusakabe if I were having a business dinner or date, and wanted to drink a bottle of alcohol over a couple hours.

                                                    I'd go to Maruya if i wanted to obsess about nuances of traditional sushi and maybe have some delicacies you can't find elsewhere.

                                                    1. re: Dustin_E

                                                      Thanks! When I get back I will take my parents to Maruya and a date to Kusakabe.

                                                  2. re: Dustin_E

                                                    I'm eager to try sushi in LA (I assume Kiriko, Mori, Shunji?) and Tokyo (trying to get reservations at Iwa, Kanesaka, maybe Kyubei) because I think the sushi I've had at Kusakabe, Ran, Maruya, et al to be really tasty. It's hard for me to imagine sushi being, say, 2x better than any of these places.

                                                    1. re: ajyi2012

                                                      It's a short drive to LA, so you should do it. The marvel of LA sushi is how good it is for the price - it doesn't require ridiculous planning ahead/reservations, and it's all very matter of the fact.

                                                      Kiriko is my nostalgia favorite, but I just went to Shunji and it was really good as well. You can feel the quality without getting the omakase fyi if the price is an issue.

                                                      For some people it will blow their minds, but as I noted on another thread - don't expect that "wow." It's too much pressure on something that's based on degrees of care and quality.

                                                      Just note the differences, note that it's better, spend what you can afford and marvel at how easy it all was =)

                                                      1. re: goldangl95

                                                        I guess I'm used to inflated prices in San Francisco. I compare a nigiri-heavy meal at Maruya compared to something at say Keiko or even La Folie at similar price points and I prefer Maruya. I know, different cuisines, but I just want to contest the idea that Maruya is somehow a poor value proposition.

                                                        I've been to Maruya twice and my experience has been this: great nigiri, but their otsumami stuff (the vegetables and the pickles) is forgettable. I understand they're trying to duplicate the traditional kaiseki style courses but either the vegetables here aren't that good or my taste buds are too Americanized. Kusakabe is much better in this respect.

                                                        Also I don't understand the obsession with purity when it comes to sushi here. Fact of the matter is we Americans will never get the best quality fish. Even stuff flown in from Tsukiji overnight will have been sitting in an icebox for half a day. So given that constraint, is it really that audacious to dress up sushi a bit? Do we criticize a restaurant for serving a Niman Ranch strip with a complex sauce? I frankly loved the smoked fish (I think it was bonito?) served at Sushi Ran. It was better than the mediocre but otherwise naked toro they served.

                                                        1. re: ajyi2012

                                                          I've never had sushi in Japan, so curious to hear others' views. Is it that the quality of the fish is so much better in Japan or is it simply the variety? As a shellfish lover, I'm always envious when I see the pics of what some of the 'hounds are eating in Japan and it just sounds like there are hundreds of varieties of shellfish i will never have access to in the US? I'm asking because I was under the impression that for example, bluefin tuna were flash frozen anyways... and the fact that its caught in places far away from Japan so you have to transport it anyways.

                                                          1. re: FattyDumplin

                                                            In Tokyo, quality and variety are a given, and the clientele is generally assumed to be way more sophisticated about raw fish, so the chef can make subtle innovations and these are completely understood and appreciated.

                                                            Whereas in the united states, I think high end sushi appreciation often doesn't go that much beyond "toro tastes great".

                                                            So the focus in tokyo is often more on different textures of various shellfish, and the seasonality of the fish.

                                                            This all said, a lot of the clientele at the top places are obnoxious (but very nice/friendly) finance people from hong kong and taiwan, so "assume to be" and "actually are" might be very different things.

                                                            i've been to tokyo 4 times on hardcore food-tourism trips, and a lot of the nuances / differences of the top places still feel over my head.

                                                            But yeah, good toro in the US doesn't taste much different than good toro in tokyo. and i'm not sure it is much less expensive over there either. If I ate at Maruya every week for a year, and took several trips each year to tokyo, maybe i'd feel differently. but i don't so i don't.

                                                            1. re: Dustin_E

                                                              There are some levels of sophistication in the Bay Area, it is just that the #s in those camps are probably far fewer in between compared to LA and NY.

                                                              The best most places around these parts can get for toro are Spanish (farmed) bluefin, otherwise it is too cost prohibitive. Having had farmed Japanese bluefin and I think a wild lesser known wild variety off Hokkaido area (in Hong Kong), I would say they are enjoyable in their own unique way, and in some cases better. But all subjective. A properly aged bluefin is not something every restaurant can offer (let alone process), most places are just happy to get the block of fish, slice it up and serve.

                                                              Definitely true about the level of sophistication (and willingness to pay) for the good stuff, whether Japan, Hong Kong, or Taiwan. Then again HK/TW are much closer to Japan and restaurants can afford to get in shipments daily, often within the same day. Not the same over here. So in terms of time, frequency, variety, quality, availability, and cost we are already at a huge disadvantage.

                                                              And it is not just fish for sushi, but also whole fish for salt grilling and other JP culinary applications. I don't see many people in SF Bay Area willing to splurge on a whole kinki or nodoguro. But if you don't have it in Hong Kong, you are not being competitive.

                                                          2. re: ajyi2012

                                                            Icebox for half a day isn't actually that huge a difference ... or put another way. . .it's not the constraining factor. In Japan, you will also be served fish that's about the same amount of 'old' - by nature, the fish market is in the morning, and if you have sushi for dinner - that's a good 12 hrs later and that's at the top of the top places. At many places you could have fish that's 1 to days old after it arrived in harbor (and again the fish was on a ship on ice for some time as well).

                                                            Sourcing, pickiness, knife skills, care with the sushi rice, wasabi and sauce quality and judgment, and creativity count for a lot more than a 6 - 12 hr differential in freshness. (also note NYC has excellent sushi and is an additional 6 hrs away from CA).

                                                            Also one of my favorites, uni is often sources from S. California, and salmon, and sweet shrimp are often pretty local as well.

                                                            1. re: goldangl95

                                                              Freshness per se is not the issue with fish that are best after aging for X number of days.

                                                      2. re: Dustin_E

                                                        My last meal at Kusakabe took just over an hour. There was no truffle oil involved (that dish was at SPQR).. Fish in Tokyo is fresh enough to stand on its own without embellishment; that doesn't seem to always be the case here, unfortunately.

                                                    2. re: Dustin_E

                                                      Well! We've disagreed on some things in the past but I'll agree with you here, Dustin. To me Maruya is the best I've had in the bay area.

                                                    3. I wonder if Maruya serves any Monster Truck Rolls.