*THIS RESTAURANT HAS CLOSED*
There are some restaurants you never manage to try, and ~AZIE~ has been on my list for a long time. I was actually supposed to dine there with a couple friends on the night of September 11th, but for obvious reasons that reservation got cancelled. (Wow, how's that for a Debbie Downer opening to a review?) I never quite rescheduled, and I guess it doesn't matter because there's a new chef there, Shawn Applin, who started in July. (He was previously at Scala's and Fog City Diner.) This guy cooks in a way that makes you say, "Bring on the Asian fusion!" Well, it's not really Asian fusion. Pan-Asian? Cal-Asian? How about upscale Asian? I'm in a neologist mood—since everyone is terrified of the FUSION word, how about Glam-Asian? Feel free to use at will.
The menu is divided up into small and large plates, and is well geared for the groups that seem to like dining here. I'm sure the proximity to Moscone Center means a steady stream of convention-goers, but the night we were there I noted plenty of hip and stylee customers—definitely a youthful vibe.
We started with some small plates, like the iron skillet spicy prawns ($14), served on an elevated skillet the way sister restaurant Lulu down the street serves their trademark mussels. These plump little buggers came with chilies, scallions, and a veritable garden of cilantro (which needed to be taken off the stem—it was a little lazy to send it out like that). For the price, I would have wanted to see a few more prawns, but I was primarily pleased with how juicy they were.
The trio of tartare ($18) brought a threesome of ahi, hamachi, and scallop preparations with house-made taro chips—I found the executions to be a little overwhelmed by their dressings, like the ahi that was overtaken with soy and jalapeño, and the hamachi lost to the sambal. Kind of a slutty threesome, if you ask me.
I'm sure the male power broker business types can't resist the hoisin-glazed ribs ($13), but whaddya know, we couldn't either. These sticky-sweet numbers were definitely meaty, and I liked the pickled watermelon in the accompanying watercress salad. The watercress was a little unruly, as watercress can be—it's kind of the bronco of the greens world. It would be easier to eat with the stems trimmed down a little.
I'm nuts for grilled octopus, and let's just say Azie's ($11) did not come close to dethroning my favorite, from Kokkari. The tentacles (served whole) were seriously tough—the kitchen needs to work this one out. I will say the bright salad of mizuna and tatsoi and a sprinkling of enoki mushrooms (so cute, those guys, I heart them) dressed in a yuzu vinaigrette was totally fabulous, however.
Now, at this moment I was like, uh, okay. Hmmm, appetizers (or as Eric Cartman would say, apppppetiiiiiiizers), are classically my favorite dishes, but these were just not rocking me really hard. But then, hello larger plates—things definitely perked up. I guess it was all Freaky Friday for me here.
Our table attacked the slow-cooked pork "bacon" ($21)—a total steal, actually. Thick slices of Japanese Kurobuta pork belly come with a crispy and caramelized exterior, thanks to the slow roasting for six hours at 250 degrees (yes, I asked). Porky perfection. I really liked the tang of the apple-soy broth, which included pieces of gai lan (Chinese broccoli) lurking within, and the thin matchsticks of crisp green apple on top of the pork.
Ahi lovers (yes, there seem to be a lot of you out there) will be pleased with the soy-glazed ahi ($26), with daikon sprouts, baby bok choy that wasn't at all slimy, addictive Japanese eggplant spears glazed in ponzu, and a drizzle of some feisty wasabi cream to accompany the bites of ahi. Artful presentation as well.
I was impressed with the crispy whole tai snapper ($26), something I'd expect to see in more of an hole-in-the-wall place than a hipster SOMA restaurant. It actually came with the head and tail on. Yes, a WHOLE tai snapper. Groovy. Hello, Mister Fish, I am going to eat you now. It came with wedges of lime, and a pile of rice paper so you could wrap up pieces of fish with your top picks from the pile of herbs, like mint and basil. There was also some spicy pineapple dipping sauce that had hints of fish sauce, citrus, anchovy, and sambal in it, totally delish.
You didn't think we were going to pass up the barbecued beef short ribs ($25), did you? Hell no. Great for a group of people to share—tender and delightfully melt-in-your-mouth meaty, with a sweet chili sauce and crunchy peanuts on top. There was also some betel leaf, which I have never had before, and some red grapes that played nicely with the spicy and sweet sauce. Score.
These are definitely dishes that are meant to be shared, so unless you want to selfishly keep the entire snapper to yourself, you need to reach a consensus with the table about what you want to order. Family-style dining teaches people all kinds of good life skills: sharing, negotiating, and why it's not cool to be a total greedy pig.
Desserts included a series of trios, which are the trademark of Tobias the pastry chef. The apple trio ($8) brought an upside down cake, apple spring rolls, and a green apple sorbet. Although the apple sorbet fit the theme, it didn't quite work with the other two items—I would have been happy with some plain old vanilla ice cream, or even better, caramel ice cream! Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate (Tora! Tora Tora! ha ha) offered enough of a medley to please most chocoholics. Malted chocolate custard, yum.
The space was designed by local darling Cass Calder Smith (huh, I guess this is my second CCS-designed restaurant write up, two weeks in a row) and there's an upstairs "dining pagoda" for those who want to be a bit removed from the action. (It's also a prime space to rent out for private parties.) I'm always a sucker for a booth, and downstairs there is a row of three of them; they even have their own curtains and a dimmer switch on an abacus light (you can use the abacus to add up your drinks). To borrow a phrase from the architect, the overall look is a "modernist interpretation of the Pacific Rim," and I'd say that's on the money, with elements like big lantern light boxes suspended from the tall ceiling, and a long mahogany bar.
I must admit I thought I was about to walk into a gay sex club on my way to the bathroom—there's a heavy black rubbery curtain you have to pull aside, and I was preparing myself to be all "Uh, hi guys, excuse me, just on my way to the ladies room, pardon me, excuse me, whoa, nice technique there!"
So when would you go here? (The restaurant, silly, not the sex club bathroom.) It's definitely spot-on for business dining, and group dinners/birthdays would work well. Fun for couples, but I'd say expect to have some tasty leftovers for lunch the next day. (Unless your boyfriend is a total pit and eats everything so leftovers are a rarity.)
This is one of those places that's been around a little while, so you can probably score a table when other newer/hotter places are all booked up. The lounge is also a cool area to hang out—you could come in for a few cocktails and an order of their signature calamari (I have to say, they were spicy and quite delish—and all tentacles, yay!).
Speaking of booze (I wouldn't be me if I didn't mention it), there are some house-made infusions at the bar, like a lychee and pineapple infused vodka, or vanilla-infused orange vodka (like an adult 50/50 bar). You'll see the infusions in a few of the cocktails, definitely try them. (All the specialty cocktails are $9.)
The wine list is also a pleasure because there are 40 wines under $40, ranging from some food-friendly rieslings and pinot gris to some gamays and some hearty reds. Thank you, beverage director, for being cool like that. You can also get a 2 oz. taste, a 6 oz., or 9 oz. pour with the wines by the glass, so have fun exploring (mmmm, wine exploration, the best kind!).
826 Folsom St.
Cross: 4th St.
San Francisco, CA 94107
Dinner Mon-Sat 5:30pm-10pm
Small plates $9-$18
Large plates $16-$26