You know that feeling when you walk into a place and you're like, "uh oh--this does not bode wellâ¦" ~SUDACHI~ set all my "Danger, Will Robinson" bells ringing, starting with a front room that was dark and total crickets, with just a lonely projection on the wall. My friend and I were led past the bar flanking a brick wall and the long sushi bar into the back room outfitted in enough fabric to qualify as a fort (it was like someone crafty followed a ReadyMade article on "Ten Steps to Redecorating a Hotel Banquet Room"), with covered chairs sporting a shade of green fabric that could have been excess fabric store stock from 1987. The tatami seating in the back was empty, with just a few diners at the sushi bar. And the kicker: a menu header said "Asian Tapas." If I wasn't here on a media invitation, I probably would have yelled, "Goose! Eject!"
And guess what? That old saw about not judging a hooker by her shoes, wait, wrong one, anyway, my pal and I ended up having a pretty good dinner here. Many of you dear readers know my favorite sushi place in town is Sebo, and nothing has come close to knocking them from the pole position. But, if I was in the Lower Polk and craving some sushi, I would totally plunk myself down at the sushi bar here.
The sushi we tried, like hotategai/scallop ($4.50) and saba/mackerel ($4), were all cut well and fresh. Exceedingly so. Ditto on the toro. The head sushi chef, Tadashi Maki (great name, no?), has something like 24 years under his belt, and it shows. Now that the taste test is done, I'd like to explore the sushi menu more here.
Owner/chef de cuisine Ming Hwang (ex-chef and GM of Tokyo Go Go in the Mission) has a passion for ingredients, and quite a bit of knowledge too--it's easy to engage him with questions about sushi if you're in the mood to learn something; his sous chef, Liam Arroyo, seems to be the one bringing some European culinary flair to the menu, with additions like beurre noir, jamón Serrano, and carrot mousse.
One ingredient you better like is shiso, because it's like white on rice, i.e. everywhere. We took the refreshing hirame sashimi ($13) for a spin, six slivers of fish resting on thinly sliced cucumber, with yuzu ponzu, black tobiko, and a chiffonade of shiso. There were three other specialty sashimi dishes available, all listing an array of creative flavors.
In the Asian Tapas section (yup, here we go), the house-made organic tofu fries ($9) were a star--there was a dollop of grated daikon and chili that you add to the ponzu sauce for spicy dipping. Also tried the beef tataki ($15) made with American Kobe beef from Snake River Farms--the slices were tender and peppery, but like a good comeback, the dish needed a touch more acid or heat to really make it interesting.
The kitchen pushes things with the land and sea combo ($17), a duo dish featuring a slim slice of seared foie gras with port-glazed figs and big green tea-dusted pistachios, and a plate with rounds of ankimo paired with matchsticks of sunomono (in this case, a vinegary cucumber), cubed beets, more of the spicy daikon, and scallions. The combo of ingredients worked with both--I honestly thought the ankimo dish was going to be a train wreck, but it proved to be quite tasty. But ultimately it was all so rich, just too much decadence for me.
I know some diners are really into specialty rolls, but personally I'm not a big fan of them since all they usually do is muddle a bunch of flavors together. I tried to be open minded, but the rolls we tried were not ones to win me over--the bull's eye (tempura of salmon, shiso, and avocado that is re-rolled in rice/$8) was right on target for total mush. The Sudachi roll ($11) with tempura asparagus, crab, avocado, and hirame (usually it's shiromi/white fish) fared much better flavor and texture-wise, but the excessive amount of pith on the shaved lemon on top left us a little pithed off.
We also ordered a side of tatsoi with garlic ($6), but the overwhelming smell of the garlic alone was enough to make my chopsticks recoil--the amount of garlic would have rendered me unable to talk to anyone in person unless I was in a bubble. Which would make it a very powerful secret weapon for repelling a bad date! Rawr.
Our server was quite fabulous, and the DJ that night was spinning some quality soul, funk, and rare disco tracks that were up my alley. There are fruity shochu cocktails to choose from, a variety of sakes and samplers, and some wines too, all with thoughtful descriptions to assist with making good pairing decisions.
Ming is totally the happy host, and wants to insure everyone has a great time at his restaurant. Sudachi has a happy hour (5:30pm-7pm each day) and other deals in effect (Mondays and Tuesdays mean 50% off selected bottles of sake, shochu, and wine), and Ming is trying to create a youthful, artistic vibe, with DJs and live music Wed-Sat. I know folks in the Lower Polk neighborhood are happy Sudachi has opened, but more people need to fill the room in order to build the scene Hwang is striving for. So the next time you're wandering the Polk Gulch and up for something new, don't let Sudachi's empty front room deter you--who knows, it just might be full.
1217 Sutter St.
Cross: Polk St.
San Francisco, CA 94109