The other day I was recommending that a friend try ~YOSHI'S SAN FRANCISCO~ for the high-roller/special dinner location he was seeking. He was incredulous, "Yoshi's? Really?" That worried me, because if people don't know about how fabulously creative, fresh, and upscale the food is there, then Houston, we've got a problem. I'm not alone in my excitement--even a notoriously picky chef pal of mine (chefs can be the hardest people to dine with, seriously) was raving about his recent experience at Yoshi's.
I was taken with Shotaro "Sho" Kamio's inventive cooking style back when he was at Ozumo, and was biting my nails when his intended project in the Marina fell through--I was afraid the Sho would go on (ha ha ha) and we'd lose him to New York, or Vegas or something. Nope, he stayed put. Good man.
I'll get to the club and all that jazz later--let's dive into the dining room first. The brown-toned room is quite cavernous, with tall ceilings with panels of hanging fabric, plus amorphous stalactite-like lanterns, and whoa, get a load out of that monster kitchen--it's a big 'un. (Try 3,500 square feet.) Sho has a very Han Solo front-and-center command post, while everything snap, crackles, and pops around him.
The dining room itself is rather sparse and linear for my taste, but it does set the stage well for the contemporary Japanese aesthetic and cuisine here. I'd probably request one of the four-person booths in the future to feel a bit cozier. Oh, and the flower displays needed a little refinement--one night I saw yellow daisies that looked fresh from a Safeway bouquet.
The menu is printed on a large piece of tabloid-sized paper--the size is daunting at first because there are a lot of sections, and everything sounds so damned good, but ultimately I imagine your wallet will dictate how you order. A refreshing beginning is the kona kampachi carpaccio ($18), layered over fresh seaweed, avocado, and sporting the earthy flair of some diced shiitake confit on top.
Uni fans should consider the appetizer off the zen sai section of urchin "ravioli" between thin layers of nicely chewy ika/squid ($15), with petite pops of ikura. I wanted the slices of lime underneath to be a hair thinner--the acidity dominated a bit, but the execution was quite clever. There's also a decadent chawan mushi ($15) topped with uni, plus diced foie gras, lobster, and shiitakes, in lobster ankake (stock). It's served with a little wooden spoon, but the custard one night was a touch soupy so it was difficult to eat.
Another dish in the ippin/a la carte section is the panko monkfish ($17), which wasn't crusted like the usual fried panko executions you see around town--it was much more delicate as it was sautéed, and then dipped afterwards in panko. Oh, and it comes with the surprise of a poached egg in the middle. I was even more seduced with the houba yaki ($17), slices of duck breast grilled on a magnolia leaf, resting in a sweet and savory red/aka miso sauce, and then topped with negi (green onions that are kind of sweet like leeks). It's an entirely new way to taste duck.
To be honest, I didn't try much sushi on my two visits--there were too many other Sho specialties calling my name! But the nigiri selection is quite extensive, 19 choices on one night, and maki lovers will enjoy trying out the new-style combos. I did try the yuke ($16), with avocado, apple, negi, chives, and spicy soy marinated maguro draped on top--a lovely combo that you're supposed to dip in the side dish of soy with a quail egg, but the proportion is bit off so you end up getting too much soy and not enough egg.
A total score was the buri kama ($19), robata-grilled hamachi collar sprinkled with toasted nori, and surrounded with sliced lime, shichimi, and the tiniest dice of chive on the plate, and ponzu on the side. Quite a deal, actually, considering how much tasty fish you get, and such great flavor--you just dig in with your chopsticks. I always ask places if this is on their menu. Speaking of digging in, I'm dying to come back for the ji kinme: half of an herb-roasted red snapper (market price) that you pick and eat with pieces of nori--it's a fish I have only seen locally at Hime on Geary.
In the agemono/deep-fried section, I fell in love with the juicy texture of the arare lobster tempura ($19), four balls with a crunchy puffed rice exterior, sitting on a kicky swath of chile aioli, and topped with a frizzled hat of surprisingly spicy threads that turned out to be fried carrot leaf. Cool!
Well, I thought I was in love with the tempura, until I tried the oh-toro misoyaki (market price)--bluefin toro belly flash-grilled on Sumi charcoal with a saikyo miso beurre blanc. Uh huh. This dish was so sexy it made me blush--talk about mercury rising. I was in lust. (Call me.) That dish is ridiculously good.
Equally ridiculous are the Colorado spring lamb chops from the kamayaki (wood burning oven). Yes, they are $25, yes, you only get two, but damn are they sublime. Incredible meat--great marinade, and I liked its accompaniment of garlic mousse. Kokkari and Yoshi's should do a lamb chop face-off.
You'll officially lose it over the Japanese Miyazaki filet mignon, some of the best $48 you'll ever spend on four ounces of meat. I know, that portion is small, but the meat is so rich you could barely eat more than that anyway. Divine marriage of tender beef, and salt. Beg someone to take you here and buy it for you. Beef for your birthday!
Did I mention the pork? Oh shoot, I didn't. The Kurobuta "Berkshire" pork prime rib ($20) is an awesome chop, also marinated perfectly, and just wait until you gnaw the meat off the bone. Mmmmm, satisfying. These last four dishes are prime examples of why I love meat. MEAT!
Marisa Churchill of Top Chef is the pastry chef, and I think she does a clever job creating Western desserts with Japanese flair. Bar none, my favorite was the yuzu key lime pie ($8), with roasted pineapple, house-made marshmallows on top, and coconut sorbet. Me-ow. The yogurt semifreddo ($8) was tangy, and paired well with the papaya-shiso mint sauce, but the Japanese sea salt sesame florentine was rock hard one time and almost impossible to break with a spoon.
I've been impressed with the server knowledge here, especially since the menu is chock full of Japanese terms you'll most likely be unfamiliar with. They have answers. (You should see the employee-training manual, including a massive glossary). Service can be a bit absent, however; just small hiccups, I trust things will be sorted.
Oh, and wait until you see the gorg plates and dishes, what great textures and colors! I was also smitten with my sake glass and carafe--such pretty pieces.
There are some cleverly named cocktails to start with, like the Fillmore 75, with gin and Champagne plus yuzu and lemon ($10), but if you're into shochu, there's a well-sized list to navigate. The sakes are a little hard to choose from because you have to pay attention to the different ml sizes of each offering, ranging from 175ml for an individual size, hiding between the 500 or 720ml bottle sizes. I am personally a fan of the Chikurin "Fukamari Junmai" Okayama-ken Pref. ($14/175ml), and the stunning "Denshu" Aomori Pref. ($16/175ml) is another winner of a junmai in my book.
You could also do the wine route if you're so inclined--Sho's food lends itself well to pairings, but it might be hard to pair precisely since you'll probably order a sampling of plates. I was also exposed to something new, the Yoichi Nikka whiskey from Hokkaido, which tasted like it was part bourbon, part Scotch whiskey--forming a bizarre love triangle with me, and the two-headed booze. It needs to be in my liquor cabinet, pronto. The teas are also a nice way to finish.
If I had a private party, I'd consider taking over the Omakase Room, almost an aquarium of sorts, with glass walls allowing you to see the kitchen and dining room, and everyone to see you feasting on fabulous food. There's also a lounge and bar, plus another lounge/sake bar on the mezzanine level. The crowd in the restaurant ran the gamut, from a younger moneyed set to all kinds of couples on date night to business diners to a kookier older music crowd sporting lots of hats, from bearded men in berets to ladies in some bright or sparkly fashions--jazzy!
The line-up of talent in the club is impressive--I have only seen one performance, so I can't vouch for how all the seating is, but the room is comfortable. You can actually dine off the club menu while watching a set, but you'd miss about two-thirds of Sho's delectable dining room menu. I am already plotting my return, and what a great place for a date: dinner with Sho, and then a show!
Yoshi's San Francisco
1330 Fillmore St.
Cross: Eddy St.
San Francisco, CA 94115