Last week, I was invited to attend a preview of KAIYŌ on Union Street, and let’s just say you’re going to want to check out this spiffy restaurant and bar, even though I know Cow Hollow can be a tough sell for some folks. The owner is John Park (co-founder of Whitechapel and Novela), and it’s one of those places where there’s as much attention paid to the bar offering as the menu.
The food is inspired by Nikkei cuisine, a Japanese-influenced type of Peruvian food from Japanese immigrants in Peru. The flexible menu from chef Michelle Matthews will work well if you’re coming by for some bites to go with your cocktails, all the way to ordering a full spread. The Hokkaido scallop tiradito ($16) brings the Nikkei concept to life, featuring passionfruit leche de tigre, sweet potato purée, chia, and pickled red onion. There are also ceviches (including one made with heirloom tomatoes) and crudos, plus nigiri, sashimi, and rolls.
The high quality of the seafood is really apparent, and it’s partly to do with Ricky Yap, who consulted on the opening menu and sushi/seafood preparation techniques—if you were lucky, you got to sit at his counter when he was the sushi wizard at Akiko’s. The red snapper with plum pepper paste nigiri ($6 per piece) brought me back to his counter, and there’s also tender duck breast nigiri ($7) with shaved foie gras torchon and sherry gastrique. AND there’s an uni toast ($14) on the menu that is outstanding, with aji amarillo butter, chive, and fleur de sel. Don’t miss it.
You’ll also find more traditional Peruvian dishes, like anticuchos (skewers)—including the classic beef heart ($14), or you can go modern luxe with A5 wagyu kofta ($14)—and there’s also the option to get a half or whole rotisserie Mary’s chicken ($16 or $24), with side sauces and scallions. Speaking of sides, the haricot vert ($8) with miso hollandaise is a winner.
The extensive menu of cocktails is focused on Peruvian pisco and Japanese whisky, with ingredients ranging from lucuma and minted snap pea to ume and lemongrass oil. The names are anime-inspired, which also tie in to the artwork in the space. Sake sommelier Stuart Morris has assembled an extensive sake list, plus there are food-friendly wine selections and imported beers to try.
The space has a playful and vibrant look (overseen by Park and design consultant Hannah Collins), with a 35-foot living moss wall, a punchy yellow banquette, a marble bar, street art murals, and leopard wallpaper. Rawr. There’s also a swell patio out front (the space was formerly Ottimista-Enoteca), perfect for a nightcap or end-of-summer alfresco dinner. Open Sun-Wed 4pm-12am, Thu-Sat 4pm-2am. 1838 Union St. at Octavia, 415-525-4804.
The lively interior design. Photo: Anthony Parks.