Category Archives: Japanese

Domo: tiny space, brief menu, big flavors

domo

One thing I miss most about New York is the overload of coveted sushi offerings. Restaurants with Japanese-born and trained sushi chefs. Restaurants with fish fresher than Tokyo. Sushi restaurants that are actually fun, not stale as a library, with cocktails and energetic music. These are few and far between in my little Pac Heights enclave (though I do love Umami on Webster), so I was thrilled to pin down Domo in Hayes Valley last night. Wow. This place is awesome.

Though I love sushi, I dread sifting through four-page-lists of roll combinations, which are often accompanied by an additional cut out menu of specials. Tuna, unagi, fried shrimp, avocado, and cucumber in different forms – the rolls start to blend together quarter-way down the list. Domo removes the perusing legwork with a clearly laid out, one-page menu. Simple and succinct. People don’t need 10 variations of spicy tuna, and they don’t want to put off catching up with friends to study a menu. And on Domo’s menu is a wide variety of hot and cold small plates, salads, and other concoctions I could never imagine on my own. As tiny and intimate as this bar-seat-filled spot may be, it’s got a menu that lures a big group of repeat customers every night (which means you should get there early if you want to avoid a wait).

Emily in Domo

Emily in Domo

Fortunately, my friend Emily arrived hungry, so we were able to sample a wide variety of dishes. And because each one was mouth-watering, I can vouch fairly that this is one of the best sushi spots I’ve tried in SF. We started with the daikon salad, thinly sliced, crisp layers of cool daikon topped with bonito flakes and garlic ponzu. The salad was light, crunchy, and pungent – a creative alternative to the typical wakame salad. We then tried the hamachi carpaccio, which was seared and beautifully plated with a light, tangy garlic ponzu, tobiko, and thinly sliced jalapeno – a fresh fish celebration. Then, the cold and simple Spicy Hulk roll, amazingly fresh spicy tuna with avocado surrounded by a crisp cucumber wrapper. I loved this because the spicy tuna was only subtly dressed – not laden with a garlicky mayonnaise like I find in most sushi restaurants. The two special rolls we ordered were incredible – the Wiki Wiki was a creative mix of fried shitake mushrooms, cucumber, and avocado topped with silky seared butter fish. Totally addictive. And crispy rice cakes, move over – I popped the fire cracker balls in my mouth pretty much like popcorn. These dense, miniature, panko crusted tuna balls with spicy mayo, unagi sauce, scallions and tobiko blow any other fried sushi out of the water.

daikon salad

daikon salad

hamachi with garlic ponzu

hamachi with garlic ponzu

fire cracker balls, like little nuggets of heaven

fire cracker balls, like little nuggets of heaven

two special sushi rolls

two special sushi rolls

spicy hulk roll

spicy hulk roll

Along with our cold, dry sake, the entire meal was incredible. Each roll was a piece of art, a stunning culmination of so much attention to detail that revealed itself as perfection to my tastebuds. This is undoubtedly my favorite sushi restaurant in San Francisco – it’s worth any wait, as well as the distance if you’re not in the neighborhood. If you need more incentive, plan a post-dinner stroll down Hayes to Smitten Ice Cream, where they freeze to order with liquid nitrogen to make some of the creamiest concoctions of your life.

Go here.

Go here.

My experience at Domo only further confirms my theory that Hayes Valley is THE place to be in SF!

Grade: A+
Location: 511 Laguna Street @ Linden Street
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Filed under Asian, Erin's Favorites, Japanese, San Francisco

Izakaya Ten: a quaint Japanese gem in no-man’s land

izakaya ten

When most people think of 10th avenue, I’m guessing that the thought of great restaurants doesn’t come to mind. But if you creep up north of 20th street, there are quite a few dark horses that I wish I had discovered sooner, one of which is a called Izakaya Ten. Izakayas are Japanese drinking establishments that also serve food. Here, despite the late hours (they close at 3am!) I would never have considered food as an afterthought. The menu is chalk full of goodies. And the energy that a boozey-focus brings solves the problem of the dreary, awkwardly quiet atmosphere of typical sushi bars. Izakaya Ten teleports you from a wide, uncharacteristic avenue to a restaurant you’d expect to find on a side street in Tokyo (or Korea? there’s kim chi). It’s got energy. It’s got hard alcohol. It has massive hand written, animé style menus. There’s music playing. And because it’s so tiny, you really feel like you’re enjoying the experience together along with the patrons around you.

I came here expecting a long list of sushi, but no, the goods go beyond sliced seafood. Yes, there’s a few selections of raw fish (we ordered most of them (the spicy tuna donburi, the sashimi plate, and the toro tuna belly seared over rice), but it’s the small plates of cooked food that really got me going. And as the sake kept pouring, we lost all shame in incessantly ordering more food: shishito peppers, a crispy cod roe rice ball wrapped in seaweed, another crispy rice ball with salmon, the chilled Japanese eggplant in broth, the savory, decadent jumbo shumai, the kara age (ginger deep-fried chicken), and of course, the special fried soft shell crab. In addition to the uniqueness of the menu, the icing on the cake was the attentive Australian server who feigned to be happy to answer our constant requests for more sake and more food.

 

kara age

softshell crab

softshell crab

rice ball!

rice ball!

 

 

We were lucky to walk in on a Friday night at 8pm and get a table right away, but it would have been worth the wait. Izakaya Ten is the perfect place for a fun dinner for a group of up to 4 people, or even for a more eventful, share-plate style date. It can get expensive if you don’t reign in the ordering, but it’s a place you want to arrive hungry and uninhibited. I can’t wait to take advantage of the fact that I’m walking distance to this spot!

Grade: A+
Location: 207 10th Ave btwn 22nd and 23rd Streets 
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Filed under Asian, Barbecue, Chelsea, Drinks & Apps, Erin's Favorites, Fun Group Dinner, Japanese

Ippudo: everything they say it is

ippudo-storefront

I used to be ashamed to say that I have never been to Ippudo as a 5-year downtown New York resident. Shame, be gone, because guess what – I went last night! And because most New Yorkers were out of town celebrating America’s independence, my friend Sara and I only had to wait 1 hour at 7pm, which is pretty much a miracle given the average wait time each time I’ve asked has been no less than 3 hours. 

While I came for the ramen (yes, it’s ridiculously, unbearably hot in New York but I’m recovering from the flu), I leapt for joy (alone) when I examined Ippudo’s awesome cocktail list. After a little shochu with fresh squeezed grapefruit juice and soda at the bar, Sara and I were seated in the chaos of shouting ramen chefs and privileged foodies chompin’ at the bit for their ramen to hit their table. Given I’ve waited 5 years to eat here, I didn’t want to mess around – we ordered the steamed pork buns, fried chicken wings, a green salad, and the Wasabi Shoyu Ramen, a soy sauce and vegetable based noodle soup that the waiter recommended as a lighter version of the thick pork broth that can get a little salty. The pork in the pork bun was perfectly crispy and meaty with just the right amount of fat content, but I by no means welcome mayonnaise in anything, and I couldn’t really get over the glob of mayo that caught my eye. The hot fried chicken wings with Ippudo’s black pepper sauce made up for it – a plate of 3 for $7 was a steal, and they were meaty, hot, crispy and totally unique in tangy peppery flavor. The crispy cabbage on the side rounded it out as the perfect small meal. The green salad was nothing to boast about, but that’s to be expected. 

steamed bun with pork

steamed bun with pork

crispy chicken wings!!

crispy chicken wings!!

wasabi shoyu ramen (the only vegetarian option)

wasabi shoyu ramen (the only vegetarian option)

Now, the ramen. I know the traditional order is one of the ramens in pork soup, but as a sickling all I wanted was something light and brothy. The shoyu ramen was the perfect answer. It was dark, earthy and rich in flavor, and with the side order of pork and a bounty of curly ramen noodles, it was absolutely filling. While the bamboo shoots were a little tough to chew, the soft slices of seaweed added a unique texture, I only wish there had been more. 

At just $25 per person, I left Ippudo feeling satisfied with the return on my investment – a rarity in this city of exorbitant prices and small food. When I’m willing to wait again with a party of 2 (probably no more, though they have a few pretty large tables), I will definitely be back. 

Grade: A-
Location: 65 Fourth Avenue @ 10th Street (new location in midtown west coming soon!)
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Chez Sardine: pricey, carefully portioned Japanese

Picture 5

I did it. I finally did it. Last Sunday night, inspired by the lack of crowd outside the highly coveted Chez Sardine, I unexpectedly dove right in determined to check this place off my bucket list. I sat at the sushi bar, excited by all of the interesting combinations and the miso-maple salmon head, a dish that has been praised by my friends and fellow bloggers alike. Hipster waiters in high top converse were very attentive, bringing a complimentary pickeled daikon salad to start the meal. And while the maple-wooden space is pristine and beautiful, the food just didn’t impress. While the sushi arrived so beautifully plated and sounded so intriguing (as they should for $5-$7 a tiny piece) – hamachi with chicarron and ginger, mackerel with leek and potatoes, smoked arctic char with spicy rice – they oddly lacked flavor, and were no more exciting than the several pieces I can get for this price at my local sushi spot down the street. The spicy tuna hand roll was thin and skimpy – not what I wanted on an empty stomach. I waited for the salmon head to arrive to take my breath away, but after minutes of peeling away skin and fat to get to a microscopic piece of edible meat overdosed in miso paste, I gave up. I decided to stop my order right there and head home.

miso salmon

$70 later, I was disappointed that all that I had hoped and dreamed of regarding Chez Sardine (considering this group’s other restaurants I love – Montmartre, Joseph Leonard, Fedora….) was blown to pieces. I would come back to try the buttered caviar toast, but only on someone else’s dime. Coming here hungry and with hopes to spend conservatively was torture. I’d save your sushi cravings for Momoya in Chelsea.

Grade: C+
Location: 183 West 10th Street @ West 4th street
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Momoya: a re-discovered sushi sleeper in Chelsea

photo 1

Whenever I trek along 7th or 8th Avenue to make my way uptown, I gaze straight ahead, more focused on dodging pedestrians than exploring the side by side box-shaped restaurants. But while this may not be the area for restaurants oozing with character, there are a few reliable ones that serve the purpose of providing solid food without pretention. My favorite? Momoya, the modern, often bustling sushi restaurant that has Morimoto-style Japanese at competitive prices.

Tonight my order was easy given I arrived hungry, which is just as dangerous as grocery shopping while starving. I wanted everything. I saw the man to my right having the crispy rice with tuna and shiitake, so I ordered that. I saw a yellow tail  roll further down the bar, so I added that as well. I was also able to try the white stone roll, a non-traditional tofu-skin roll with fried tempura, crab, tuna and a sweet chili sauce. Along with a few pieces of sashimi and a seaweed salad, I had ordered the perfect amount of food for two that came out to $40 each – a steal given my typical $100 tabs at Blue Ribbon Sushi. Everything hit the spot, but the crispy rice with tuna was a standout.

crispy rice with tuna and seaweed salad

crispy rice with tuna and seaweed salad

the works

the works

The food at Momoya is fresh, the service efficient, and the space open, airy, sleek and clean. Sit at the sushi bar if you want to be inches away from the sushi chef action, or if pointing to the most appealing items is your preferred method of ordering.

Grade: A
Location: 185 7th Ave @ 21st Street
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Rockmeisha Izakaya: trusty hole in the wall Japanese

rockmeisha

I’ve been bed ridden with what I’ve self-diagnosed as bronchitis for the last 5 days, so my cravings have narrowed to hot liquids and ice cream. That’s not to say that I want to eat every meal in my cave-like apartment, though – after three days of being cooped up in a blanket, I’ve been desperate for New York civilization, and I refused to stay in on a Saturday night for my throat-soothing meal. I needed to feel the sense of adventure. I wanted to go somewhere new. I scoured the internet for nearby ramen places, and knowing that most would be crowded at 8pm, I took a risk  and selected one with a few reviews and one promising write-up: Rockmeisha in the West Village. It was time for a crazy Saturday!

This place is a hole in the wall. Look up at the ceiling and you may start worrying that an exposed pipe will come crashing down on you. There’s minimal decor, music from a juke box playing below audible volume level, a horribly jenky type-written menu and far too many waitstaff for the few tables squeezed together. But amidst the oddities, there is a promising list of unique Japanese food that looked good enough to shift my desire for just soup to a desire for soup and much more. I ordered the house grilled chicken wings, the mushroom tofu slab, and a big, hot bowl of pork ramen to get what I came here for. I loved everything. The chicken wings were served charred with generous pieces of tender, miso-marinated meat on the bone. The thick, breaded slap of silky tofu that lay on a bed of luscious sake gravy, hearty wild mushrooms and garlicky green onions was absolutely divine on top of purple rice. The ramen broth was rich, earthy, and steaming with pork essence – the perfect base for the thin, long noodles, which while over-cooked. were slurp-worthy and delicious.

chicken wings

chicken wings

tofu

tofu steak

ramen

ramen

Rockmeisha is living proof that you can’t judge a book by its cover. The waitstaff may be awkward, the place itself may need a serious makeover, but the food is 100% solid. A dark mysterious sushi bar is the perfect setting for a meal out with illness. There’s much more on the menu I want to try (fried chicken, miso brussel sprouts, fried squid), so I’ll be back in a heartbeat. And, if you’re up for it, you can walk just a block for a Big Gay Ice Cream Truck cone – if a sick person can muster up the energy post-meal, you can too! 

Salty Pimp Cone

Salty Pimp Cone – my happy place

Grade: A-
Location: 11 Barrow Street btwn West 4th and 7th Ave
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Filed under Affordable Date, Japanese, West Village

Gari: High quality raw fish on Columbus Ave

My first meal at Blue Ribbon Sushi was an eye opening experience for me. First, it made me realize that for 25 years I had been eating bad sushi. Second, along with the movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi, it helped me understand that bad sushi is practically an entirely different food group than fresh, artfully-prepared sushi. Sushi prepared by a skilled chef is a beautiful, delicious thing. It takes more than slicing a raw fish – sushi-making is a craft that that must be continuously perfected. Realizing this, along with getting sick from an inedible tray of take-out sashimi last month, I recently pledged to never eat bad sushi again.

Thus began my quest to try the city’s greatest Sushi restaurants, and there are many. I’d be content eating at Blue Ribbon every night, but interesting blog that does not make! So, in an effort to be grease-free before Thanksgiving and diversify my posts, this past Wednesday I tried Gari on Columbus, one of the five restaurants of the Sushi of Gari family. It’s everything people hype it up to be, and unlike some of its competitors, it takes reservations. The restaurant is brightly lit and no more interestingly-decorated than the next sushi joint, but you can really feel the sushi love and Japanese tradition emanating from each waiter.

The menu is standard aside from Gari’s signature dish: the Omakase,  which is the chef’s innovative preparations of  sushi, and what Zagat calls “a religious experience.” If I were P Diddy, I would have ordered the $100+ option, but given that I’m a struggling non-rapper I went for the Omakase appetizer: four pieces of tuna, four pieces of salmon, and an impeccably crispy salmon skin roll (my favorite). I wish I could list off the different variations of each of the uniquely prepared pieces, but I was too enamored by the plate’s beauty to really absorb the waiter’s descriptions. I do recall a salmon with roasted tomato, a tuna with scallions, and a tuna with blended tofu. Trust me when I say it was awesome, and along with a great green salad and the perfect gingery dressing, a fresh and bursting salmon roe nigiri, a piece of hamachi, and a delicious fried oyster roll, I felt like I was in Jiro’s Tokyo subway shop. The sushi performance warranted celebratory dessert, so we picked the fried bean cake special served with green tea ice cream after learning the bad news that they were out of the Lady M Green Tea Mille Crepes cake. While the dessert didn’t compare to Blue Ribbon’s green tea ice cream with red bean sauce, it was definitely interesting and tasty.

omakase

tuna with jalapeno

Lady M Green Tea Mille Crepes Cake – we didn’t eat this, but they serve it and it’s amazing.

So much for eating light the night before Thanksgiving! And here’s to always intending to eat healthy at a sushi restaurant, but more often than not leaving incredibly full. I just love it too much to care.

Grade: A+
LocationMultiple; this was 370 Columbus Ave between 77th and 78th Streets

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Okoze Sushi

Given it’s 10:30pm and I’m only half way through today’s to-dos (say that 10 times fast) I have negative 20 minutes to write this post. I just couldn’t deny Okoze sushi a solid review considering I’ve always professed that there’s no better neighborhood San Francisco Japanese restaurant than Ten-Ichi on Fillmore. I still believe that sentiment, but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of sushi at this tiny shop on Union and Hyde. In fact, I’ll probably now go here for sushi, and reserve Ten-Ichi for my cravings for donburi or Asian fried food like chicken kara-age. Okoze is, like most Japanese restaurants, subdued, tranquil, and somewhat unexciting, and although it serves wine in horrible stemware on red paper napkins, it has a clean and sophisticated presence that assures you its relatively small menu is well thought-out. There are a few things they could improve (more than 10 edamame please, and a little more crisp to my tempura shrimp), but the raw fish was great. My favorite dish, however, was the fried shrimp head. As a Filipino, shrimp heads and tails are not the thing I avoid – they’re like a bundle of crack that I can’t get enough of. Drugs aside (for those who don’t know me, this is a joke), I’ll definitely be back for a low key sushi night, and will most likely follow it up with a Swensen’s chocolate-dipped ice cream. Tradition started ce soir!

delish sushi

fried ebi

Grade: B+
Location: 1207 Union Street @ Hyde
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Blue Ribbon Sushi

 

I’ve neglected the blog these past two weeks and I really have no better excuse than to say that I’ve been busy with work and a social life, like any normal person. That’s not to say I haven’t visited a ton of great restaurants worth reporting. Quite the opposite. The standout of the bunch, however, is Blue Ribbon Sushi, which was so breathtakingly delicious that it triggered me to see the movie chronicling a man in Tokyo who’s been improving his sushi making skills for 75 years, Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

hamachi collar

Blue Ribbon is tucked away on Sullivan Street in Soho. It’s intimate. It’s special. You really feel like you’re embarking on a spiritual sushi experience when entering the low-ceiling, cozy space, which hosts just a few tables and a tiny sushi bar as the work space for multiple sushi chefs. The menu is filled with an overwhelming number of both hot and cold food, so to make the ordering process easier, strategize on what you want before our actual investigation. The green salad is colder, fresher, crunchier, and more flavorful than any other ginger-dressed Japanese starter salad I’ve had. The Hamachi Kama, broiled yellowtail collar, was rich, perfectly seasoned and meaty. The fried oyster roll was living proof that fried seafood can be nourishing and refreshing. And as for the sashimi…you never really realize how much bad sushi you’re tasting until you eat stuff like this – how can a piece of fish have so much intense flavor with absolutely nothing on it? It was perfect.

fried oyster roll (upon request)

fried oyster roll (upon request)

I love this place. And, the wines by the glass are great and hefty. Expect to wait for a table but it’s 100% worth it.

Grade: A
Location: 119 Sullivan btwn Prince and Spring
Website: 
http://www.blueribbonrestaurants.com/rests_sushi_man_main

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Morimoto

lounge

Yes, there may be a $10 markup on every menu item at Morimoto considering this Iron Chef’s recent rise to celebrity, but that doesn’t mean the food isn’t worth it. My friend Jillian and I had an amazing meal there last night in the lounge. Though our server was forced to divide his attention between us and ten other tables, we seemed to get our food in a timely manner and enjoyed a calm, steadily paced meal. We started with the toro tartare, which I learned is the highest grade of bluefin tuna possible. Along with a mini bamboo tray of perfectly piped wasabi, creme fraiche, avocado, little crunchies, and dark fish paste, each little spatula scraping of the fresh, melt in your mouth fish is a new experience. With a dollop of rich black caviar, this dish couldn’t be more luscious.

toro tartare with the fixings

We then shared the crispy calamari salad, which I expected to be a wilted green salad beneath a scraping of delicate calamari. Instead, I was presented with copious amounts of fresh greens that lay on top of perfectly fried garlic and the crunchiest calamari I’ve tasted. It was quite an impressive rendition of such a commonplace dish at high-end Japanese restaurants.

amazing calamari salad

We then moved onto to the king crab legs, which were served with a tobiko aioli that we had asked to be served on the side. The crab legs were massive and cracked just enough to allow us to easily remove the delicious meat with our chopsticks. And though I am horrified of mayo, the aioli was garlicky and subtly creamy – a perfect partner to the large chunks of crab.

King Crab

Along with our delicious premium sashimi and a $6 side of rice, we had a meal made up of high-quality ingredients in the environment one would expect for the restaurant of a world-famous Japanese chef. As long as my 25% off Googler discount applies, I’ll make it back when I’m craving quality sushi, which is the most devastatingly lacking food in the area.

Grade: A

Location: 88 10th Avenue between 15th and 16th street

Website: http://www.morimotony.com
*pictures via flickr

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