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Everybody who writes about restaurants has had the experience of somebody saying to him, "There's this amazing new place I'll tell you about, but only if you promise not to write about it, because you'll ruin it." I'm as eager to hear about an amazing new place as the next geek (well, probably more so), but I always refuse, on principle: both mine (hey, that's what I do, write about restaurants) and the restaurateur's (what's far more likely to ruin the new find is keeping it a secret).
Saba sushi $4
Uni sushi $8
Slammin Salmon $12
Dragon Ball Z $6
Speak Soft maki $6
Seven-course omakase $40/person
Open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday
Downstairs room wheelchair accessible
Parking: moderately difficult
Noise level: high
Not that my friend Will asked me to keep his favorite sushi place under wraps. His desire was almost completely altruistic -- that I should have a good meal (and, incidentally, that he should, too). But the eccentric Midori Mushi has lots of the hallmarks of a secret restaurant. It's tiny (basically five tables for two each -- that's right, seating for 10, though I've seen the staff push together two tables and squeeze five people around them, and also watched four people huddle around one table, rather optimistically); it doesn't take reservations; and it's cash only. (This last might not strike fear into your heart if you just want a couple or three plates of classic nigiri sushi, from $3 to $6 an order, but there's also the possibility of an omakase -- chef's choice -- meal at $40 or $60 a person. The employees are practiced at steering you to nearby ATMs.)
Midori Mushi occupies an oddly shaped, semicircular, two-story, two-room corner of a Days Inn in Hayes Valley. The downstairs is the restaurant, and the upstairs is a sake lounge, which served on the night of my first visit as a holding pen for three parties waiting for dinner. Will and I arrived just as the five tables filled up for the first seating, and we were ushered upstairs, asked to remove our shoes, and handed a sake list after we sank into a cushy couch. We chose a couple of sakes, with some assistance, and chatted away as time went by and music played. And another couple arrived. And more time passed. And a foursome of attractive young things were seated nearby. And the other couple got mildly querulous when bowls of miso were brought up for the foursome ("Well, she's pregnant," was the explanation). And we overheard a brief exhortation for patience and enjoying the wait as part of the experience. Very Zen.
I do admit that I don't enjoy waiting for my dinner, even in as relatively pleasant a situation as this (seated comfortably in a slightly funky, slightly retro, slightly modernistic room, with sake at hand, mildly oppressive but very hip music, and a chatty companion), when I have no idea how long that wait will be. Which turned out to be a little over an hour (and explains why our sake bill was rather higher than our food one).
So it says a lot for Midori Mushi that I enjoyed our meal there so much that the wait didn't put me off, that I did manage to see it as a valuable part of the whole evening, that I was tremendously entranced by the food we shared. I thought the raw ingredients were impeccable, the "signature" dishes excitingly creative, the chefs and servers absolutely adorable.
Or maybe I was just schnockered.
No (cheap joke). We had things I've had before (uni, toro, miso soup) and things I've never had before (sea trout, Dragon Ball Z, which is fried tofu stuffed with garlic crab -- yum) and things I don't remember (Will swears we had a "Martha Stewart" roll -- "Don't you remember, we'd both seen Cybill Shepherd in the Martha Stewart movie; we talked about TV movies a lot that night." Earth to Will: I didn't see the Martha Stewart movie, I just saw clips from it on David Letterman). And I loved everything we had.
The fish were all fresh and sweet, some cut perhaps a trifle thicker than a classical sushi master might, and laid atop excellent, lightly handled rice. (A note here about classical sushi masters: I've dined at the counters of so-called Sushi Nazis, who pride themselves on never making a California Roll and scream at you if you dip the rice rather than the fish in your wasabi-amped soy. No matter how excellent the sushi, I'd rather relax and enjoy myself. I noticed that several of the famous devotees of one famed San Fernando Valley Sushi Nazi were high-powered executives who probably enjoyed relinquishing control and being yelled at rather than yelling. Interesting to see that one of the specials at Midori Mushi is called the Sushi Submissive, described as, "Sit down, Shut up, and let Gerard feed you a trick or two.")
I do remember a Speak Soft roll, a lovely, compulsively edible combination of tuna, avocado, daikon sprouts, and sesame oil. And, oops, apologies to Will, right here on the menu I tucked away is the Martha Stewart: "A few years back Miss Martha came around looking to buy a home in Bolinas. The locals chased her away with a classic Bolinite welcome. I did manage to feed her when she was in town. Anyhow, she got one of these rolls from me and a few months later it shows up as one of her recipes. Wow, Martha is a sushi chef too! Crab, mango, mint served Temaki style (hand roll)."
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