By Pete Kane
By Anna Roth
By Lou Bustamante
By Anna Roth
By Max A. Cherney
By Anna Roth
By Alex Hochman
By Anna Roth
One of the questions I get asked frequently is how I choose the restaurants I go to, and beyond the obvious (covering the new places, my appetite), there's an avenue I really enjoy: following up on readers' tips. A month or so ago, after I mentioned taking my Tokyo-based friend Carl to Frisson, I received two such e-mails in a day, one right after the other, well-written little reviews that sounded sincere and appreciative. They piqued my hunger.
San Francisco, CA 94114
Region: Castro/ Noe Valley
Ahi tuna carpaccio $6.50
"Asian pizza" $3.95
Miso-glazed cod $6.50
Amasia Hide's Sushi Bar
Octopus sashimi $7.95
Maguro sushi $3.50/ two pieces
Tairagai sushi $3.50/two pieces
Oz, 1136 Valencia (at 22nd Street), 282-OZSF. Open for dinner Monday through Thursday from 5 to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m. Closed Sunday. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 26. Noise level: low to moderate.
Amasia Hide's Sushi Bar, 149 Noe (at Henry), 861-7000. Open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Closed Monday. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible (one step at entrance). Parking: difficult. Muni: 24, 37. Noise level: low to moderate.
The first, from David Frank, began, "My wife and I stumbled upon a new restaurant in the Mission that I think is perfect to take your friend Carl to. ... I think this place is as close to a small funky Tokyo eatery as you will find in the U.S. We were shopping on Valencia between 22nd and 23rd (beads for her, CDs for me) and it was already 6:00 so we decided to have a bite before heading back down the Peninsula. There is a fairly new place called 'OZ' ... that was a winner in terms of quality and value. We lived in Tokyo for many years, so we know and love creative Japanese food. The menu is limited but they had a 'chefs special' for $20, $25, or $30. We chose the $30 course and I was impressed by the freshness and presentation of each dish. I don't remember everything we ate but we walked out stuffed -- which is unusual for a Japanese/sushi restaurant. I do remember there was an appetizer of sashimi (including monkfish) drizzled with a slightly sweet vinegar sauce and cranberries, another course of fresh sardine fried in a light tempura batter served with some type of pickled vegetables, and the dessert was melon sorbet served in the husk. ... The place is quite tiny and there was actually a line outside by the time we left at around 7:30."
I went to Oz with Robert, who used to live on its same block in the years when sit-down restaurants were thin on the ground in the Mission. It's a chic little sliver of a place, with a tiny open kitchen manned by a single chef in the back, and a row of tables clinging to its two long walls. It did feel like the Japanese restaurants you see in the movies (as close as I've come to Japan, alas). There was a couple ordering takeout at the kitchen counter and another seated opposite us. I tried to avert my eyes from the flat-screen TV hung above Robert's head, showing Sleepless in Seattle. The menu, though intriguing, was brief indeed -- only 10 fish listed under sushi and four under sashimi, for example, plus eight fusion dishes listed as tapas. There were more than a dozen special rolls, however, with unexpected ingredients such as bananas and wild carrots. We nibbled on edamame and ordered the $30 omakase, or chef's choice, menu, and the dishes started rolling out quickly.
I was completely beguiled by the first, a beautifully arranged plate described as "tuna carpaccio with spicy sauce." The tender, rosy sashimi squares were crisscrossed with thin lines of several sauces (a pale Japanese Thousand Island and a bright-red hot pepper sauce among them), and decorated with scallions, cucumber, and crunchy orange tobiko (flying fish roe). The next was described by the lone server as "Asian pizza," the name it appeared under on the menu, too, but we recognized it as okonomi-yaki, which I think of as more like a flat omelet or a frittata than a pizza. It's a crispy-edged egg pancake, in this instance delightfully full of seafood, including baby shrimp and crab, with minced mushrooms, scallions, and asparagus. After which we each received bowls of dark, unusually pungent miso soup.
Then came two plates of a popular fusion dish that I first tasted years ago, made with black cod (the usual fish) at the original Matsuhisa in Los Angeles. At Oz, the miso-glazed cod was identified as silver cod, the soft, sweet fish carefully cooked and accompanied with meaty roasted shiitake mushrooms. We each got a cone-shaped, crunchy, spicy salmon-skin roll, cutely served in martini glasses. And then came a refreshing and peppery baby shrimp salad, pale pink, heaped on butter lettuce with thin crescents of pale green avocado and darker green accents of radish shoots and herbs.
I was almost replete after the next offering, thin slices of ankimo (monkfish liver, which tastes like the foie gras of the sea), served on soup spoons with slivers of lemon and a bit of fresh dill. Yet I managed to eat the sushi that followed, the fish cut in largish slices and casually draped over the rice: salmon, hamachi (yellowtail), toro (tuna belly), and lovely uni (sea urchin).
But I was defeated both by the quantity and the flavor of the last savory dish, a special roll that our server proudly told us was invented by the chef and called "Beachy Boy" (it's Beach Boys on the menu). The roll, wrapped in unagi (barbecued eel), was an amazing mosaic of banana, avocado, asparagus, wild carrots, and cucumber, and there was a coconut-curry sauce on the side that wowed Robert, but I was put off by the banana (so was Robert) and unconvinced by the sauce.
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