Total immersion in a Japanese film retrospective prompts a lust for soba and udon

Another day, another Naruse, and my PFA-mates Mary and David mention Sapporo-Ya, the homey coffee shop-like noodle place upstairs in the Kinokuniya building in Japantown, as one of their favorites, and I agree. I add that I also like the more austere Mifune (in the adjacent Kintetsu food mall). Its name inevitably conjures that of Toshiro Mifune, whom we've just seen in A Wife's Heart, in which he lends money to a young wife hoping to open a coffee shop of her own, and dines regularly at the restaurant where she's learning to cook. But a newer noodle shop has opened on the ground floor of Kinokuniya, so Hilary and I show up for dinner late another night.

So Suzu Me: Sophisticated, seductive, inexpensive food.
James Sanders
So Suzu Me: Sophisticated, seductive, inexpensive food.

Location Info



1290 Ninth Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94122

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Sunset (Inner)



Cha-su soba $8.25

Suzu Noodle House

Edamame $3.50

Tuna and salmon sashimi $9.95

Mabo ramen $7.95

Unagi don combination $9.95

Shrimp and vegetable tempura $6.50

Hotei, 1290 Ninth Ave. (at Irving), 753-6045, Open Wednesday through Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Closed Tuesday. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 44, N. Noise level: moderate.

Suzu Noodle House, 1581 Webster (at Post), No. 105, 346-5083. Open for lunch Monday and Wednesday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Open Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday until 9:30 p.m. Closed Tuesday. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 2, 3, 4, 22, 38. Noise level: moderate to high.

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Suzu is a small space, separated from the mall by glass walls, with modern tables and chairs lined up in three tight rows. I'm mildly annoyed to be shown to one of the deuces, right by the kitchen door, when later-arriving couples are offered four-tops along the window wall, but my annoyance disappears with the arrival of our food. We start with hot steamed edamame and the simplest sashimi: unusually thick-cut yet still-buttery chunks of pale pink salmon and darker, rosy tuna, served with a heap of wasabi and julienned shreds of radish. A list of a dozen assorted preparations of udon, soba, and ramen tempts me with the uncommon tororo soba (topped with grated potatoes), but I go for the mabo ramen, on a separate menu of half a dozen house specials. Hilary chooses a combination: a bowl of udon, plus tasty, almost candied braised eel over rice (aka unagi don). My mabo ramen, in a mildly spicy broth -- though not as spicy as the little red pepper logo might lead you to believe -- is capped with custardy tofu squares and crumbles of ground pork that are so flavorful I wish there were more of them. Hilary likes my thin, curly noodles better than her fat, firm ones, which strike her as slightly wormlike, so I happily trade. The food is so sophisticated and seductive (not to mention inexpensive) that I impulsively order a plate of assorted tempura -- three shrimp; slices of eggplant, zucchini, and carrots; and whole green beans -- exceptionally fresh and delicate. At 10 p.m. our waitress snaps off the neon signs and brings us our check before we can ask for adzuki beans over green tea ice cream. Hotei and Suzu do Naruse's noodle shops proud.

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