Ichi Sushi is making quite a name for itself — even Martha Stewart had to drop in during a recent visit to San Francisco. It’s no surprise, really; the original tiny location had lines down the block, and the new space, with room for a kitchen, has allowed Chef Tim Archuleta to develop his menu. While the sushi bar and its educational mural occupy the front of the restaurant, the back houses Ni Bar, a cozy place that should not be overlooked. With a broad range of sake and a menu of beautifully-executed izakaya dishes, Ni is perhaps Bernal’s best-kept secret. And now you know.
In the same way Ichi educates customers about fish, Ni Bar is happy to provide an education on sake. Having developed some strong relationships with sake importers, Ni can celebrate the sakes from different regions of Japan, as well as offer seasonal and festival sakes. The sake flight has been very popular, and more flights are in the works.
You can also ask Ken Furusawa, the bar manager, for suggestions. His recommendations of Masumi, Nagano to start (a softer sake with subtle layers, perfect for when the palate is fresh) and Red Maple to finish (aged two years, its natural enzymes have produced a sweeter drink with notes that “pop” on the palate) served this customer well on a recent evening. If Ken looks familiar, he used to mix up some righteous cocktails at Range, and is now turning his creativity toward shochu. His latest invention, The Cat’s Meow, uses ingredients from the restaurant’s kitchen: salted plum, shiso, and house-made yuzu syrup.
Ni Bar’s happy hour is a bargain: Monday through Friday, from 5:30 to 7 p.m., a selection of beverages ranges from $4 to $6. There are $1 oysters and snacks like chicken wings, katsu, and the not-to-be-missed, umami-rich salt-broiled fish collar. If you roll in a bit later, you can order from the menu of sashimi, cold and hot plates, skewers and side dishes. Perhaps you’d like the baby yellowtail and ocean trout sashimi, perfect in its simplicity? Or a salad of gulf shrimp, thinly-sliced Japanese cucumber, and crunchy, ruffly tremella mushrooms in a vinegar-based dressing? A bowl of Umi Masu Iridashi, ocean trout in a dashi broth, has a lovely smokiness from shaved bonito. And the black cod marinated in sake lees – the remnants of rice – is fish soul food: rich, slightly sweet, a little boozy, and impossible to stop eating.
If all of this excites you, keep an eye out for a tasting next month – open to the public – with a guest brewer whose sake has its origins in the 1700s. Or just stroll into Ichi – a sign is forthcoming, so it will be easier to spot – and make your way to the back. Beneath the sake bottle lights at the bar, you can learn as you drink, eat amazing food, and maybe spot a celebrity guest. The secret is out: Ni Bar is your new happy place.