The Rock Isn’t Just an Action Flick

Ishiyahki, the art of the stone grill, reaches perfection at Philippe Striffler's ANZU.

Thanks to Chef Philippe Striffeler, The Rock is more than just the best action film to ever come out of San Francisco. It’s also the name of one of the city’s most creative DIY dishes. 

To experience it, you’ll have to weave your way through the aimless crowds of Union Square to arrive at ANZU, above the lobby level of the Hotel Nikko. You’re certain to discover what makes this place such a perennial hot spot.   

Although it operates without the benefit of street signage, this modern Californian-Asian crossover has thrived in the same location since the late ’90s. Some of that longevity owes itself to the built-in audience of the bustling hotel it’s attached to, but some credit belongs to the expansive drink menu — which includes one of the finer sake selections in town. But most of the restaurant’s success can be attributed to Striffeler’s innovative approach to cuisine, using the vibrant produce of Northern California to enhance the flavors of the Far East, as viewed through the lens of classical European sensibilities. Got all that?  

As the director of food and beverage, Striffeler continually infuses the menu with fresh takes inspired from frequent travels abroad. It was on one such culinary adventure, with his wife along the lower slopes of Mt. Fuji, where he stumbled upon another love in his life: Ishiyaki. He immediately knew he had to bring it back stateside. Translated directly as “stone grill,” Ishiyaki usually takes the form of a flattened, griddle-like cooking surface, hot enough to sear through thin slices of meat. 

The Rock, ANZU’s resulting dish, is unique in that it incorporates actual Japanese river rocks, imported from the very same purveyor that initially inspired Strifffeler on his formative adventure. For $20, you receive a dozen strips of finely marbled Wagyu beef, plated alongside a steaming hot rock the size of a sweet potato. It’s effectively a portable oven, presented upon a bed of rock salt, pink peppercorns, and star anise. The Wagyu is gauged thinly enough that a few seconds of searing on either side renders it ready. (You certainly don’t want to overcook meat like this.) And although completely superfluous, a trio of sauces — one spicy, one sweet, one herbaceous — accompanies the beef.

Only a few spots in the city offer Ishiyaki on menu. At Pabu, notably, you can enjoy a pork dish served in a hot stone pot, similar to bibimbap. But nowhere else in San Francisco will you find a presentation quite like this. It’s a fun, interactive spectacle that also happens to be delicious. Wash your hand-seared slices down with a cold glass of ginjo — as pure as rainwater from the untrammeled forests of Japan. So long as Chef Striffeler keeps traveling the world in search of culinary inspiration, ANZU will be worth traveling to at home, just to see what he brings back next.

Restaurant ANZU at Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St. 415-394-1100 or


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