I just got back from the Bay Area, and I had the pleasure of staying in San Francisco for a couple of nights. My mother was visiting as well and she requested sushi for dinner so after a bit of research I came across KUSAKABE. The head sushi chef at KUSAKABE, Chef Nori, previously worked at Nobu New York & Miami Beach and Sushi Ran in San Francisco. In 2014, he opened KUSAKABE, a kaiseki style sushi restaurant.
The entrance to the restaurant is unassuming, with a green curtain leading to the front door and blinds covering the windows. The ambiance of the restaurant is swanky, with a beautiful wooden sushi bar as well as some table seating. We were lucky enough to get seated at the sushi bar and we opted for the regular Omakase course ($98). There is also a Grand Omakase course for $165. The Omakase course is as follows: Ichiban Dashi, Sushi Prelude, Sashimi, Hassun, Soup, Seasonal Sushi, and Sushi Finale. My mother and I both ordered a glass of the Richard Grant Cuvée Brut Rosé, which was fruity, sweet and a little dry, and it was the PERFECT rosé for our Omakase course.
The Ichiban Dashi was fine, nothing to write home about. Our second course started with Zuke Chutoro (soy sauce cured blue fin medium fatty tuna) followed by Hirame (konbu cured halibut with its own liver), and Katsuo (lightly cherry wood smoked bonito). The Katsuo was one of my favorite nigiri of the night. The subtle smoky flavor was aromatic and complemented the perfectly fatty fish topped with the momiji oroshi (grated daikon radish with chili peppers), which added a hint of spice. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!
The second course was our sashimi, with Honmaguro (center loin bluefin tuna) and Kanpachi (greater amberjack), which was probably my least favorite course. Neither fish really stood out and I honestly prefer my raw fish with sushi rice.
Our third course, Hassun, included a Japanese style oyster with French daurenki caviar and five kinds of chef’s assorted les petit plats. The five les petit plats included seared Kamasu (Japanese Barracuda), Softshell Crab Nanbanzuke (fried softshell crab in a sour sauce, served cold), a deep fried Wagyu Croquette, Shirako (Japanese Tai snapper milt), and Hotaru ika (firefly squid). Out of the dishes, I really enjoyed the Nanbanzuke, Kamasu, and Wagyu Korokke. The Shirako was good, but I always feel weird eating fish testicles T_T. I didn’t like the Hotaru ika because it was too fishy and the oyster was fine but I wouldn’t order it again.
Our fourth course, the soup, was an Akadashi, Kyoto style red miso soup with Kamo Dango (duck meatball), lotus root and soy cream foam. The soup was unique, I’ve never had creamy akadashi before and the lime zest added the right amount of citrusy aroma. The Kamo Dango stole the show in this course. Fatty with no gaminess and the crunch of the lotus root resulted in a perfect meatball.
Our fifth course, seasonal sushi, included Shima Aji (stripe jack with daikon oroshi and yuzu kosho), Kasugodai (bamboo leaf cured young red snapper topped with grated sweet egg yolk), and Sakuramasu (Japanese cherry salmon with cherry leaf). The Shima Aji had a pristine, clean flavor. Being a yuzu lover, I enjoyed the yuzu kosho topping which didn’t overpower the flavor of the Shima Aji. The Kasugodai was good, albeit, a little sweet due to the egg yolk topping. The Sakuramasu would have been great without the cherry leaf. The cherry leaf (sakura no ha) is commonly used in a Japanese mochi dessert called Sakura Mochi. Since I associate this flavor with the sweet mochi, I didn’t like the combination of the cherry leaf combined with the salmon.
Our final course of the night, sushi finale, included roasted Ariake Nori Temaki and a final serving of Toro (low temperature aging Bluefin fatty tuna belly). The Ariake Nori Temaki was filled with Bafun Uni (Hokkaido short spine sea urchin) and ikura. This was my least favorite sushi piece of the night. The Bafu Uni, while creamy, had a faint ammonia smell which I couldn’t stand. I have a very sensitive sense of smell so others may not find it as bad, but I CANNOT eat any uni that has that smell/taste. Blegh! I initially thought that was our last piece and I was so disappointed to have to end on a bad piece but we were pleasantly surprised when we were handed the Toro. The fatty tuna, having been aged, had an incredibly tender texture. So so so good.
I really liked Chef Nori’s style of both rice and Gari. The rice in the nigiri is served semi warm and is on the tangier side with no sweetness. I assume Chef Nori uses little to no sugar in his sushi rice. The Gari (pickled ginger) was also quite tangy and had almost no sweetness to it.
The excellent service, GREAT sushi, and the glass of rosé I had puts KUSAKABE in the top 3 best sushi experiences I’ve had in the US. The ONLY reason why it may not be number 1 was because of the Bafun Uni. Overall I highly recommend this restaurant for any special occasion or if you’re in town looking for great sushi. It is on the pricy side but much more affordable compared to high-end sushi places in Manhattan or LA.
KUSAKABE – 4.5 out of 5 stars
584 Washington St.
San Francisco, CA 94111
Ph: (415) 757-0155