KUSAKABE San Francisco

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!

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Zuke Chutoro

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Katsuo

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Hirame

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Shima Aji

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Kasugodai

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Sakuramasu

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.

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Ariake Nori Temaki with Bafun Uni and Ikura

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Toro

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
Financial District

Ph: (415) 757-0155

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Mamaleh’s

I just got back to LA from my 2 week trip to Boston and ate at my FAVORITE restaurant in Boston twice in the last week. Mamaleh’s is a Jewish deli/restaurant in Kendall Square that opened last year. The location replaced West Bridge, which used to be my husband and my faaaavorite restaurant.

The first time I went to Mamaleh’s I had no idea that it would become my GO TO restaurant that I absolutely have to visit whenever I’m in town. They cure, brine, roast, smoke, braise and steam all of their hormone & antibiotic free meats in house. The quality of their meats really speaks for itself. Some of the best pastrami I’ve ever eaten. Ever. I’m not a pastrami connoisseur by any means but I’m telling you this is the bees knees, you have to try it.

They also bake their own bagels, bialys, challah and sweets. I’ve ordered their House Salmon Lox with their pumpernickel bagel and I really loved the texture and flavor of the bagel itself. Chewy but also soft and slightly sweet, which complemeted their house cured salmon lox. I also really like the scallion cream cheese it was served with.

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House Salmon Lox w/ Pumpernickel Bagel

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House Salmon Lox w/ Pumpernickel

Out of the several times I’ve gone to Mamaleh’s, I’ve only ever strayed from my go-to  order of a Rachel on marble once. For those unfamiliar with Rachels, it is a Reuben sandwich with coleslaw instead of sauerkraut. The Rachel at Mamaleh’s is out of this world. The Russian dressing is creamy and slightly tangy and they toast the whole sandwich (pressed maybe?) so the exterior of the sandwich has the texture of a buttery grilled cheese.

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I also order their latkes whenever I go. I think I’ve only ever eaten latkes a couple of times prior to my Mamaleh’s obsession, but I never was a fan because it was always either too soggy or the flavor was off. The ones at Mamaleh’s are perfectly crisp, with the right ratio of potato to onion to matzah and it’s served with apple sauce and sour cream. There’s literally absolutely nothing to not like about this dish (unless you don’t like fried foods or potatoes…)

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Another must order is their pickle plate. They make all their pickles in house as well and they also have these pickled green tomatoes that have the perfect tartness. The texture of the pickled green tomatoes remind me of a super fresh nectarine (as you can probably tell, I’m a huuuuge texture person when it comes to food).

I’ve tried a couple of their baked goods and they were (as expected) delectable! I have only ever eaten a Black and White cookie once which I purchased in the North End and did not enjoy it at all. The one at Mamaleh’s, however, was soft, buttery and the icing on the top was soooo good. I tried ordering it again last Sunday but they were sold-out 😥 I also ate a slice of their chocolate cake which was velvety, rich, moist and probably up there with one of the best chocolate cakes I’ve had. DEFINITELY order dessert, it’s a must! The photos below don’t do it justice T_T

 

The service at Mamaleh’s is great. There is one server that I’m not really fond of, but all the other servers I’ve ever had were super accommodating, kind and friendly. I think if it weren’t for that one server I would have given this place 5 stars.

Customers collect points each time they dine and get some $$ off every $50 they spend. It’s a pretty good deal, especially if you frequent the place. I highly recommend making a reservation ESPECIALLY for Saturday or Sunday brunch! The place gets packed. If you’re ever in Boston make sure to nosh at Mamaleh’s 😉

Mamaleh’s – 4.8 out of 5 stars
One Kendall Square/Building 300
15 Hampshire Street
Cambridge, MA 02139
Ph: (617) 958-3354

PABU Boston

PABU Boston opened in November of 2016, after a much anticipated wait for the opening of the Millennium Towers in Downtown Boston. I had been looking forward to PABU opening for almost an entire year, having read about their San Francisco restaurant, and was so excited that Boston would be graced with another high-end Japanese restaurant co-owned by a Japanese chef.

My husband works in the Downtown area, so PABU has become his favorite go-to for after work drinks and a light snack. For his 30th birthday, my husband chose this restaurant, to which I happily obliged since I had been wanting to try it for a while.

The ambience of the restaurant is gorgeous. No questions asked. You walk into the Millennium Towers and straight into a dark elevator which leads you to the restaurant. Once you enter, it really feels as though you’re at a swanky bar in Tokyo. The decor is not kitschy *cough*Hojoko*cough* and I was pleased to see the walls were not adorned with Anime themed decorations and wallpaper. Based off of the atmosphere alone, PABU would be the type of place you would want to take someone on your third date, to show that you’re really serious about them. Lol.

The restaurant has a bar area and lounge seats as you exit the elevator, through the bar area is the main dining room where there are seats in the center of the dining room and the border of the dining room has open covered sectional seating that host about 4 tables or more in each section. We were seated next to a window in one of these sections.

After being seated, we quickly scoured the menu but my husband already knew he wanted to order the kaiseki with the sake pairing. I decided to also order the kaiseki but without the sake.

We started off with my husband’s favorite appetizer, fried chicken skins, and the lobster okonomiyaki.

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The fried chicken skin was fine, good, ok. I would rather take the fried skin off of KFC and eat it, if that tells you anything.

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The “lobster” okonomiyaki with pork belly, atlantic squid, sunny-side egg. Please tell me why this smaller-than-a-CD sized dish cost $18? Also, the “lobster” on top was more similar to crawfish. It was crumbled tiny pieces of lobster…hmm…ok. This should’ve been called “Pork Belly Okonomiyaki with a tiny bit of questionable lobster”. False advertisement! It tasted good, but it was okonimyaki, which has long been called ‘peasant food’ so there is no reason why they should be charging $18 for it. I love myself some okonomiyaki but I can make it at home (and make it better).

After our appetizers came our “kaiseki”:

1st Course: Happy Spoon Oyster with uni, ikura, tobiko, ponzu crème fraîche

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I had read a lot of reviews concerning this dish and several people had said how absolutely DELICIOUS it was. I love ikura and I love oysters, but I was a little weary on the quality of the uni because I have had a lot of horrid uni in the US. I ate the spoon in one bite and quickly regretted my decision. The uni was SO disgusting. Not fresh at all, had that very intense ammonia flavor and it was extremely difficult trying to swallow it all without having to spit it out in my napkin. I couldn’t even taste the rest of the components because I was completely taken aback by the quality (or lack thereof) of the uni. Blegh. Bad start to a meal!

2nd Course: Raw scallop with shiso, yuzu kosho and ponzu & House-made tofu with matcha salt, wasabi, lemon soy

This dish was 2 in 1, with the scallop in one dish, covering the tofu below. This dish was great, the scallop was sweet and fresh and I loved the flavor combination of the shiso leaf, yuzu kosho and ponzu. Refreshing and satisfying. The tofu was also great- creamy and rich, though I didn’t really taste the matcha salt. I’m not sure how the tofu works with the scallop, but anyway all in all a pretty good “course”.

3rd Course: Miso Soup with shimeji mushrooms and asari clams

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Ok, this is where I start getting pissed off. HOW does this constitute a “course” in an $85 tasting? It’s freaking miso soup!! Which is usually FREE at any other Japanese establishment when ordered with a meal. If the soup blew my socks off and was the BEST miso soup I’d ever had, I would forgive this faux pas but it was just plain miso soup. My mother (and I for that matter), make better miso soup at home. HMPH.

4th Course: Miso Black Cod with sweet onion tofu, roasted mushrooms, kabocha

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This was one of the best dishes of the night. The only issue was that this piece of fish was TINY. Like seriously could finish it in probably 1.5-2 bites. The black cod was buttery and tender, with a very subtle miso flavor and the accompanying mushrooms were explosive in flavor. The sweetness of the kabocha puree perfectly complemented the savory umami rich black cod and mushrooms. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. I would definitely want this dish but only if it were 5 times larger.

5th Course: Tempura assortment- Cuttlefish, Smelt and Anago (I think..?)

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The fact that I can’t even remember what the third tempura piece was speaks volumes about this dish. Sure, it tasted good, had good seasoning and was fried nicely, but not something so spectacular that it stood out. Are 3 measly pieces worthy of constituting a course in a 7 course meal? Absolutely not. Listen, I’m not asking for GIANT AMERICAN portions here, I’m just asking for reasonable sized dishes. Not, “Here’s a little amuse-bouche to whet your appetite” sized dishes. The accompanying tempura sauce was pretty good too but again, nothing spectacular. Standard.

6th Course: Hudson Valley Foie Gras with crisp rice, anago, eel sauce topped with candied kumquats

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Anybody who knows me knows that I freaking LOVE foie gras. When done well and as long as it’s fresh, it is one of my favorite ingredients. I am almost always very happy with Hudson Valley foie gras and this was, to some extent, no exception. The foie itself was seared nicely and had absolutely no funk (thank GOD), but the anago sauce. Ooooh the anago sauce. It was cloyingly sweet. Like the kind of sweet (and also a bit sour?) that gives you a headache if you have too much of it. The crispy rice was DRENCHED in this sweet, cloying sauce and the anago really did not add much to the dish. I think the dish would’ve been better off without the anago and if it focused solely on the beauty of the foie itself. The candied kumquat was also..interesting. Had the sauce not been so overpoweringly sweet, I think the candied kumquat would have paired nicely with the foie gras, alas, it was just another sweet element on top of an already too-sweet dish. Such a bummer.

7th Course: Okinawan ‘Donut’ with matcha green tea, confectioners’ sugar, adzuki pudding

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Umm. Please look at that “pudding” and tell me it doesn’t remind you of the poop emoji. Come on!! I’ve had sata andagi (Okinawan donuts) in Okinawa before and these did not compare. It was too greasy, crumbly, lacked flavor and the “pudding” was a weird consistency which was also tasteless. We ended up not even eating this. Blegh.

So that was it. 7 courses, $85, with an additional $40 for the “sake pairing”. My only problem was not with the dishes, it was also with the service. If a restaurant is promoting a “sake pairing” then it should be VERY IMPORTANT to train your staff on the sake flavor profiles. The staff should also be able to explain WHY the sake pairs with the dish and which dish the sake is actually being paired with. It was very annoying that the sake would be poured at the tail-end of a dish and we would be left wondering which dish it was actually supposed to be paired with. Adding to the confusion, the meal only comes with 5 or 6 sake tastings and it was never explained that one sake serving was supposed to be paired with TWO of the first courses. Unorganized and disappointing. Our server also used the same 2 word description for every sake that came out, one of the words being “fruity”. I overheard him explaining the sake to other tables as well, describing every single sake with the same “tasting notes”. It was blatantly obvious that he had either, 1) Not tasted the sake and therefore had no idea what it actually tasted like 2) Simply just didn’t remember what the sake tasted like and hadn’t studied the tasting notes or 3) Didn’t really care what the sake tasted like and just spewed out generic descriptions that seemed to make sense only to himself.

After a frustrating dinner came the bill which amounted to $350 for the two of us. Keep in mind we had only ordered 2 appetizers and I had 1 cocktail. The sake “pairing” was 5 or 6 sips of sake that were not properly described and out of the 7 courses, 2 were almost inedible and 1 was miso soup. Oooooh boy did I have a problem with shelling out that $350. I have no qualms about spending hundreds of dollars on a fantastic meal and excellent service but PABU just did not deliver. It was undeserving of the price tag. Would I come back again? Possibly… but I would never consider ordering the kaiseki or any “tasting menu” for that matter. I would also make sure to eat a full meal before or after, since this meal left us unsatiated.

PABU Boston – 2.8 out of 5 Stars

3 Franklin St
Boston, MA 02110

Downtown Boston

Ph: (617) 327-7228

 

Pioneer Saloon

I just returned from my week long trip to Honolulu, Hawaii and wanted to review one of my favorite restaurants on Oahu after having another splendid meal there. Pioneer Saloon, located on Monsarrat Avenue near Diamond Head, is an unassuming relatively small, fast casual restaurant. The decor of the restaurant is somewhat eclectic with the back of the restaurant filled with vintage and antique items that are up for sale. There is no wait service. The customers go up to their counter, order food, and pick it up at the counter when it’s ready.

The menu is EXTENSIVE! Considering the space of the restaurant, it never ceases to amaze me how much food they have churning out of their kitchen. Their menu focuses mainly on Japanese food, although they also do have green curry on their menu which I thought was a bit random as there are no other Thai dishes offered. Most of the plate lunches comes with your choice of protein, their side dish of the day (usually pasta salad), and your choice of rice. They offer white rice, brown rice, multi-grain rice and shiso wakame rice. The multi-grain and shiso wakame rice both cost an extra $1, which is totally worth it. In addition to their extensive menu, Pioneer Saloon also offers their version of a “Ramen Burger”, and though I’ve never tasted it myself, I have heard that it is the best on the Island.

On my first visit to Pioneer Saloon, I was told that they had the BEST garlic ahi steak. I am not a fan of akami, or raw plain tuna so I didn’t think I would like the Ahi Steak since it is basically seared akami. I ordered their miso butterfish plate instead which was quite good, just a bit light in flavor like perhaps the fish hadn’t been marinated for long enough. I took a few bites of my sister’s garlic ahi steak and was SO disappointed that I didn’t order the dish for myself!! The fish itself is tender and juicy, with a ponzu based sauce and the whole dish is covered in fried garlic. Oh lawd it’s good. You HAVE to try it to understand the deliciousness of their garlic ahi steak.

Garlic Ahi Steak

Garlic Ahi Steak

On another visit, my husband ordered their braised short ribs which comes with a choice of two flavors: BBQ or Gravy. My husband opted for their BBQ flavor. If any mainlander ordered the BBQ, they’d probably assume it was American BBQ sauce, however, the dish comes with a Korean style BBQ sauce. Slightly sweet and salty with a hint of garlic. The short ribs were very thick slices of kalbi and it was some of the BEST kalbi I’ve had. Having grown up with family from Hawaii, every family bbq includes our own barbecued kalbi but this was something totally different. The kalbi had been braised for what I assume is many hours and the bones slipped right out of the meat. The meat just melts in your mouth and coupled with the sweet and savory sauce is a complete foodgasm.

BBQ Braised Short Rib

BBQ Braised Short Rib

I would rate Pioneer Saloon 4 out of 5 stars. While the food is amazing, sometimes the service can be a little off. It seems they hire young high school or college students who are really unfamiliar with the menu. The last time I was there, I asked about one of the sauces and the girl just told me, “I have no idea”, and didn’t bother to ask anyone even though the owner was right behind her. Having worked in the hospitality business, I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to service. I’m  not expecting service equivalent to a fine dining restaurant, however, I expect employees of restaurants to have some familiarity with their menu. Even if they don’t, when a customer asks a question regarding a dish, I should hope the employee would attempt to ask the kitchen or manager for more information. Overall, Pioneer Saloon is an excellent restaurant with an extensive menu. I’ve come to the restaurant on every visit I’ve had to Oahu since first trying it and plan on making it my regular spot when I’m in town. Any visitors looking for GREAT Japanese food on the Island should come try, I promise you’ll leave very satisfied 🙂

Pioneer Saloon – 4 Stars

3046 Monsarrat Ave
Honolulu, HI 96815

Diamond Head

Ph: (808) 732-4001

Since they don’t have their own website, please check out their Yelp page for more information here