Earlier this summer I saw the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” and if you’ve seen it too and you’re like me, you’re probably wondering if you’ll ever taste such exquisite sushi as one imagines is being served by sushi master Jiro Ono.
Of course, since then I’ve been craving sushi. But knowing I could probably never afford Ono’s sushi or get a reservation at his three-Michelin-star 10-seat restaurant in Tokyo, I’ve just gone bitter. Then recently Hugh Jackman tweeted about how he had an amazing dinner at Ono’s restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro. And then I felt bitter wondering why I can’t have Jackman’s body.
So the only real way to get out of this pity party was to find me some sushi, and fast.
Earlier in the day, I had read about a new sushi spot opening in the former KFC/Spork location in the Mission. Since I didn’t have a regular sushi favorite, I decided to try some place new.
Sugoi didn’t really transform the former Spork location, which briefly served up rice bowls as Rice Broker. The bar has become the sushi bar and much of the main dining room seating remains the same. The only change was probably an over-emphasis on red draping and red Christmas lights, giving the entire space a mishap vibe like it’s a pop-up restaurant.
The menu provides a variety of categories, and what intrigued me was the section known as “new style sashimi” in the daily specials. Sliced fresh fish is presented with complementary sauces, like the jalapeno with hamachi or ginger garlic shiso with the umimasu. I tried the pricey seared blue fin toro (tuna belly) with chili sesame sauce ($18).
The toro slices were thin, which probably affected the overall taste because even though I liked the chili sauce dressing the fish, I didn’t get a really fatty rich texture of the toro.
There’s a yakitori section so I tried some skewers (all $3 each), ordering the shrimp and scallops. I found that the yakitori reflects the Chinese influences of Sugoi’s owners, Roy Louie and Cyrus Shen. I’ve found that Chinese chefs tend to over-do the sweet-soy sauce, sometimes thickened into gravy. Both the shrimp and the scallops were sauced with thick sauces, a traditional teriyaki for the shrimp and a sweet-sour sauce for the scallops. In fact, the scallops looked like they were day boats in a caramel ocean.
A rock n’ roll sushi ($7) was pretty standard with the unagi and avocado, and the nigiri choices I ate were fresh and good, but nothing spectacular. I did enjoy how some of the nigiri is presented a house soy sauce or, in one case, a shiso leaf with gelatin.
Getting fresh fish is pretty easy in San Francisco (although Sugoi does lean heavily on fish imported from Japan), so to me a good sushi place is really all about the rice and form of the sushi. Chefs Louie and Shen do form perfectly shaped nigiri at the right bite-size, but the rice (IMHO) was on the al dente side, not necessarily sticking well together.
Everyone at Sugoi was super friendly, given that this is their first week and they’re probably trying to make a good impression. It’s a good neighborhood spot, but it’s not a destination spot when craving sushi. For me, I’m still dreaming of sushi.
Rating: 2 out of 4 camera snaps
Sugoi Sushi, 1058 Valencia St. (at Hill), San Francisco. PH: 415.401.8442. Open daily from 5:30 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.sugoisushisf.com
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