My impression of izakaya – the Japanese casual drinking spots akin to a gastropub – is that of hearty dining with lots of drinking and laughing. The Bay Area has experienced an uptrend of izakaya showcasing grilled food (yakitori) and small bites, but Izakaya Yuzuki seems to break the mold.

Refined. Exquisite. Delicate. Transformational. These are some of the words that come to mind after dining at this simple but welcoming restaurant at the corner of 18th and Guerrero Streets in the Mission District. And I wasn’t all that surprised when I learned more about the chef, Saito Takashi, who worked at the Sheraton’s Kyoya restaurant and the upscale Ame at the St. Regis Hotel.

Seasonal Menu
My niece, who was visiting town from Colorado, said she couldn’t get good Japanese food where she lives. So I thought I’d take her to Yuzuki, whose menu reflected seasonal ingredients of the Bay Area prepared with a technique known as koji, which is a natural fermentation method.

The menu is somewhat limited, so we ended up ordering what seemed like the majority of the menu. Every dish came out beautifully plated, using some of the most enchanting pottery to carry the food.

The spacious dining area of Izakaya Yuzuki has a casual but elegant vibe.

The spacious dining area of Izakaya Yuzuki has a casual but elegant vibe.

The flavors were delicate but expert, like the Kobe beef tataki ($12), seared wagyu beef thinly sliced and topped with onion shavings and lightly flavored with a yuzukosho miso sauce. And the three-way vegetable dish called obanzai ($12) is a great way to taste the different flavors of the kitchen, and it’s actually the first time I enjoyed eggplant (served up in the house-made miso with a bit of spice).

In-house ingredients
Along with the miso, Yuzuki also makes its own tofu. My niece ordered the Zaru tofu ($9), and I was skeptical of whether it would be that interesting. But the silken tofu was like the delicate tofu served at Chinese restaurants for dessert because of the amazing texture. At Yuzuki, it’s served simply with sea salt that you sprinkle to your taste.

Yakitori options, or the skewer section, offered up only two meat options: chicken meatballs or chicken with scallions. We just tried one skewer of the meatball ($4), which was shaped more like a hot dog but tasted juicy inside but nicely grilled with a savory and lacquered exterior from the perfect heat of the grill.

Some missteps
Not everything was perfect. The sautéed duck breast ($16) from the steamed section was delightfully presented in a bamboo steamer sitting on a bed of assorted vegetables. But the duck breast had a beefy texture and didn’t remind me at all of the wild and dark flavors of duck.

The yaki surume ika, or salt koji marinated Hokkaido squid ($9), was perfectly grilled but didn’t seem to offer the complex flavors of the other dishes. Even the yuzu mayonnaise served on the side as a dipping sauce seemed to be too subtle in flavor.

The Last Bite
Still, other dishes made up for those few missteps. We enjoyed the presentation and crispy edges of the yaki omusubi ($13), or grilled rice balls (really shaped like triangles) topped with uni and watercress soy butter. Our desserts were a lovely ending to our meal – ginger sorbet that captured the pungent flavor of the root, and a kojicha crème brulee that had a delicate smoky tea flavor.

The delicate dishes of Yuzuki make for a light meal (you might choose to pile up with the koshihikari rice that takes at least 30 minutes to prepare) but slowly eating each plate is like watching a flower unfold, presenting the colorful beauty and mastery of Chef Saito’s artistic dishes.

Rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
3-snaps

 

Izakaya Yuzuki, 598 Guerrero St., at 18th), San Francisco. PH: 415.556.9898. Open Mon., Wed.–Sat., 5:30–10:30 p.m.; Sun., 5:30–9:30 p.m.; closed Tuesday. Reservations, major credit card accepted. yuzukisf.com

Izakaya Yuzuki on Urbanspoon

Zaru tofu ($9) is house-made tofu that silky soft served with sea salt

Zaru tofu ($9) is house-made tofu that’s silky soft served with sea salt

Obanzai ($12) is Kyoto-style cooked vegetables served three ways: hijiki (top), mountain yam with black sesame (center) and eggplant with spicy miso sauce.

Obanzai ($12) is Kyoto-style cooked vegetables served three ways: hijiki (top), mountain yam with black sesame (center) and eggplant with spicy miso sauce.

My favorite dish of Kobe beef tataki ($12), seared wagyu beef with onion salad and yuzukosho miso sauce

My favorite dish of Kobe beef tataki ($12), seared wagyu beef with onion salad and yuzukosho miso sauce

Tsukune or chicken meat ball skewer ($4)

Tsukune or chicken meat ball skewer ($4)

Yaki surume ika or salt koji marinated Hokkaido squid with yuzu mayonnaise ($9)

Yaki surume ika or salt koji marinated Hokkaido squid with yuzu mayonnaise ($9)

Sauteed Liberty duck breast served in a steamer filled of market vegetables ($16)

Sauteed Liberty duck breast served in a steamer filled of market vegetables ($16)

Yaki omusubi is grilled rice ball with uni and watercress soy butter sauce ($13)

Yaki omusubi is grilled rice ball with uni and watercress soy butter sauce ($13)

Kojicha crème brulee ($7) had a nice smoky tea flavor but probably could have been more firm in texture

Kojicha crème brulee ($7) had a nice smoky tea flavor but probably could have been more firm in texture

Ginger sorbet ($7) with candied ginger bits on top

Ginger sorbet ($7) with candied ginger bits on top

3 Responses to Review of Izakaya Yuzuki in San Francisco

  1. Row says:

    You’re right, this is quite different from the other izakayas I’ve eaten at. The elegance of the restaurant really comes through in the photos. The grilled rice balls sound yummy… I’m a sucker for crispy edges. :)

  2. sandy says:

    I’ve walked by this spot so many times, it looks lovely! Now I really have to go check out their koji menu

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