Kappa is a treasure that’s been hiding in San Francisco’s Japantown for more than 20 years.
A tiny restaurant owned by husband-and-wife team Toshiaki and Rumiko Kimura (he cooks, she serves), the restaurant is on the second floor of a longtime Japantown building that is now home for mostly karaoke clubs. (The building used to be anchored by a Denny’s on the ground floor.)
And while you think a tiny restaurant run simply by a husband and his wife might offer rustic home-cooking, instead Chef Kimura creates elegant and beautifully plated dishes that are described as koryori-style dishes. Koryori-ya is a style of cuisine in Japan that’s pub-like, coming in small plates. Some say it’s the Kyoto-style presentation of a kaiseki meal, which is a Japanese meal created for a tea ceremony and representative of the season.
I had never heard of Kappa until my friend Tat suggested it for dinner on Saturday. Tat had gone years before and wanted to see how the chef was doing with his koryori meals. Because of the small space (about eight seats at a counter and a private room that fits four), reservations are recommended. When we arrived, we chose to sit in the private room so I could snap away without concern.
While the menu lists a few ala carte items, the way to go is always the prix fixed menu, or omakase (chef’s selections) for $85 per person. We didn’t even have to say we wanted the omakase as Rumiko Kimura, dressed elegantly in a kimono, started us off with the tasting, presenting a cold dish of edamame tofu and fish roe, with gelatin. The dish was perfect for summer (if only the San Francisco weather helped out).
The eight courses that we ate were beautiful and made with the highest quality of ingredients. Some dishes dazzled in simplicity and creativity, like the starter of edamame tofu and a plastic tray with a variety of small bites. But others were ordinary, like a fish and scallop salad with a routine soy-based dressing and a sushi tray of unagi and toro.
Tat mentioned that when he first tried Kappa’s meal, there were no sushi or sashimi platter as part of the courses. But now they’re included, with typical choices like yellowtail and maguro. So Tat was sad to see some of the authenticity going away, probably because over the years Chef Kimura was tired of people asking for sushi.
Even though some items were predictable, Chef Kimura buys the freshest ingredients, so that meant the sashimi tray had great cuts of fish, including probably the creamiest and best-tasting sea urchin or uni that I’ve tasted in my life. (Both Tat and I were near a unigasm while eating it.)
Dessert included my first taste of warabimochi, which Rumiko Kimura says is a summertime mochi, or sticky rice. It’s great for summer because it’s lighter than typical mochi, almost like gelatin. It was paired beautifully with a not-too-sweet azuki bean paste.
The Last Bite
While some bites are predictable and expected, you can always count on beautiful plates and fresh ingredients when dining at Kappa. The charming couple, aging with the restaurant, still provide an entertaining evening that’s serene and satisfying.
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
Kappa, 1700 Post St., Suite K, San Francisco. PH: 415.673.6004. Open for dinner Monday through Saturday, from 6 p.m. (last seating at 8 p.m.). Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.kapparestaurant.com
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