The story: Ginto Izakaya Japonaise is the first Bay Area restaurant from the mega Tokyo-based restaurant group known as Ramla. With more than 150 restaurants around the globe (including several Oto Oto restaurants in Southern California), Ramla’s San Francisco restaurant opened last month on Market Street next door to the Ritz Carlton Club and Residences, with a grand room specializing in Japanese izakaya-style dining with a full sushi bar.
Why I went: Ginto (Japanese for silver rabbit) was a convenient location when I started getting hungry while watching the Chinese New Year parade along Market Street a couple of Saturdays ago. While crowds watched the parade outside, I got an early dinner at Ginto and watched the floats from my table while having a relaxing meal.
The vibe: A huge space with 200 seats and high ceiling, the modern vibe mixed with a lounge, hip feel. Because it’s on Market Street between Union Square and the Financial District, there’s a mix of tourists and business types.
The menu: Traditional Japanese cuisine is offered up in two menus for izakaya (grilled skewers and small plates) and sushi. The menus are simple check lists where you mark what you want to order. There’s a larger menu that offers up dinner specials, bento boxes and larger plates. On the izakaya menu, you choose also how you want the skewers prepared: either with simple salt or with a sauce. I ended up ordering four skewers from the izakaya menu and three items from the sushi menu, and topped off with the salmon skin salad ($6.95) from the main menu and dessert of matcha tiramisu ($7.95).
The booze: Ginto has a full bar with specialty cocktails that incorporate sake and Japanese ingredients, along with beer and wine. I initially tried the shiso mojito ($6.95), which had a nice minty flavor but not very strong shiso taste. Because of the salt from the skewers I was eating, I wanted to order a beer and a server recommended the Hitachino Belgian (comes in white or red) that is from Japan and only available at Ginto. I tried the white and it was a pleasant match for my food, with a great hoppy taste.
My favorite dish: I enjoyed all the skewers and sushi I ordered. The skewers were cooked just right and the sushi was fresh. My favorite was the pork calbi skewer ($3.25) that was cooked so nicely with just simple salt; it had a tender and slightly fatty edge that seemed decadent, almost pork belly like.
Insider tip: If you order the matcha tiramisu, it comes with a scoop of tiramisu with traditional chocolate and then another scoop with the matcha. If you’re a matcha (green tea) lover, you can ask that both scoops are matcha and forgo the traditional (although I liked having the contrast).
The last bite: I didn’t expect to enjoy my experience at Ginto, thinking it was some large chain restaurant. But the attentive service, fresh ingredients, well-executed dishes, and decent prices made it a standout meal on a block of Market Street that’s a bit desolate on quality restaurants. It’s a great destination for a meal of small plates and drinks.
The rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Ginto Izakaya Japonaise, 658 Market St., San Francisco. PH: 415.530.2466. Open daily from 4 to 10 p.m. (lunch hours coming soon). Reservations, major credit cards accepted. Facebook page.
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