The story: Wako is a cozy yet modern-looking sushi restaurant in the inner Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco, less than two years old but already getting buzz among locals for its pristine and elegant dishes from Chef-Owner Tamoharu Nakamura.
Why I went: I love sushi, and I had read about the restaurant’s omakase (chef’s choice) dinner on the beautiful CynEats food blog. My sister was in town during the Labor Day weekend, and she’s a sushi fan too, so I made reservations for a Saturday night dinner. (Reservations are recommended because this is a really small spot, so it’s difficult to walk-in — although I saw many curious people try coming in from bustling Clement Street.)
The vibe: The contemporary look makes it seem like a high-end sushi restaurant in Manhattan, but the friendly service and calm atmosphere also make it spa-like. It’s not like the typical boisterous sushi restaurant (they do not yell out “irasshaimase” or welcome here), but it’s like an escape for the busy Saturday night scene on Clement.
The menu: The aforementioned omakase dinner is the way to go if you can afford it. It’s a seven-course dinner for $76. Not everyone at the table has to have the omakase but there’s a minimum of two in order to get it. I and my niece went the omakase route but my sister (who felt she had a big lunch) decided to just order a few appetizer dishes from the menu. The regular menu have some different and creative dishes, such as the yellowtail dumplings ($10) that were substantial yet light, and the nicely cooked black cod ($10) that sat in a light broth and served with eggplant and grated daikon.
For the omakase, I wasn’t that thrilled by the platter of cold items that came out first although they all looked traditional and authentic (like what you’d think is served at a Japanese home), but all of the courses look pretty on the plate and came out at a nice pace, not too quick but not a big lag between courses. The omakase came with a tempura course, but I handed that over to my sister since I don’t like to eat deep-fried foods. I did try a bit of the summer corn (made into a fritter) and it had a distinct corn flavor but the tempura batter seemed doughy.
The booze: There’s a nice selection of beer, sake and sochu, and a house red or white wine. On this night, I skipped the alcohol so I could just focus on the sushi.
My favorite dish: The most impressive, beautiful and tasty dish was definitely the nigiri course on the omakase menu. It came out on a long narrow tray, with the nigiri pieces two by two, all individually seasoned with a special soy sauce or yuzu sauce. Like the sashimi course, there were too many fish named by the server to remember, but every piece was fresh and beautiful in color, and the rice was a small bite to serve a supporting role to the fish. My only critic would be that I wished the sauces were more different between the different fishes to really separate each nigiri piece from the other, but the precise presentation and freshness of the fish made this the crescendo of the omakase meal.
Insider tip: If you’d like to reserve a spot at the sushi counter to have a close-up look at Tomo-san and his assistant Atsushi-san preparing your sushi, then you’ll need to reserve by phone (not online).
The last bite: The omakase dinner was beautiful to watch and eat, although the creativity level didn’t necessarily wow me and much as the quality of the food. Wako is a sophisticated neighborhood sushi restaurant, but because of its location far out in the Richmond area, it’s probably not on a lot of people’s radar. But that’s a shame because it’s a place that seems to respect the ingredients on the plate while making the dining experience satisfying and relaxing.
The deets: Wako, 211 Clement St. (at 2nd), San Francisco. PH: 415.682.4875. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 5:30 to 10 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.sushiwakosf.com
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