There’s no dearth of sushi restaurants in San Francisco, and lately there’s been a number of high-end spots focused on offering omakase, or a chef’s choice on the menu.
One of those places is Ju-Ni, a tiny neighborhood restaurant in the Divisadero corridor that only seats 12. When it first opened a year ago, it promoted a 12-course omakase menu for $85. (Juni means 12 in Japanese.) Today, Ju-Ni’s menu is now an 18-course offering at $145. They try to connect with its name by emphasizing that there are only 12 seats in the restaurant.
Because it emphasizes nigiri sushi, each course is basically one piece of sushi. Among the “18 courses” is also a marinated cucumber with bonito flakes. So to address the elephant in the room, there has been some complaints online about how guests leave hungry. I question whether it’s really a value meal when compared with similarly priced omakase menus around town.
I recently ended up at Ju-Ni at the invitation of my niece Margot, who needed a dining partner for her reservation when her friend dropped out. Since I love sushi, I jumped at the chance to dine.
The serene atmosphere and precise service make it easy to understand why Ju-Ni has garnered a Michelin star. When you’re seated, you’re served by a sushi chef whose station only includes four guests.
To start, there’s a nice selection of wine, sake and beer. Margot and I both decided to go with a glass of the Entre Vinyes Cava from Spain ($19). Our meal began with a fresh seasonal salad with guacamole that was refreshing and beautiful.
That’s a theme for the food, which is fresh and seasonal. For the fish, many of them came from Japan but our chef made it a point that they were often sustainable selections that aren’t over-fished. (Still, not sure how great it is for the environment having all that fish flown in from Japan.)
The nigiri presented are pristine and beautifully dressed. The precision is exacting, down to how the chef will drop only three drips of lemon juice onto certain fish slices.
You start with some simply prepared pieces that highlight the natural flavors, and then as the dinner progresses the nigiri gets fancier, like the stone flounder or ishigarei with umeboshi or the signature piece of ikura (salmon roe) with frozen monkfish liver (or ankimo) shaved on top like a snow ball, which is probably my favorite bite of the night. Oddly, the torch came out quite often as the chefs like to sear many of the nigiri to caramelize the fattiness.
In the end because of the pacing of the dinner, I was able to digest my food and actually felt quite full by the end of the meal. If you’re still hungry, there’s supplemental items you can add for additional costs such as wagyu beef ($18) or akamutsu (black throat fish with it’s own liver, $11).
The dessert is a simple scoop of genmaicha ice cream with chocolate shavings.
The quality is indisputable, but I do question the value of the meal considering how I’ve eaten some fine omakase in town where one course included a plate of nigiri, compared to Ju-Ni’s spread out nigiri tasting. Also, the chef on the night we ate was a bit of a sushi snob, coming off a bit too preachy in explaining the quality of his fish as if the diners needed a sushi 101 course with the food.
The last bite
Despite the high price for the amount of food, Ju-Ni is a serene and relaxing spot for a quiet nigiri sushi dinner where the fish shines.
The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Ju-Ni, 1335 Fulton St. (at Divisadero), San Francisco. PH: 415.655.9924. Open Tuesday through Saturday with only two seatings at 6 and 8:30 p.m. Reservations highly recommended, major credit cards accepted. www.junisf.com
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