High-end omakase menus continue to trend in the San Francisco Bay Area, and this past weekend I checked out the latest entry from noted Chef Masa Sasaki (Maruya) and his self-named Sasaki on the edge of the city’s Mission neighborhood.
The unassuming corner spot (across the street of the popular Flour + Water) telegraphs the minimalist, modern decor inside the small restaurant that only serves 12 people at a sleek wooden sushi bar. Because only a $180 tasting menu is offered, reservations are provided for two seatings a night at 5:30 and 8: 30 p.m. on the weekends (only one seating is offered weekdays).
I dined by myself and was front and center to Chef Sasaki, who manned my end of the sushi bar while his partner, Takanori Wada, handled the other half. The quiet and intimate settings makes you feel like you have to whisper when talking as the classical music in the background barely drowns out any conversations.
The structure of Sasaki’s omakase is very similar to a tasting menu I recently tried at Ijji in another part of town. This sushi-bar style of dining, popular in Tokyo, starts with a few small appetizers and then moves into a parade of nigiri pieces, then ends with a soup and some kind of dessert.
Since Ijji’s dinner was still fresh in my mind, it was a good baseline to compare with what Sasaki offers. Ijji’s menu is more reasonable at $135 per person, but Sasaki makes up for the higher price with a bit more creativity and premium ingredients, such as an ankimo dish (monkfish liver) that’s served up with two to three healthy helpings of ankimo along with a labor-intensive daikon and squash that’s been fermenting for days, creating a slice of squash that has the essence of miso.
Chef Sasaki offers up a tiny amuse bouche of cucumber with cured cod with a hint of ume and dried yuzu. In just a tiny bite, there were such complexity of flavors that it got my taste buds excited for what was to come.
The first real bite is the zukemaguro, or a nigiri of tuna maguro that’s a sneak peek of the 13 nigiri pieces that will come later in the evening. Interesting, I noticed that the first nigiri pieces were made with rice that’s been marinated to give it a light brown color. (Later on, the nigiri pieces came in traditional sushi rice.)
One of the more substantial appetizers is kinmedai, which is a white fish that’s been steamed with sake and konbu and then served with a bit of the broth. It was the more interesting of plating in what is otherwise a very pure and authentic nigiri tasting.
It’s too much to go over every nigiri pieces that came as the main course of the meal, so you can see the parade of nigiri porn in the exhibit here.
What I can say about the nigiri is that they were all fresh and meaty, and some of the selection of fish was a nice introduction to sushi. For example, there was what Chef Sasaki said was “mature hamachi,” which is meatier and maybe a bit more dense than typical hamachi. On the extreme end was young sea bream, which came after trying a regular age sea bream (or madai).
For a few nigiri, Chef Sasaki adds some interesting touches that elevates the nigiri, such as the madai that had a slight pepper flavor grated on top. My favorite nigiri was the konbu-cured hirame or halibut, which was served with a shiso leave underneath and a pinch of ume, a combination that was lovely.
Side note: Sasaki serves up an amazing homemade ginger with its sushi. The pieces of young ginger are slices on the thicker side, giving you the feel like you’re eating medallions of ginger. For a ginger lover like me, I devoured these crunchy pickled ginger pieces.
Similar to Ijji, Sasaki also serves tamago (the egg custard) near the end. Sasaki overs up two version, one traditional that’s almost custard-like, and another piece that looked and tasted like a piece of sponge cake.
Dessert was an authentic reflection of the season, with a glazed chestnut served along with a slice of charred sweet potato. This was accompanied by a warming cup of hochicha tea.
The last bite
From the friendly and professional service to the quality of ingredients, Sasaki has designed every detail to make it the perfect Michelin-star meal. The price makes it a premium to visit, but it’s a relaxing treat for sushi lovers.
The rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Sasaki, 2400 Harrison St., San Francisco. PH: 415.829.8997. Open Tuesday through Saturday with one seating on weekdays and two seatings on Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.sasakisf.com
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