The walls are decorated with eclectic collection of Japanese graphics.

The walls are decorated with eclectic collection of Japanese graphics.

The story: Chef Jesse Koide has cooked for years at the popular pop-up Mission Chinese Food, which takes over the unpretentious Lung Shan restaurant in the Mission District cooking Chinese-inspired dishes. Now Koide has struck out on his own with a similar pop-up concept but creating Japanese-inspired dishes. His new Pink Zebra (the name comes from the pink zebra-print headband Koide wears) works out of the kitchen of another Chinese restaurant, Tao Yin.

Why I went: My friend Tat read about Pink Zebra’s opening and organized a dinner with our other friend Ramon. We got there early on a Friday night to make sure we got a table, but in these early days of this pop-up, the crowds are not overflowing like it was for Mission Chinese Food.

The vibe: Tao Yin is a bit more contemporary than Lung Shan (translation=cleaner looking) and Koide has added a Japanese flair by adding Japanese artwork he’s gathered over the years.

Hurricane popcorn with pig ears ($6) is the only carryover item from the Mission Chinese Food menu. Seasoned with homemade furikake, thin slices of crispy pig ears and lime. (I felt the pig ears were a bit on the salty side.)

Hurricane popcorn with pig ears ($6) is the only carryover item from the Mission Chinese Food menu. Seasoned with homemade furikake, thin slices of crispy pig ears and lime. (I felt the pig ears were a bit on the salty side.)

The menu: A limited one with only 12 items, a couple of them really just snacks (the pickles, $7, and the hurricane popcorn with pig ears, $6). While there are traditional Japanese dishes such as a yakitori, katsu and donburi, they all have a unique spin to them such as the kim chee added to the veal donburi, called a “gyudon” ($18)and the pickled pineapple acting as a bed for the chicken hearts yakitori ($5). The chef also offers an omakase (chef’s menu) at the counter.

The booze: Some selection of beer, wine and sake.

My favorite dish: If you’re willing to eat beef tongue, you must order the dish at Pink Zebra ($12). The slices of tongue is intense in flavor and tender to eat, served with shaved persimmons and a tsukudani herb salsa. My only criticism of the dish is that there’s not enough on the plate.

Insider tip: There’s no desserts on the menu so be prepared to satisfy your sweet tooth somewhere else. (We ended up going to Craftsman & Wolves, which opens later on a Friday night; one of the benefits of dining early is you finish in time to get dessert there.)

The last bite: There are similarities between Mission Chinese Food and Pink Zebra (inside an established Chinese restaurant in the Mission, small plates), but it seems like Zoide is running this new pop up using experience from his Mission Chinese Food days because service seems more professional and food comes out consistently good and on a timely basis.

The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps

2.5snaps

 

 

The deets: Pink Zebra (inside the Tao Yin restaurant), 3515 20th St., San Francisco. Open Thursday through Monday, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. (till 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday). Closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Reservations only for omakase (chef’s menu). Major credit cards accepted. www.pinkzebrasf.com

Pink Zebra on Urbanspoon

Chicken hearts yakitori ($5) with pickled pineapple. The hearts were cooked just right so they weren't chewy.

Chicken hearts yakitori ($5) with pickled pineapple. The hearts were cooked just right so they weren’t chewy.

Amazing dish of tender beef tongue ($12) with shaved persimmons and tuskudani herb salsa. Elegant and tasty.

Amazing dish of tender beef tongue ($12) with shaved persimmons and tuskudani herb salsa. Elegant and tasty.

Local Manila clams ($16) were flavored with lamb chorizo, winter squash, miso dashi, kombu butter, black garlic shoyu and pickled shallot. I found the winter squash had an interesting texture, like it was almost fried and then acted as a sponge to absorb the miso dashi broth.

Local Manila clams ($16) were flavored with lamb chorizo, winter squash, miso dashi, kombu butter, black garlic shoyu and pickled shallot. I found the winter squash had an interesting texture, like it was almost fried and then acted as a sponge to absorb the miso dashi broth.

Kimchee veal "gyudon" ($18) was a rice bowl of sauteed veal, leeks, and cabbage kimchee. The veal was tender, but lacked flavor.

Kimchee veal “gyudon” ($18) was a rice bowl of sauteed veal, leeks, and cabbage kimchee. The veal was tender, but lacked flavor.

Another look at the gyudon after I mixed all the ingredients together. The kimchee added a nice touch of color and punch in flavor.

Another look at the gyudon after I mixed all the ingredients together. The kimchee added a nice touch of color and punch in flavor.

Competing for best dish with the beef tongue is this pork belly ($16), cooked tender served with cranberry beans, misozuke liquid and daikon.

Competing for best dish with the beef tongue is this pork belly ($16), cooked tender served with cranberry beans, misozuke liquid and daikon.

Just like Mission Chinese Food, you'll miss Pink Zebra if you don't know to look for the Tao Yin signs.

Just like Mission Chinese Food, you’ll miss Pink Zebra if you don’t know to look for the Tao Yin signs.

 

One Response to Trying the Japanese Pop-Up Pink Zebra in San Francisco

  1. Carolyn Jung says:

    I can see how you’d be fighting over those few pieces of beef tongue. What interesting dishes!Sounds like a great place to check out.