Japanese food in America typically takes two extreme routes, either the traditional authentic approach or the crazy fun concepts that serve up things like dragon rolls.
But at the new Nomica by Yoshi Tome, owner of the popular Sushi Ran in Sausalito, Tome presents a middle road that draws on traditional flavors but presents dishes in sophisticated and inventive ways. Where else can you get chicken wings that are stuffed with gyoza filling or a whole chicken baked in brioche with miso butter and shiso chimichurri?
I checked out Nomica last month for a holiday dinner with my niece Margot, and it was one of my favorite meals of the year. Despite the high-end prices (the average for the entrees is $28), Tome has created an exciting new concept that’s entertaining and flavorful. The restaurant is near the Castro in the former home of the longtime brunch spot 2223 Market and most recently the seafood-centric Pesce.
The layout hasn’t changed much with the split room with the bar on the left and the casual dining room on the right. A few Japanese calligraphy artwork in the back is probably the only hint that you’re at a Japanese restaurant.
Touches of Japan
The menu, however, has many touches of Japan, including all the specialty cocktails that have names like “Flower & Snake,” “Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation,” and “Maiko Matcha Milk.” I tried “The Floating World” ($12), a martini-like cocktail made with awamori (similar to sake), chrysanthemum, gentian, and dry vermouth. I loved the look and smoothness of the drink.
Margot wasn’t as impressed with her “Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation” ($12), made with rum, pineapple, junmai sake and Thai curry. She was curious about the Thai curry, but didn’t get any hints of it and felt the overall drink (which comes with a paper umbrella) was a bit tame.
The food, however, was more of a hit, starting with the refreshing shigoku oysters ($13), which were three raw oysters topped with granita and vinaigrette. It’s a straight-forward preparation for raw oysters, but there were complex and refreshing flavors in the granita, with hints of citrus and bits of cucumbers added for crunch.
Margot tried the stuffed chicken wings ($14), which was mostly for her since I don’t like deep-fried foods. But I had to try a little bit to figure out how these wings were like gyoza. So it’s a gyoza pork and chicken filling that’s stuffed into the skin on the chicken wings and then lightly battered and fried with a light glaze. It tasted just like gyoza but in a chicken wing form, and Margot liked the light battered so that it didn’t taste like it was fried.
“Tuna & Cheeks” ($24) combined my two favorite things: seared big-eye tuna topped with braised beef cheeks. There’s a bit of corn puree and micro mire poix.
Entrees and Sides
For our entrees, I had the seared sea bass ($28), which was perfectly cooked and served with purple dragon carrots and mustard seed along with a hijiki and squid ink puree. Margot got the special fish of the day, which was salmon with vegetable ash and grilled savoy cabbage with mushrooms ($28).
Both Margot and I were really excited about our side of chilled dashi greens ($8), which is like the steamed spinach served at other Japanese restaurants. But at Nomica this side dish is elevated with a sesame-garlic dressing with yuzu that was a nice balance of sweet, savory and tart.
For dessert, there are four options, but Nomica’s signature dessert is its “Coffee and Cinnamon” ($14), which is foie gras ice cream served with hazelnut streusel. The dish is presented in a brown covered bowl with the hazelnut streusel on the cover. The server removes the cake and cover to unveil the scoop of foie gras ice cream topped with 14K gold leaf and bubbles made of coffee with hints of cinnamon flavor.
The presentation is pretty spectacular, although I really wanted to combine the streusel (a bit dry) with the ice cream. You don’t really get a strong foie flavor in the ice cream but its texture seems especially creamy because of the foie base.
The last bite
With so much interest in Japanese food lately (ramen and yakitori spots continue to grow), it’s nice to discover a spot that tries something different without going overboard. Nomica is creating its own language for Japanese cuisine and I’m ready to study more.
The rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Nomica, 2223 Market St., San Francisco. PH: 415.655.3280. Open Monday through Saturday, 5:30 to 11 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. nomicasf.com
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