Imagine you're at a blond-wood, intimate, 30-seat sushi bar that offers only omakase/chef's choice menus. Served in the kaiseki style — which is a multicourse meal incorporating cooked and raw elements — each bite or dish comes out as a shining example of purity, perfection and flavor. You're served clean, overflowing glasses of sake from gracious servers, surrounded by a mostly in-the-know Japanese clientele. No, this is not Tokyo but San Francisco. You're sitting at Kusakabe, one of our most exciting new sushi restaurants, though it's only weeks old.
In the shadow of the TransAmerica Building, Mitsunori (aka Nori) Kusakabe opened his restaurant in late May. A favorite chef of ours for many years at legendary Sushi Ran in Sausalito, he runs his new sushi temple with general manager Daisuke Miyake, in a space that's left little to remind of its former inhabitant, Machka. There's but one menu nightly ($95 without drinks), with à la carte options or desserts available to add on post-omakase.
We recently sidled up to the sushi bar to watch the Kusakabe team wield blow torches and impressive knives in the Zen-like space. For us, this is set to be a great among the omakase sushi restaurants in the Bay Area. The quality and taste of the fish, and the range and combination of flavors surpass our experiences at other newcomers like Maruya in the Mission (which, granted, is Tokyo-style Edomae sushi, but is a similarly priced omakase). Here are a few highlights. 584 Washington St.; 415-757-0155
After starting with a warm cup of kelp tea, then moving on to a delectable "sushi prelude" — which could be zuke chutoro, ever-so-lightly seared bluefin medium fatty tuna cured in soy sauce — you'll receive two kinds of seasonal sushi bites of the day. One might be this gorgeous tai red snapper lightly torched in whole wheat miso and gracefully accented with shiso and lemon.
Chef Kusakabe works his magic at the sushi bar alongside two assistant sushi chefs.
A sashimi course might feature the likes of silky scallops from Hokkaido, Japan, and pristine bluefin tuna sashimi. This is the only course partnered with soy sauce — you can have it if you like with the nigiri/sushi courses, but it is not necessary — and also a fantastic yuzu sesame oil.
There is a thoughtful selection of mostly French and California wines, particularly strong in the white wine category, including options from Alsace, which pair beautifully with sushi. There are also a few Japanese beers. But drink highlights dominate on the sake menu, available in 3-oz., 6-oz. or bottle formats. We love the green-apple crisp of Dewasansan "Green Ridge" Junmai Ginjo ($8/$16) and the creamy spice of Aramasa No. 6 Junmai ($10/$20).
Another sushi delight: bonito fish (katsuo) smoked in cherry wood.
Chef Kusakabe's impressive knife collection is displayed behind the sushi bar.
A delectable bite of perfectly chewy cilantro sushi rice in a square topped with konbu (kelp)-cured Tasmanian ocean trout touched with sesame miso and topped with a sprig of broccolini.
A silken tofu square is covered in crispy rice-cracker coating, like a savory Rice Krispies bar with a tender center, topped with two legs of zuwai gani crab and a sliver of key lime. The square sits in a shallow pool of konbu dashi (kelp broth).
We love flying fish. And Kusakabe does right by it as nigiri subtly dotted with flying fish roe and lemon. The finish after this nigiri — which is part of the "sushi chic" course — is a luxurious "sushi finale" duo of Copper River wild Alaskan king salmon nigiri and a nigiri choice of velvety bluefin fatty toro or top-grade A5 Wagyu strip loin, marbled and raw, ever-so-delicately torched.
Desserts are delicate, light and easy, even if you're full from the omakase menu. We love the palate-cleansing yuzu sorbet ($4.50) and its welcome savory accents from shiso leaves and a maccha (aka matcha) green tea "cracker" (cookie). Another dessert pleasure is maccha crème brûlée, which truly shows off the green tea.