Does French-Japanese Fusion Work Watered Down?
UPDATE (10/28/11): Walked by recently and noticed this restaurant is now called Mifune. Not sure if it's the same ownership, but they still had the old Bushi-Tei sign inside.
1581 Webster St. (between Geary and Post), San Francisco
Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Major credit cards, reservations accepted
Bushi-Tei is an elegant, French-Japanese fusion restaurant on Post Street. Its food by Chef Seiji Wakabayashi garnered much attention (and once captured a Michelin star, although it has since lost it). Earlier this year, a spin-off called Bushi-Tei Bistro opened down the street on the ground floor of the Kintetsu and Miyako Mall, on the same side as the Sundance Kabuki Theater.
Recently I was in Japantown with a craving for ramen (it happens every time there’s a cold tinge in the air) but the place I wanted a hot bowl of ramen was closed on a Tuesday night. So that led me through the doors of the nearby Bushi-Tei Bistro.
The place was nearly empty except for one large table of happy diners. I could see how this place was planned to be a contemporary, festive bistro with a brightly lit bar (also empty that night) and black varnished tables under ambient lighting. But on this night, it actually looked like the perfect spot for a rendezvous with a spy because the high partitions pretty much obscure one’s view of other tables once you’re seated in the empty restaurant.
The menu is a mix of Japanese and westernized dishes like several pasta choices. The appetizers seemed to offer the most unusual items, but I just settled for a small mixed salad ($4.80) and a plate of gyoza ($6.80).
When the salad arrived, the plating was an indicator of the expert execution even though the ingredients were your garden variety of leafy green, cucumbers, tomatoes, julienne carrots and green bell peppers. You might expect a miso dressing, but it was a slightly tart creamy dressing that wasn’t that distinctive.
The gyoza (seven pieces) had a very thin skin, which I appreciate, although the searing of the bottom was slightly off for some pieces. In fact, one gyoza had its skin punctured apparently during the cooking process, which didn’t help the presentation. The filling was light, and I wasn’t sure if it was all vegetarian or if there was any pork involved. (When the bistro first opened in April it offered a vegetable gyoza appetizer with tomatillo sauce, but this was served only with the standard gyoza dipping sauce of light soy, so I’m not sure if it was the vegetable gyoza version.)
For my main dish I ordered my ramen. Since Bushi-Tei Bistro isn’t a noodle restaurant, it only served one type of broth — the soy broth. (I usually like to order the miso broth when getting ramen.) They offered three types of ramen toppings: teriyaki chicken, karaage (the fried chicken) and ginger pork.
I got the ginger pork ramen ($10.20), and when it arrived it looked like a nice big bowl of noodles and pork, finished off with shredded veggies and bean sprouts. The ginger pork on top was made up of thinly sliced pieces in a soy-ginger glaze, packed with a lot of flavor. The ramen noodles had a nice give to it, although I wouldn’t deem it the best I’ve ever had. But the warm broth and tasty thin pork slices really hit the spot.
I returned on the weekend to check out their lunch menu, which actually seemed more interesting and extensive than dinner (and the place had a few more customers but still not packed.) There were a few dishes that I’d never heard of. But in my fit of indecisiveness, I ended up ordering my tried-and-true lunch order of oyakodon ($9.80) or chicken donburi, which is chicken and egg over rice. I figured it was a good way to see how authentic Bushi-Tei’s Japanese dishes can be.
Before my donburi, though, I ordered the Avocado and Sashimi Salad ($9.80). It looked so pretty in the picture that I wanted to eat it (plus I felt it would be healthy for me with my cholesterol issues and all). But when I think about it, all they had to do was slice up some fresh fish and avocado, top it off with some shredded veggies garnish and call it a day.
The fish, which I couldn’t determine what it was, was indeed fresh, and so was the avocado, served with soy and wasabi. But really, there was no cooking involved. And I found it extremely difficult to pick up the slices of avocado with my chopsticks.
Side note: Bushi-Tei Bistro has some really odd eating utensils. For example, my ramen was served with a really shallow metal spoon that really didn’t help me scoop up large servings of the broth if I wanted to. And the chopsticks were the rounded lacquered chopsticks with the pointy ends, but the rounded part was so thick that it was difficult to get the tiny pointy ends to meet. I hate to admit that I resorted to using a fork to eat the avocado salad.
The oyakodon arrived on a tray with the rice in one bowl, the chicken and eggs in a stone pot and a bowl of miso soup.
I drank the miso first, which had a subtle miso taste but was filled with a lot of ingredients, including small cubes of kurobata pork, sweet potatoes and daikon (although no tofu). It was hearty but not necessarily flavorful.
I thought it was odd that the chicken wasn’t served over the rice, so instead I had to scoop up the chicken and eggs cooked with sweet onions and poured it over my rice. The chicken and eggs were done really well, with just a slight amount of sweet juices.
Bushi-Tei Bistro is a place that I really wanted to like, especially since both times I was served by a really personable (and attractive) server. But the food didn’t necessarily excite me, although it has some moments with its ginger pork. For the higher price, I felt it needed to be more creative with its fusion mission but in the end it seemed more like good Japanese food dressed up to look western.
Single guy rating: 2.5 stars (Better for lunch)
Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner
Otoro Sushi: “Latest Hip Addition to Hayes Valley”
Santa Ramen: “What I Do For a Good Bowl of Ramen”
Katana-ya: “When it Rains, Find Shelter in Ramen”
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
Does French-Japanese Fusion Work Watered Down?