Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dish on Dining: Kiss Seafood

Sushi Presented with a Delicate Touch
1700 Laguna St. (at Bush), San Francisco
PH: 415.474.2866
Dinner Tuesday to Saturday, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Major credit cards, reservations accepted

I’m not the type of guy to kiss and tell, but after eating at Kiss Seafood, I thought I had to share. ;-)

Kiss is a tiny sushi restaurant run by a husband-and-wife team off the beaten track in San Francisco’s Japantown. It’s been described as a tiny gem because it really is quite small, with only five seats at the sushi bar and three tables for two in the tiny space.

I visited recently with my older sister, who lives in Hawaii and is a connoisseur of raw fish. My sister started eating raw fish such as sushi and sashimi way before I developed the taste for it. And that says a lot since we’re Chinese Americans. (Most Chinese like their food cooked.)

We were lucky to grab one of the three tables even though we didn’t have reservations on a Friday night. (The other two tables were later taken by people who were smart enough to make reservations.) The place was sparsely decorated, almost like a gallery space but with only enough room to showcase one piece of artwork. The zen-like environment was reflective of the food to come.

The menu is very small, with a page of appetizers and then a few specials for the sushi and sashimi. But most people who come here put themselves in the hands of the chef behind the sushi bar, so we decided to do the same by ordering the omakase, or chef’s dinner.

Just a disclaimer: We ordered the $60 omakase for both of us even though it was designed for a single eater. My sister and I weren’t very hungry so we decided to share, but the hostess expressed her concern that we wouldn’t have enough to eat because, she emphasized, their plates are “Japanese style.” Which translates to mean “small but artfully presented.”

We convinced her that we understood the presentation of a Japanese omakase, but to put her mind at ease we also ordered an additional plate of the sashimi special ($30) and a plate of agedashi (deep-fried tofu) as an appetizer.

Because the omakase is very similar to a tasting menu, we had a parade of tiny dishes come to our table so I’m going to touch on each one in the order they arrived that night. Here’s a recap of our dinner at Kiss Seafood:

First came a cold starter similar to an amuse bouche. It was pickled bamboo shoots with cellophane noodles that tasted simple and light. If you ever ate any Japanese dishes cold, then this was just like that with the emphasis more on texture rather than taste, which almost bordered on bland.

Next came a trio of small appetizers: raw mackerel, cooked cold octopus and a tofu salad with green onions. Again, Japanese cold dishes are best as an art on contrasting textures rather than flavors. Everything was nice but nothing was necessarily eye-opening, although I would say the octopus was my favorite.

Two trays of sashimi came next, one was the omakase sashimi and the other was the sashimi special platter that we added on. This allowed us to savor a nice variety of fish and the hostess was very good with naming all the fishes, but she’d often give the Japanese names and it’s hard for me to remember them all. My sister helped identified some of the fish as halibut, toro, hamachi, cuttlefish and abalone. There was also this really funny fish that the hostess described as “a Japanese fish with no English name.” From then on my sister and I called it the Japanese fish with no name (although it was very similar to sardines). While all the fish was nice (I really liked the crunch of the cuttlefish) and clean, they all seemed pretty straightforward and tasted like other fish served at other good sushi places around town.

After our sashimi, we were served this clam soup with turnip and a fish ball. It was light and refreshing.

Finally we got the agedashi or deep-fried tofu. There were three pieces that were lightly fried. It was really fresh (=hot in your mouth if you’re not patient). I liked the light broth that accompanied it. This dish seemed very authentic, albeit an odd place in the order of when we received it. We felt it should have come earlier.

As an interesting twist, we got this cup of egg custard topped with a crab leg and snow pea. If you like custard, you’ll like this warm, eggy treat that’s almost like eating soft tofu, but not.

We’re nearing the end of our dinner with our sushi plate, made up of five nigiri pieces. Starting from the nearest piece, we received hamachi (nice), salmon (brilliantly orange like wild salmon), halibut (the hostess said it came with its own sauce but I could barely taste anything), toro and the Japanese fish with no name. Again, the rice and fish were presented nicely and tasted fine, but didn’t necessarily wow us. I was also disappointed in the variety because we tasted much of these fish with our sashimi plates.

I asked my sister what she thought of the fish after having the sashimi and sushi, and she said it was “fishy.” I know, I may have to rescind her sashimi connoisseur title. My thought was that while it seemed fresh and clean, it did seem that the fish weren’t as vibrant as it could be.

We ended our meal with a light broth soup, probably made of dashi, with thinly sliced mushrooms.

Of course, like most Asian dinners, we had a simple fruit for dessert. Tonight it was cantaloupe. My sister loved it only because in Hawaii they rarely get ripened fruit because everything’s shipped in (except, yum, mangoes), so even the lightest flavor in fruit makes her declare it as first-rate. I thought it was nice but felt it lacked the perfume of a truly great cantaloupe. And while it doesn’t take much preparations to serve a piece of fruit, I guess I’m going on an on because I felt Kiss Seafood could have served a more seasonal fruit like oranges.

Despite not having reservations, we didn’t feel rushed. My sister wondered how the restaurant can make money without much turnover for the night, and I proposed that they had very little overhead since it’s just the husband and the wife and that they do charge a bit more than other Japanese restaurants.

If you’re expecting a lot of sushi and possibly some unusual appetizers or izakaya, then Kiss Seafood may not be the place for you. This is a place with good sushi (not great) but presented in an intimate, delicate way with a lot of love and care. Come here for special occasions, when you’re ready to put your mind in that zen zone where balance and tempo are key ingredients to your dining experience.

Single guy rating: 3.5 stars (Well prepared and classic Japanese cuisine)

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

Kiss Seafood in San Francisco


Anonymous said...

Chef Ben, I thought Kiss was charming and the seasonal food was very good. I love the egg custard, chawanmushi. I heard some people complain that they have been asked to leave because the next reservation was waiting, so turnover in such a small restaurant can be difficult. Hmmm, I think the meal looks a little skimpy for two people!

Single Guy Ben said...

It probably isn't enough for most people. I didn't leave hungry though.