Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Dish on Dining: Yoshi’s San Francisco

Whetting My Appetite on Chef Kamio’s Genius
1330 Fillmore St. (between Eddy and Ellis), San Francisco
Fillmore Jazz Preservation District
PH: 415.655.5600
Dinner, Mon.–Wed., 5:30–10:30 p.m.; Thu.–Sat., until 11 p.m.,; Sun., 5–11 p.m.
Reservations, major credit cards accepted

Dine About Town is back for an encore this month, so last night I ventured with fellow food blogger Foodhoe to one of the more exciting new restaurants on the list of participating locales … Yoshi’s Jazz Club and Restaurant.

The original Yoshi’s is this unique and historical restaurant in Oakland’s Jack London Square that’s a combination jazz venue and Japanese restaurant. Last year, the owners created a spectacular San Francisco counterpart in that city’s historic jazz district known as the Fillmore. Its opening last fall was long awaited as a revitalization of the area.

There’s no denying that Yoshi’s San Francisco is the centerpiece now of the neighborhood. Just the sign itself can be seen for several blocks. And when you walk inside, it’s like walking into a theme park devoted to jazz and fine dining.

Jazz performers are scheduled for almost every night of the week, so many people come for dinner and a show. But Foodhoe and I were there just for the food, and there were a lot of it.

Yoshi’s menu under Executive Chef Shotaro “Sho” Kamio includes an innovative list of small plates and entrees as well as sushi and grilled selections. Just sitting down you’re inundated with pieces of papers containing the menus for the main dishes, sushi and drinks.

But we came for Dine About Town, which is a promotion to get people to taste the various offerings from San Francisco restaurants with a 3-course prix fixe dinner menu of $31.95. Most restaurants’ Dine About Town offerings are a choice of two options for each course. With Yoshi’s, I was impressed that they offered three choices for the starter and entrée (but stuck with two for dessert).

With our DAT dinner selected, Foodhoe and I toasted on Japanese beer and sake and snuck in a starter from Chef Kamio’s Sousaku section of the regular menu, which is his list of small plates he calls “original creations.” The original creation we wanted to try was his Yari Ika “Somen” ($11) or squid thinly sliced to resemble somen (the Japanese cold noodles) and served with uni and lime.

The squid “somen” came out so beautifully presented as five little dollops of squid topped with the uni (or sea urchin). I loved these little bites, which combined the crunchy texture of raw squid with the savory taste of the uni.

For our DAT starter, Foodhoe got the Sashimi Morikomi or raw fish plate consisting of maguro, hamachi, salmon and scallops. Foodhoe says the fish were all fresh, and she especially liked the scallops. She let me try a piece of her hamachi, and it was so tender and yummy it felt like it was melting in my mouth.

I chose the Saikyo Miso Caesar, which is a Caesar salad but with a creamy Caesar dressing infused with miso. Again, the plate came out looking beautiful, light and refreshing. It had hints of a creamy Caesar with the look and taste of Parmesan, but it also reflected an Asian touch with the daikon sprouts and bits of color from the radish. While it was enjoyable (maybe a bit heavy on the dressing) I didn’t necessarily get any miso flavor. It was overwhelmingly Parmesan, which isn’t bad, just not as promised.

BTW, both our starters came out surprisingly quick. Granted, the raw fish is easy to prepare, but I almost had the feeling that my salad was also pre-plated and sitting in the refrigerator because it was crispy cold. The other starter option on Yoshi’s DAT menu is Kakiage, or seasonal vegetables tempura fritters.

For our entrees, Foodhoe chose the Grilled Organic Chicken with an ume-shiso glaze. Ume is the preserved plum that’s the size of a dime and often inserted in rice balls known as musubi. I love eating ume, but you can only eat so much of them before getting sick from all the tartness. Shiso is the leaves often served with sashimi. Together, it created a sweet-tangy glaze on Foodhoe’s chicken that was perfectly cooked to accentuate the tenderness and freshness of the meat, both white and dark that came on the plate.

I got the Kurobuta Prime Pork Loin, which were medallions of pork loin with a lemon thyme jus. The pork loin is grilled to order and it offered a nice smoky flavor combined with the soy glaze, which reminded me a lot of yakitori, which is grilled foods. The pork came with a nice side of crunchy Napa cabbage shreds and dried tofu pieces with a tangy dressing. I loved everything on the plate, even the small pearl onions that were braised until they were tender so that each bite was a subtle sweetness.

(The third option on the DAT menu was Spicy Dragon and Spicy Tuna rolls.)

Finally came dessert. Yoshi’s dessert menu was created by opening pastry chef, Marisa Churchill, who was a cheftestant on Bravo’s Top Chef. Churchill left the restaurant recently (she had always been hired as a consultant) but her creative offerings continue to be dutifully made by the kitchen staff. For the DAT desserts, Foodhoe got the Okinawan Doughnuts. Okinawa is an island of Japan that’s gotten a lot of Western influences, so some think these doughnuts are similar to those made in Portugal. Three little doughnuts covered in cinnamon sugar and sitting on a spear are served with chocolate sauce. The doughnuts are more cake than dough, and they were wonderfully light but substantial at the same time.

I chose the Frozen Apricot Mousse, which was served with a cherry consommé and accented with fresh pieces of apricot and cherries, which are all in season right now. The mousse was very much like ice cream, and it was a nice flavor that was cooling on a hot day. I didn’t get a strong apricot flavor, but you could get that from the fresh apricots on the beautiful plate.

The dining room is an expansive space with a view of the kitchen behind glass. Standing front and center was Chef Kamio, who was probably working on the special omakase orders that night. (Omakase is similar to a chef’s menu.) I was impressed to see him cooking on a Tuesday night. I’m sure he wasn’t spending his time on the DAT offerings, but I believe his presence kept everyone else on top of their game as the kitchen worked efficiently to keep the plates rolling out.

The wait staff is also extremely knowledgeable and friendly. From our waitress to the bus boys, everyone could answer questions about the food that’s on the menu or items on the plate brought to our table. While a few seemed rushed, most were cool and calm.

And of course, there's the music. Jazz sounds are pumped in through the restaurant's extensive sound system. When the dining room is nearly empty, the sound is quite loud like you're at a live performance. But when the restaurant starts to fill out, the soothing jazz falls into the background and is barely noticeable.

Dine About Town runs until June 15, and if you’ve been trying to decide which restaurants to try, definitely run to Yoshi’s in San Francisco. A DAT menu is supposed to give you a taste of a restaurant at a reasonable price so you’re tempted to come back for more. After trying Yoshi’s DAT menu, I say mission accomplished because I am definitely coming back to try more dishes from Chef Kamio’s regular menu.

Single guy rating: 4.25 stars (zen-like 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

Read Foodhoe's take on our DAT dinner at Yoshi's here at her site.

Yoshi's on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

wow chef ben, I haven't even downloaded my pix yet and I have to say that our meal does look good - even better today. I am a fan of Yoshi's east and west!

Chubbypanda said...

Gorgeous, buddy. I'm always envious of the restaurants you have in SF.