1560 Fillmore (at Geary) | 415.441.9294 |website
Dinner 5:30 p.m.-midnight Tuesday-Thursday, until 1 a.m. Friday-Saturday, until 11 p.m. Sunday.
Mr. K and I were invited to dine as guests of the house at Izakaya Kou last week for a lively Valentines dinner. The restaurant opened last September and is in the Fillmore district which is being transformed by many wonderful new eating establishments. We walked by the elegant 1300 on Fillmore, Yoshi’s, Gussies Chicken and Waffle and couldn’t help but notice the crazy line going down the entire block for State Bird Provisions. The outside of the restaurant is plain and a little forbidding as you can’t really see through the windows, but inside it is warm and enchanting, with rough unfinished wood-paneled walls, magical glowing treetops float disembodied above their trunks which are fettered to the ground, illuminating the space which feels like you are in a whimsical urban forest.
There are a couple of private rooms flanking the left side with sliding wood doors that revealed tantalizing glimpses of twinkling lights and festive balloons.
We got to sit next to the sushi bar in the back where we could watch the chefs at work. The bright green greeting of irrashaimase, which means welcome, merrily scrolling along the LED panel on his headband caught my eye. The crew choruses this welcome whenever someone walks in the entrance.
That is chef owner Nick Yoon, 36, a self taught culinary artist from South Korea who has experience at restaurants including the Ritz Carlton, JW Marriott, the President Hotel, and Namu at the W Hotel.
The menu lists over 100 items: small plates, salads, sushi, sashimi, grilled skewers, teppan or saute, fried things, soup, rice bowls and noodles. We split the Uni onsen tamago ($8), a soft-boiled egg that jiggles coyly in a bath of house-made Kou sauce with uni. Deliciously rich and full of refreshing flavors – if you order one, I suggest each person have their own.
Hamachi Carpaccio ($8), thick slices of velvety yellowtail w/chili and mint dressing, intensely flavored with garlic
We enoyed a Sake flight with our meal: Otokoyama – man’s mountain, Genbeisan no onikoroshi – devil slayer, Wakatake onigoroshi, demon slayer from Shizuoka, Tama no hikari tokusen – spirit of the deity. All of them were clean and smooth tasting and became even better as we sipped.
We slurped up the Tofu Temptation ($7) a trio of soft tofu cut into blossom shapes, set on spoons and topped with from the left: mentaiko which is spicy pollock eggs, uni (sea urchin), and pickled preserved vegetables. They were drizzled with a slightly sweet dashi sauce that infused the custardy tofu which was punctuated by the fresh herbal flavor of the shiso leaves.
We were intrigued and had to order the Tako Wasabi ($6) a generous serving of chopped raw octopus in a pungent wasabi sauce. The texture was definitely raw, chewy and goopy, slightly crunchy with a bit of slime and the wasabi roared through my nasal passages – I loved it!
We had a couple of young women servers, but found our man James the GM to be a fount of information. He walked us through his favorite choices which we ended up ordering, and even steered us away from some dishes because he said there were better choices to be made… The Kurobuta skewers ($5) were served on rustic twiggy rafts placed on beautiful handmade dishes. Charred pieces of fatty Berkshire pork belly infused with a pungent garlicky marinade seared over the grill until the edges were crisped.
Mr. K wanted the Gindara Misozuke ($11) miso marinated black cod, a favorite dish of mine, it always makes me think of my Grandma who made a similar dish for us growing up. It has so many wonderful textures, a rich melting juiciness, tender meatiness and an exquisite umami flavor.
We were surprised by how much we liked the Kalbi Tempura ($10), tender Korean style marinated boneless short ribs that were battered and fried, served with vibrant freshly dressed greens and a drizzle of sesame ponzu reduction sauce. The plate was garnished with colorful edible flowers and full of tastebud thrilling flavors and textures.
Our Hotate Gratin ($9) arrived flaming in a dramatic fashion, thick slices of juicy scallop immersed in a rich creamy sauce topped with cheese and green onion, served in a shell.
Sadly even though it was Valentines Day, I was completely stuffed beyond dessert… so they gave us a little chocolate treat to take home with us for later. We really enjoyed chef Yoon’s style of Asian fusion tapas, special thanks to James for steering us right! Their facebook page has posts of special dishes like bacon wrapped enoki mushroom, natto, or shiso tempura – so I will be stalking them to keep tabs on what’s being served so we’ll know when to come back to further explore the menu.