598 Guerrero Street, (c/s 18th Street), SF | 415.556.9898 | website
Mr. K and I went to Yuzuki Japanese Eatery in San Francisco recently to check out their new six-course tasting menu that provides an introduction to their Washoku menu and the Izakaya style of eating. We enjoyed their warm hospitality and ate our way through six courses of traditional Japanese cuisine along with the sake pairing as guests of the house. I loved being served an elegant Japanese meal that isn’t sushi, tempura or ramen! The owner Yuko Hayashi, a native of Osaka, graciously welcomed us at the door.
Washoku loosely translates to Japanese cuisine and the approach to achieving nutritional balance and aesthetic harmony at the table; always with attention to ingredients, presentation and taste. It is associated with a respect for nature that is closely related to the sustainable use of natural resources and a sense of seasonality plays a very strong role. Yuzuki embraces this and the philosophy of sustainability by using cedar chopsticks from Japanese plantations that are grown in an environmentally supportive manner, the cloth table napkins are made of cotton from Japan, they recycle their cooking oil and even recycle the bonito flakes used for making their dashi broth base into dog treats – I love it!
They recommend that you taste the tofu plain first, which is nutty and sweet. The only condiment is a tiny cup of sparkling sea salt which really brings out the subtle flavors and creaminess. We were served a melon scented Daiginjyo Hakuro Suishu from the Take no Tsuyu brewery in Yamagata prefecture. It was cool and luscious, perfect with the clean mild flavors of the zarutofu.
Lightly cooked zucchini tossed in a miso sesame puree, accented with a frond of finely shredded myoga, which is a type of tender young ginger that is like a cross between shallot and ginger.
Next was a scoop of corn infused tofu that was thick and creamy like ricotta cheese, rich with the clean flavors of sweet fresh corn, topped with a bit of wasabi and fresh corn kernels.
I loved the cherry tomatoes in a light dashi ponzu tossed with aromatic shiso leaf, which adds its distinctive herbaceous and citrusy flavor, it’s like being kissed by summer.
We split a sake pairing, which the bartender served in separate glasses. An organic Chikurin Junmai Ginjo, from the Marumoto brewery in Okayama prefecture. It’s clean, light with a subtle fruity character
Yuzuki claims to be the first restaurant in the States to specialize in food prepared with Salt Koji, which is a previously obscure ingredient that people have begun to embrace for its flavor enhancing properties. It is a magical mixture of salt and a naturally occuring rice mold (Aspergillus oryzae) that has been used in Japan to produce sake, miso, and shoyu for centuries. It is rich in enzymes which interact with protein and produce amino acids, one that is responsible for the taste we know as Umami, the all important mmmm flavor in food. The grilled salt koji marinated yakitori is where you can really taste and appreciate the rich savory flavor and the extremely tender and succulent texture of the flesh, which also has a delectable smoky char from the grill. The skewers are further enhanced with a squeeze of fresh lemon and a sprinkle of the elegantly restrained spice mixture called Shichimi Togarashi. From the left, Buta bara–pork belly (5), Negima–chicken with scallion (5), Tsukune–chicken meat ball (5), and skewers of Matsutake mushroom, each bite was delightful. This dish was paired with a junmai called Denshu from the Nishida brewery in Aomori which had a clean but rich Umami taste and mild rice aroma.
Kara-age Chicken ($11) is a classic preparation of deep fried chicken, where the chicken is succulent and juicy and develops a crispy light mahogany crust from the salt koji marinade which also helps tenderize the meat; it’s topped with a shishito pepper and a squeeze of lemon brightens each bite.
At the end of an izakaya meal, it is customary to finish with a rice dish, and we were presented with a koshihikari rice from the Central Valley cooked in a Japanese earthen pot (for two), that takes 30 minutes to cook. Koshihikari is the crown jewel of Japanese short-grain rice, noted for its sweet, nutty taste and slighty stick texture. The Salmon rice topped with salmon roe ($22), is soulful and restorative; when you take a bite the soy-sauce flavored roe pops and its mild flavor spreads in your mouth.
Eating this well briefly makes me want to follow the path of truth and goodness, or at least most of the time… This new menu, designed for two people, is priced at $90.00 and the sake pairing costs an additional $30.00 per person. I was so intrigued by salt koji that I picked up a container at Berkeley Bowl, it is both sweet and salty and it is so good mixed into summer tomato salads! I loved the meal at Yuzuki Eatery and definitely will return to try more yakitori, seasonal specialties and the traditional Japanese desserts which we weren’t capable of trying at the time… Thanks Yuzuki for a wonderful evening! The hand-painted depictions of vegetables decorating the side wall of the dining room have so much character.