Dinner for purists at Ijji Sushi in San Francisco

by foodhoe on November 27, 2016

ijji_entrance

Last week, Mr. K and I were invited to experience the new menu at Ijji Sushi on Divisadero which is now serving a 19-course menu for $135 (there is an ala carte menu but only if you wish to add to the 19 courses).  The restaurant is tiny with only 17 seats, 7 are at the counter, which is the focus of the room.  The decor is minimal but warm and welcoming, everyone greets you enthusiastically with irasshaimase! when you enter.

ijji_interior

Sushi started out as a street food, so it’s perfectly acceptable to eat with your hands, especially if an oshibori (wet heated towel) is provided.  When eaten with your hands, you can feel both the texture and the temperature of the fish and rice.  They provide a small moist white cloth to clean your fingers with during the meal and the chopsticks are for eating sashimi and the ginger.

ijji_tableset

There were three chefs behind the counter, a hostess and one server that took our drink orders and brought food out to the tables.  This is Chef-owner Billy Kong, who also runs Saru in Noe Valley and is formerly of Sushi Sam’s in San Mateo.   We sat at his station and found him to be quite focused but very friendly and took the time to describe the ingredients and preparation to us.

ijji_chef_billy

The sushi counter is unusual because it is not dominated by a refrigerated display case.  Instead, it is a sleek 12 -foot hinoki wood bar top where you have an unobstruced view of the chefs at work.  You can also get a peek inside of the boxes where the fish is stored in the photo below and also of the Hotate or sea scallop which was part of our meal.  Most of the fish served is shipped in from Japan.

ijji_scallop_fishbox

We began with the amuse, a Kusshi oyster from the Pacific NW which had been lightly poached in dashi so that it was plump but incredibly soft so that it was like biting into custard.  It was sweet and creamy with a savory smoky flavor.

ijji_amuse

The meal began with 5 zensai appetizers starting with thick slices of fresh Katsuo sashimi (bonito) from the Miyagi prefecture, topped with grated fresh ginger and drizzled with a pungent ponzu sauce.  Chef said that the fish was caught returning after feeding and has more fat so they sear the skin until crisp, which gave it a delicate crunch and tantalizing aroma.

ijji_katsuo

Tako Yawaraka Ni – two slices of octopus from Hokkaido that had been simmered in dashi until the flesh was tender and the skin and suckers practically melted in my mouth.  Each bite was infused with the smoky sweet flavor of dashi and was remarkably tender.

ijji_tako

Then came abalone from Hawaii, which the chef prefers over the local mollusk for its sweet flavor.  It was simmered with kombu to enhance the purity of its natural flavor and drizzled with an intensely rich sauce made from the abalone liver.

ijji_abalone

I loved the Suji Daikon, made of tender A5 wagyu beef tendon from Kagoshima that has been simmered with daikon in savory dashi, sprinkled with spicy shichimi and tiny micro shiso leaf.  A simple restorative dish, the meat is tender and the daikon literally melts in your mouth.

ijji_mozoku

Then a refreshing palate cleanser made with delicate Mozuku seaweed, which has a stringy texture that resembles thread. The seaweed is silky and chewy, suspended in a bracing vinegar solution that definitely cleared our palate.

ijji_seaweed

Now came the nigiri, beginning with lighter-colored fish and progressing to darker, more fatty varieties.  Each chef had a variety of pots filled with sauces and unguents that they used to flavor each dish, everything was appropriately garnished before serving.  We were not given the option to disturb the delicate balance of flavor and texture as determined by the chef, instead we were able to focus on the quality and flavors of what we were served (i.e. no soy or wasabi at your disposal).

ijji_unguents

We began with Hirame, a thin slice of halibut that has been cured with kombu.  The thin slice is almost translucent and shows the delicate shreds of shiso leaf underneath, lightly brushed with soy. Each dish was accompanied by a mound of pickled ginger as a palate cleanser.

ijji_hirame

Zuke Akami, lean bluefin tuna, house aged one  week and soy cured

ijji_lean_bluefin

Aburi Tuna, a slice from the belly was seared which gives it a meaty texture and aroma, fatty juices rise to the surface which is sprinkled with sea salt and yuzu.  A really fine moment of the meal…

ijji_seared_aburi_toro

Sanma is a silvery skinned saury pike from Hokkaido that is at its fattest in the autumn.  The surface of the skin was lightly scored so that it looked like a piece of edible treasure, the rich tender flesh was marinated with vinegar and topped with freshly grated ginger and had shiso leaf tucked underneath.

ijji_sanma1

Tsuri Aji or horse mackerel was topped with grated ginger and thin slices of green onion and brushed with a heavier soy sauce. Mackerel this time of year is very fatty and is generally marinated in vinegar to help tenderize and balance the flavor.

ijji_sanma

The next piece was given the sear treatment

ijji_torch

Kamasu, wild barracuda from Chiba prefecture is made into a roll that is tightly pressed then the fish is lightly seared (see photo above) to crisp up the skin, then brushed with a sweet soy sauce and cut into pieces. Tucked underneath is shiso leaf, which adds its fresh herbal flavor.

ijji_kamasu

Masaba, a thin slice of Spanish Mackerel that was salt-cured, was rich and flavorful and very tender.

ijji_masaba

The Uni nigiri was made with two different types of urchin, one from Maine which is nuttier and has stronger flavor and the other from Hokkaido, which is darker and sweet.  It was an unusually flavorful blend, creamy, salty, sweet and beautifully crunchy toasted seaweed holding it together.

ijji_uni

The Japanese Snow Crab was steamed, the flesh was sweet and clean tasting, topped with seared crab butter, each bite was decadent and delicious.

ijji_crab

Anago is salt water eel, very tender and seared which enhances the flavors and aroma, topped with sweet soy sauce.  It looked so delicate but was full of flavor and rich meaty texture.

ijji_anago

We were handed the ala carte menu if we wanted to enjoy another serving of something, or to try the Satsuma wagyu nigiri.  Then came a small square of Tamago which usually signals the end of the meal.  It is an egg custard with blue shrimp, quite sweet and savory with a cake like texture that was almost as rich as cheesecake.

ijji_tamago

Then we were served a covered lacquerware bowl filled with red miso soup, garnished with pungent Japanese parsley and unfortunately sandy clams in its cloudy depths.

ijji_red_miso_clams

The meal ended with scoop of Matcha ice cream topped with red bean paste and dusted with toasted kinako powder which added mild nutty earthy flavors.

ijji_matcha_icecream

I enjoyed a frosty cold Asahi draft beer with my meal, the menu offers other specialty bottled beers, wine and a fine variety of sake.  Thank you Ijji Sushi for such a fabulous and fun meal, we really enjoyed learning so much about the amazing ingredients you source and how you prepare and serve it!  We definitely want to come back to discover your new seasonal specialties.

252 Divisadero Street, SF | 415.658.7388 | website
Nightly seatings at 5:30, 8:30 | addt’l Sat/Sun late seating at 10 pm

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