I’m always in search of a fabulous sushi bar, but I find that I often end up sticking to my old favorites. So when Wendy’s birthday rolled around last week, I had the perfect opportunity to go on a sushi adventure. Now, when it comes to sushi, I tend to go for an educated adventure, rather than just throw myself headfirst into the unknown fishy universe. I did a bit of checking, asked fellow sushi afficianados, and came up with Sushi Ran, a place I’d heard about for years but had never made the trek over the Golden Gate bridge to try.
Located in Sausalito, Sushi Ran is owned by Yoshi Tome who purchased the restaurant in the late 1980s. It has not only become a bustling neighborhood institution, but a Bay Area destination. Sushi Ran was even listed as one of 2006 America’s Top Restaurants by Zagat.
Sushi Ran is divided into 2 sections, the dining room/sushi bar and, across a pathway, a cozy wine bar serving a limited menu. We made a reservation for the main restaurant. When we arrived we were shown a small table in the back room. It was perfectly nice, but not my idea of going out for sushi. I asked the host if it was possible to move to the sushi bar when space became available. Apparently the sushi gods were smiling down upon us, because 2 seats had just opened up and we gleefully took our places in front of one of the chefs.
We opened our meal with 2 starters off the main menu: a half-dozen tiny Kumamoto oysters bathed in rice vinegar and topped with tobiko and a tangle of seaweed, and delicate scallop and chive dumplings, perfectly plump, with a light soy dressing. I liked the oysters, but not nearly as much as I loved the dumplings. I was almost tempted to order more, but did want to save myself for the renowned sushi.
Sushi Ran has all the basics on the sushi menu, but what makes them unique are the chef’s specials, many of which we ordered.
We started our sushi feast with Negi Toro Maki, fatty tuna rolls (stuffed with tender tuna) with scallions and ginger. These, along with the Rock-and-Roll (eel, cucumber, and avocado inside out rolls) were gobbled up quickly. This was followed by a flurry of nigiri and other delights, including Zuke Shiro Maguro, a house-cured Albacore tuna (smokey and delicious); Kampachi, young yellowtail that nearly melted in your mouth; and Ikura, or salmon roe, which at Sushi Ran is house-cured and only served seasonally.
At the goading of our sushi neighbor, and newfound friend, we decided to order Uni (sea urchin). Our sushi friend insisted that he only orders this at Sushi Ran and this is the true test of a sushi restaurant. If it’s fresh, the restaurant is typically top-notch. If not, well, you are in for some nasty uni. If you are unfamiliar with Uni, it’s the mustard-yellow mound that looks like cat tongues. Yeah, not something that I find appetizing, but I’ve heard it tastes like the ocean lapping at your toes. For me, it’s the texture thing. Anyway, Wendy had not tried Uni in perhaps 20 years, so she thought it was time for a sushi adventure. We ordered it, but I chickened out. (I know, I know, I am usually really good about trying things at least once, but this is where I had to draw the line.) Long story short, Wendy impressed not only herself, but me, the sushi chef, and our sushi friend by eating both pieces of Uni. And she liked it. Although afterwards she admitted that she probably would not be eating it again anytime soon. Not at all a reflection on the impeccable freshness of Sushi Ran’s sea urchin, but more of an acquired taste.
Next, at the recommendation of our sushi chef, we ordered the Monkfish Liver sushi, another Sushi Ran special. Oh. My. Sushi. God. It was my absolute favorite of the evening. Sweet, silky, and oh-so-delectable. It was like fish foie gras, without all the politics. We also tried the cucumber rolls. Sounds boring? Oh no, you just haven’t tried Sushi Ran’s version. Shards of crisp Japanese cucumbers are rolled with pickled plum and shiso leaves, for a very refreshing, palate-cleansing delight. Order them. I’m serious.
Finally, at the recommendation of our sushi neighbors on the other side of us, we ordered the Wagyu Beef. Beef at a sushi restaurant you say? No, this was Japanese beef tenderloin. Lovingly, thinly sliced and served nigiri style, with a bit of horseradish I believe? Again, heaven. Melt-in-your-mouth beefy fun.
All in all, I would highly recommend this restaurant. It’s a fun, friendly, relaxed, neighborhood type place that takes its sushi very seriously. I certainly understand why it’s ranked among the great restaurants of the Bay Area.
107 Caledonia Street