Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Izakaya Yuzuki
Reviewed Izakaya Yuzuki: Friday, February 1, 2013
As the friendly owner will tell you, Izakaya means “sake house, where you drink and eat and drink more” and Yuzuki means “comfort, healing moon.” This is a place where you relax at the end of a long day and enjoy Japanese fare unlike any you have tasted before. This is attributable to the superb quality of culinary mastery of the chef but also due to the relative rarity of this kind of Japanese food until recently, especially in the Mission District (Nombe being a notable nearby alternative option if Izakaya Yuzuki is too crowded!).
The food is served in concentrated portions of exquisite flavors, from marinated eggplant to creamy pork belly with subtle but sharp wasabi, from sweet seaweed obanzai and sweet potato with black sesame sauce to perfectly crispy tempura with soft, salty smelt inside. Other notable dishes include the squid from Hokkaido (melts in your mouth), anything concocted on a stick (meatballs), the #1 quality Japanese rice (koshihikari) made fresh by the pot, Dungeness crab sunomono (refreshing and zingy), and Kurobuta pork belly (umami savory with a wasabi twist). Dessert is not to be skipped as it is beautiful, delicate, and never cloying.
The establishment is complete with a sake sommelier, who will guide you to the appropriate sake adventure for your taste. You can also opt for excellent Japanese beer on tap, wine, or wonderfully hot Japanese tea. The ambience feels like dining by the moonlit sky, on account of the high ceilings, ethereal lighting, and tall windows. Ordering should pose no challenge as every single item is delicious, but the friendly and attentive wait staff will advise you if the number of dishes is appropriate for your party size, and you can always order more, in the style of a true izakaya. The unique experience leaves you plenty full, but anticipating your return.
Occupation: Children’s Librarian
Favorite Restaurant: Maverick
Reviewed Izakaya Yuzuki: Sunday, February 3, 2013
My previous experiences with Japanese food were limited to sushi restaurants, so I was glad to try an “izakaya.” For a party of four, we ordered 15 items for the table and shared, yet I still wasn’t full at the end of the meal. Seasonal claypot vegetable rice for 2 was $15! It was easy to get a reservation for 7pm on a Saturday night, and we were seated immediately, which was expected as several tables were empty. The owners have taken a cavernous space with high ceilings and polished hardwood floors and warmed it by hanging large panels. The tables are spaced enough that I couldn’t hear the diners at the next table, but I also struggled to hear the server when she responded to our questions. The high ceilings make for challenging acoustics.
Standouts of the evening included the service, which was well-paced and conversant. Plates were removed quickly, impressive in light of the number coming and going to the table. Worth noting is that although we had ordered a large quantity of food, all food arrived to the table hot. Izakaya Yuzuki offers sake flights, provided our first encounter with a sake master, Yoshi, who was knowledgeable. Both members of our party who ordered the flights went back to order another serving of different ones they had liked. I had the Riesling, which complemented the meal well.
We sampled all three chicken skewers: Tsukune (meat ball), Negima (with scallions), and Teba (wings). They were fine, but there was nothing to elevate them beyond skewers elsewhere. The Kara-age chicken, marinated fried chicken pieces that tasted somewhat like lighter chicken nuggets, was my favorite dish of the evening. Less successful was the Daikon Salad, extremely bland Zaru Tofu, and Suji Nikomi, a soup of braised beef tendon. Kobe Beef Tataki was so covered in salad it was hard to find the meat. The Soy Milk Panna Cotta dessert was a disappointment–a member of my party described it as having a faint oatmeal essence, and this observation was accurate. The food was unremarkable, but I’d return with sake fans for the outstanding selection.
Occupation: Database Developer
Favorite Restaurant: Souk Savanh Restaurant
Reviewed Izakaya Yuzuki: Friday, February 1, 2013
A relative newcomer in the SF Mission Gourmet Ghetto, Izakaya Yuzuki specializes in small plates and traditional-process (koji / aspergillus) fermented ingredients. This results in dishes with subtle but deep flavors. Unfortunately, both my partner and I are bright, complex, strong-flavor kind of guys, so we found the food a little unexciting: nothing had our eyes rolling back in ecstasy or found us savoring every bite to perceive some magic combination of ingredients.
The restaurant space was tastefully and simply decorated — perhaps a little minimalist for bar food — and all hard surfaces. We had trouble hearing each other and even more trouble understanding the waiters. That said, everyone who came to our table was welcoming, friendly, and attentive.
Our favorite of the Obanzai (three Kyoto style vegetables) was the sweet potato with a dark brown toasted sesame sauce. The other two vegetables were hijiki seaweed and spicy eggplant.
The standout dish was the Aji no hiraki (horse mackerel), with a side of citrusy oroshi ponzu. I appreciated the depth of flavor that the salt koji preparation gave to the mackerel. It was beautifully presented: two meaty sides of the fish separated from the spine, accompanied by the spine itself, which had been deep fried so that you could eat the whole thing like a translucent, skeletal potato chip.
We also tried the Kobe Beef with tonburi (“mountain caviar” — tiny bean-like seeds), sprouts, onions, and peppery cress; the Tsukemono house-made pickles, and a special of fried smelt. Too often smelt is served with traces of sand, but these were tender, lightly tempura-fried, and perfectly clean. They brought back childhood memories of when my mother bought large bags of frozen smelt from the Co-op grocery and we fried them up with Meyer lemons from our backyard. These were more delicate but just as addictive.
We kept our beverages light: house-made ginger ale and elderflower juice, which I would have called “ginger water” and “elderflower water.” As such they were lovely, just not strongly flavored.
If conversation were easier, I would enjoy coming back with a group of friends, drinking bottles of sake, sampling most of the dishes (studiously ignoring the skyrocketing tab), and taking a couple of hours to enjoy one another’s company. As it was, the five dishes we ordered ended up being a great snack, perfect for someone on a diet or for a master of gustatory mindfulness.