My partner in crime and I recently went for a meal at Bushi-tei , post-Michelin star. I know there have been several posts dismissing this Japanese-French fusion restaurant as inconsistent, but I have to say, I was very pleased, especially for the price compared to other Michelin winners. We talked about the food for days on end, as well as the bathrooms. (Go and see what I mean. )
We were seated near the kitchen in the back corner, where apparently Bauer sat when he reviewed them. We ordered the five course omakase (chef’s tasting menu), which changes monthly. In describing the meal, our waiter was charmingly earnest and at times referred to his notepad tucked in a breast pocket.
First course: pike sashimi on a bed of chopped salad (heirloom cherry tomatoes, hardboiled egg and cornichons), laced with shiso-infused oil. This dish – one part nicoise salad, one part sushi -- really exemplified the best of their kitchen’s concept. A little Japanese, a little French. Deliciously delicate fish, firm but pliant, salty but not excessively so. Wonderfully set off by the vinegar and subtle crunch of the cornichons. The shiso – a type of Japanese green ferny thing – lent an excellent herbaceous quality to the oil.
Second course: Breaded oysters with frisee and nori salad, plus herbed Chantilly crème on the side. The breaded oysters were perfect, like three ovoidal gems: crisp on the outside and moist and flavorful on the inside. They surrounded the less fortunate part of the dish, the salad (in my opinion, the worst example of Japanese-French fusion). The seaweed was a tad rubbery, the leaves barren. No dressing (which is usually ok with me) but also no flavor. Chantilly was like whipped butter, but way, way better. Overall, not horrible, but not amazing.
The third dish was the seabass with ratatouille atop beurre blanc. They were running low on seabass and asked if we might not want some John Dory instead. We got some of each. Those with the Dory really won out, IMO. The fish was firm, flaky and delicate. The sea bass were not choice pieces – they really put the ass in bass, if you know what I mean. But they were still tasty, just not as meaty. Regardless, the real star of this plate was the ratatouille. I rarely get so overwhelmed by a vegetable side, but this was something else. So flavorful. Of course the beurre blanc didn’t hurt.
They then brought out what was described as an “intermezzo.” It is a surprise. And in this case, turned out to be most delightful: a scoop of heirloom tomato granita wrapped in a sheath of rice paper. Great palate cleanser, but above all, a wonderfully inventive mid-meal conversation starter. Warning: eat fast or it will melt!
Our next course was a lamb tenderloin with baby potatoes and haricot verts. The most straightforward dish, this won points not for imagination but for execution. Ridiculously tender meat, vegetables perfectly cooked to crisp tender.
The last course was a white peach tartlet. The fruit slices were nano-thin, the crumb on the crust so fine. The opposite of rustic, and in the best way. I found the crème fraiche topping a tad on the heavy side, with a mascarpone-like texture, but jeez it was good.
We finished with espresso (Mr. Espresso brand, my personal restaurant favorite even above Blue Bottle and almost even with Stumptown). It came with petit fours: a lemon cake, truffle rolled in nuts, plus flat tuile cookie. Delish.
My only quibble, which has been noted by other Hounds, is the wine list. There are many pedestrian wines included that one can pick up at Safeway for like $12. In the case of more fine wines, they may or may not list the vintage so you don’t know whether the splurge is worth it. For instance, they have Kenwood and then they have Opus One ($234, I think). Such a peculiar selection to me, especially for SF.
We settled on two choices: with the first half of the meal, we went with a Gary Farrell sauvignon blanc. We like Farrell, we like sav blanc, and it spared us the horror of paying nearly $40 for Kim Crawford. With the lamb, we ordered a glass of Enkidu petite syrah. Again, not sure what year (either because I forgot or because they didn’t list it) but I think it was the Odyssey, their least expensive bottling. This is a relatively new winery based in Sonoma and the wine was quite tasty, actually, and pleased the Europeans amongst us very much.
All in all, though, we had a most remarkable meal. More than that, we had a great time. I am already plotting our next foray.