Joseph Manzare’s latest restaurant, Hecho, opened in San Francisco last Tuesday. I dropped in with a friend on Saturday night for a late bite at the sushi bar ordering a sampling from the menu. Due to system problems, the restaurant was accepting cash only.
Executive Chef Masa Sasaki was stationed in front of us, showing a young line cook how to assemble the small plates, trim garnishes, and use the torch for searing. Next to him, another took care of sushi orders. The brightly lit bar is deeper than typical and with the extra distance from the sushi chef, my view to the prep counter was impaired and perhaps more importantly, was also a social barrier to interacting with the sushi chef with the same ease. An eager server took our order and a variety of staff delivered our plates.
From the small plates menu, we tried
Sakana no aburi, $14 – seared sashimi with Japanese cucumber and kanzuri chili paste. The sashimi was two slices each of umi masu (ocean trout), kurodai (black porgy from Greece), and shima aji (striped jack from Kyushu) artfully arranged with a stacking of lemon slices, a smear of brown condiment, and what I dubbed a “cucumber caterpillar”. The fish for this dish were cut very thin and broad so that they appear to fill out the plate. But at that thinness, there’s little satisfaction from biting into the fish and the slices flop over unattractively when picked up with chopsticks. The umi masu was a bit overdone, almost cooked all the way through; the shima aji had more untrimmed bloody flesh than it should; and the kurodai was my favorite fish on the plate. The kanzuri chili paste, made of aged chilis and sake starter, delivered a hit of salty, meaty and spicy flavors when dabbed on the fish and almost compensated for the other execution errors.
Ankimo, $9 – steamed monk fish liver with grated chili daikon and shiro ponzu. The best dish of the night and well-priced too. The free-form slabs of pale monk fish liver mottled with orange looked like they were cut from the natural shape of the lobes and not pressed or molded. The thickish slices were about 1.5” x 3” arranged in a fanned stack in a pool of shiro ponzu. The chili-spiked, peppery daikon punctuated the more delicate, pale ponzu saucing. Less rich in combination than other ankimo I’ve tried, yet I really enjoyed this dish’s subtlety.
Maguro taru taru, $12 – tuna tartar with lime, avocado, maccha salt and grapeseed oil. Served with fried black sesame flecked rice crisps, the glossy diced tuna was garnished with thin slices of avocado, Korean chile threads, a raw quail egg, and a dash of green maccha salt on the rim of plate. After mixing together, the tartar turned out to be extraordinarily salty with crunchy finishing salt. With no acidity or suggestion of lime at all, it seemed that this ingredient was left out. We asked for lime wedges to temper the salt and freshen up the dish to make it edible. That did the trick.
Then yakimono from the rabata (sic) grill, and priced per skewer
Momo – chicken thigh, $3. The free-range chicken is sourced from Sonoma County. The chunks of overdone chicken were heavily sauced with a bit of charring, tough edges, and dried out center. My first bite had a funky, moldy taste and I didn’t eat more of this.
Buta bara – pork belly, $4. Also sauced, the pork belly had a slimy, wet texture. The lack of smoke influence or grill marks and the wetness made it seem like it never got close to a grill or other high heat source.
Bacon and eriyngi mushroom, $5 – the mushroom core under the bacon wrap was tough.
Before we ordered more from the robata, I asked our waitress whether sauce was the only option. She explained that the skewers are twice-dipped in tare (sauce). The hamachi kama would be salt-grilled and the sea scallop normally comes with sauce. I asked for the scallop with salt only, no sauce.
Hotate – sea scallop, $7. Perhaps the reason that “twice-dipped sauce” is the default for the scallop skewer is to hide the awful quality of the shellfish. Tough, metallic tasting, no sweetness or much flavor at all, and a pool of liquid seeped onto the plate.
Hamachi kama – yellowtail collar, $14. While a rather small size, the yellowtail was fine, if a bit blonde and in need of a little charring for fragrance and contrast. With this dish, after stirring in the grated daikon and chopped scallions, the ponzu base was a little too understated. But we enjoyed this dish nonetheless and I appreciated the fresh shiso leaves provided.
We ended with sushi, which can be ordered singly here. The thin soy sauce is deliciously seasoned and the wasabi is a blend of powder and grated giving it some texture. Pretty good rice and generous with the sea urchin roe, but the Murasaki uni (sea urchin) sushi, $5 each, were only B- quality.
To drink I had the Kome Kome low alcohol sake because it was described as akin to Kabinett Reisling (sic). Too sweet for my taste, yet I could see its appeal. I pushed it aside after a couple sips.
Description of Kome Kome “Happy Bride” Sake, $11/glass
We didn’t try any of the tequilas.
The restaurant is currently in “soft opening” but has promoted itself with fanfare and is serving public customers. The most success seemed to be in the small plates section of the menu. But at this early stage that may be due to Chef Masa overseeing that station himself on Saturday night. Beyond that I’m not sure what other advice to give for navigating the menu until the staff earn their sea legs.
After we were done eating, Manzare came in and greeted my dining companion, a regular at his other restaurants, quite warmly. Manzare’s big Bronx-Italian personality and friendly style of hospitality might be the one sure thing for now.
185 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94108