Finally, after reserving and canceling due to a last minute business trip, I was able to make it to Anzu on Saturday for nigiri with Takahashi-san. He was a little upset at first because a bunch of tourists had reserved and cancelled and as a result, the sushi bar was empty. However, he soon warmed up to us and we had a very good omakase. And the big bonus is that he grated the wasabi from an actual wasabi root. The first I’ve seen at a bayarea sushi restaurant (aside from Kaygetsu).
We started with 3 little appetizers. Thinly sliced lotus root with sesame oil, eggplant, and mushrooms with smoked mirugai. Nothing stunning but refreshing and tasty.
Then we had a sashimi plate of chu-toro, kingfish, copper river salmon, mejina, and snapper. Takahashi keep saying red snapper but I think it was a language issue. The skin on the snapper was black. I’m assuming it was kurodai or a Japanese tai of some sort. The chu-toro was very light pink and fattier than Kitsho’s alleged o-toro. The kingfish was buttery and very delicious. I’ve never had kingfish as sushi and actually thought it was a low grade fish but it was delicious. The cooper river salmon was a beautiful dark orange and very flavorful. I’ve never had mejina and I’m always grateful when a chef can show me something new. The mejina was very firm and clean tasting. Takahashi-san later revealed that he has a liking for firm fish and therefore actually doesn’t use too much kinmedai.
Next we had a little sukiyaki of pork, onions, and tofu. It was very comforting and a nice palate cleanser.
For sushi we had (and this is totally out of order):
Kanpachi: delicious, buttery, and creamy
Hamachi: fresh and tasted regular grade fatty, maybe 1-2 on a scale of 1-5.
Santa Barbara Uni: sweet and fresh. The architecture was well preserved.
Anago/Unagi: prepackaged stuff. Not the grilled fresh eel that Yasuda serves. A big weak link in the repertoire.
Ayoyagi and Mirugai: both sweet, crispy, and refreshing.
Seatrout: good but not spectacular. I appreciate the variety and effort.
Bluefin tuna: gorgeous and sweet. I’m a horrible person for eating it but it was spectacular.
O-toro: light pink like the chu-toro but with big fat streaks of white. Not as white as the o-toro at Mori in LA, but definitely rich and fatty.
Fukko: 2 year seabass/perch. The adult form is called Suzuki. But fukko is in season now. The fish was fresh but not as fatty as I would have expected for being in season.
Sole: not bad for sole but very low on my list for nigiri
Halibut: from Japan, not the east coast kind the chef emphasized.
Tairagai: firmer and sweeter than regular scallops
Aji/saba/kohada: another weak link. The aji was actually fishy and a huge letdown from the sweet firm aji I had at Yasuda a month ago. The saba was also below average. Kohada was also a little fisher than the finer versions.
Handroll with ume, tobiko, sharkfin and shiso. A very refreshing dessert.
Now for the important part. According to Takahashi-san, he gets his fish Tuesdays and Fridays with the big shipment coming in Tuesday. He says that on Tuesday, he has up to 40-types of fish. He says the best time to go is Tuesday-Friday. The caveat is that if it’s a holiday in Japan, it comes a day late. I’ll have to go back and try on a Tuesday. His nigiri is very good. His rice is flavorful but definitely not the transcendent rice at Yasuda. Maybe a 7 out of 10 on the rice. The fish quality, variety, and the way it was cut is a solid 9.
Overall, I’d rate Anzu a 8.75. Depending on how fresh the fish is on Tuesdays and Wednesday, it has the potential to rise to 9.25. He’s limited by his rice, and unagi/anago. The wasabi was good but the grater was a little course so it was a little stringier than other freshly grated wasabi I’ve had. But then again, at least he’s using it. And he is getting some excellent imported fish. Most importantly, this is only for the sushi bar and not the restaurant.
My personal ranking (1-10, 10 being the best). Caveat is that Urasawa (LA) and Masa (NYC) can be 11 on this scale. I have not had the privilege since they're $300-$500/person before alcohol, tax, or tip.
10- Sushi Yasuda (NYC). Perfect rice (his own mix), 40 types of fish, 5 types of fatty toro, 5 types of fatty hamachi, and fresh grilled eel. The gold standard. Plus, he’s crazy and you have to love him.
9.5- Kurumazushi (NYC). Great quality, great variety. But no Yasuda.
9.5- Jewel Bako (NYC). Again, great quality, and great variety, but the size is a little precious and the chef's skill is nowhere near Yasuda's.
9- Mori Sushi (LA). Great quality and knife-work. The rice is great. The selection is limited though. Only about 15 types.
8.75- Anzu (SF). Great fish and variety. The knife-work is more refined than most bayarea chefs. He's the only guy using fresh wasabi in the bay area aside from Kaygetsu. May become a 9.25 if he does get 40 types of fish on Tuesdays. Again, this applies only to the sushi bar.
8- Kaygetsu and Kappa (SF). Both have excellent fish quality, but limited selection. Kappa’s ranking is only for the quality of the sashimi since they don’t serve nigiri. Kaygetsu's fish may be upwards of a 8.5 if Toshi hides the good stuff behind the counter.
8- Nishimura (LA). Great quality, limited selection. Horrible attitude by the waitstaff. A very unpleasant dining experience. A 6 if you take the entire experience into account.
7.5- Kitsho (Cupertino). The fish is great and the variety is excellent, especially for the southbay. However, the cuts are a little bigger and less refined. The rice is appalling, the more I think about it, the less I can let it slide. 8 for the fish, 3 for the rice.
7.25- Zushi Puzzle (SF). I want to like Roger but his fish was too warm for my taste (extra 0.25 is because he's such a great guy and for his "pencilfish"). He does get some very interesting fish but he may be more of a "interesting rolls" type guy vs. pure nigiri specialist. Roger did introduce me to japanese uni though.
7- R23 (LA). Good quality, often times has live abalone but limited variety.
7- Ino (SF). Great Ankimo. He has a small imported variety from Japan. Pikefish was memorable. Way too much wasabi.
6.5- Sushi Tomi (MV). Good quality fish, and they import some stuff like shimaaji but about on par with Ino. Ino gets the edge with his ankimo and knifework.
5- Sasabune (LA). Good crab hand roll. Otherwise, fish is average and the hot rice is horrible.