Sushi Monster is a sushi aficionado on the Bay Area board. He helpfully offers a list of hallmarks of a good sushi restaurant—a list compiled while he chowed his way through two dozen sushi restaurants in quick succession.
“I would never reject a restaurant solely because it lacked some of these elements,” he says. But the best sushi bars seem to have these things in common:
1. When you enter the restaurant (probably by passing under a heavy linen banner) the itamae (chef) greets you with a shouted “Irrashai!” which is short for “Welcome.”
2. After you are seated at the bar, an oshibori (hot washcloth) materializes immediately.
3. The oshibori is followed by a mug of agari (green tea).
4. The bar itself is either bare wood or very plainly finished. The fish are on display in the refrigerated case in front of you.
5. At the bar, you order sushi directly from the itamae, never through a waitperson.
6. There is a whiteboard listing the special fish of the day.
7. The whiteboard and the menus are in both English and Japanese (an indication the restaurant has a significant Japanese clientele).
8. At the bar, the sushi is served on plain wooden planks rather than plates.
9. Even the most mundane detail shows an awareness of aesthetics, from the arc of the fish over the pad of rice to the proportion of rice to fish to the placement of a tiny piece of scallion. Sushi is simple food, and at its best it is simply beautiful.
10. A sushi bar is not a formal dining venue. It’s the original fast-food joint, with a long convivial tradition. There is a certain warmth and clublike atmosphere to the best sushi bars that corresponds roughly to the homey feel of British pubs or Mediterranean cafes. Aside from the quality of the fish, perhaps the one sure sign you’re probably in the right place is when you find yourself thinking: “Gee, this is really nice. I feel very relaxed here.”
Board Links: Sushi Monster devours Peninsula: The Big List v. 3.0