Six weeks ago, I got a text message from Lisa stating simply, "Just found us a new restaurant!!!!!!" That means a lot because both Lisa and I have become bored dining around San Francisco. She was excited at having found an establishment that is like those she discovered while traveling around Japan; authentic, intimate, and unlike anything else we have here in the Bay Area. There is a sign in the front window that warns the philistines: No Sushi. No Combination Plates. This is not your standard, Westernized Japanese restaurant. With an expansive ten-page menu, this is a restaurant based on the concept of lots of small plates. Not like an izakaya with a bar setting, the dark wood room is effectively serviced by attentive waiters and waitresses who are quick to offer suggestions.
The reason behind the lengthy menu is its layout; each ingredient with the descriptions of how that ingredient is prepared. For example, Gindara (black cod) has eight preparations: sakamushi (steamed with sake), oroshi-ni (simmered with grated daikon), teriyaki, yuan-grilled (soy sauce and sake marinade), sakekasu-grilled (sake less marinade), butter grilled, and panko-fried. With ingredients like eel, pork, duck, beef, chicken, shrimp, eggplant, tofu, krab, flounder, etc., it is easy to see why the menu is so extensive. And that does not include the fact that there is also shabu-shabu and sukiyaki offerings (with Wagyu beef for $80!). That's okay, we'll be back for those because there is so much to try...
With the help of our waitress, we managed to pick a selection of tastes, starting with a special that evening, toro sashimi served with fresh wasabi. More than just exceptional fish, the plating and offering was a cut above with shredded daikon and an interesting micro green served alongside the wasabi. Some of the best, melt-in-the-mouth tuna I have tasted. Being an uni fanatic, the preparation that Lisa wanted was served in a bowl with crab, an agar sheet, shredded vegetables, sliced chestnuts, and more than we could determine. It was clean and engaging with more gelatinous goo added for texture.
Another texturally-challenging dish (for those who have problems with gooey things -- which Lisa and I don't), was Mekabu-Su, vinegared sticky wakame (seaweed) topped with a raw quail egg. Served in a small, celadon green lotus bowl, here was a mouthful of viscous goodness. A dish we probably would not have considered had our waitress not been so passionate about suggesting was the butter-grilled scallops; four large, tender scallops in nothing other than simple brown butter. But the preparation was enhanced by its offering on top of a selection of grilled vegetables; sprouts and greens which were a delightful juxtaposition to the intensely rich scallops.
Another surprise was an offering of grilled oysters with egg yolk. It was actually a fresh grilled oyster encased in an omelet-like preparation, topped with toasted pine nuts and a sliced, crisp lotus root. We had debated ordering the chuwan-mushi and was glad we didn't; this was more than enough rich egg flavor which was definitely enhanced by the pine nuts. Best of all, they were very careful to not lose any of the oyster liquor in the preparation.
We finished our meal with their preparation of Japanese sweets, wagashi, three small offerings of delight; two red-bean based. The square wagashi was topped with lightly toasted rice bits and stuffed with a chestnut. The round, azuki-based wagashi was topped with a square of gold leaf and stronger than the square version. The last, round delight was an anmitsu, a chilled gelatin with fruit; large, golden raisins, orange peel, and a surprisingly different hint of celery which provided that surprise flavor.
Much of the joy of this type of dining is a sensation that many Westerners seem to miss: TEXTURE. There are complaints about some dishes not having enough TASTE when the cultural bias in Japanese food is often about the feel versus a strong flavor. That is not to say that there is no flavor to the courses, but that many times the dish is not about presenting a strong component of tastes, but a strong component of texture. And if you are willing to experiment and enjoy all that is offered, I can guarantee a stupendous experience. Personally, with a menu as expansive as Kappou Gomi is offering, I am anxious to go back and work my way through all of it.
Pics on the blog.
5524 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121