The Girl and I decided to head down to Koo, the new sushi restaurant on Irving between 5th and 6th Ave in SF (about which I asked earlier today).
We were the first ones in for the night and sat at the sushi bar. Koo opened three weeks ago in a location previously occupied by another Japanese restaurant, the name of which I keep forgetting. The new owners remodelled the space, and brightened the interior and exterior by quite a lot. (The older restaurant had something of a cave look to it.)
It turned out the owner was manning the sushi bar, although normally another chef is there (the regular chef took the night off for Halloween). His wife, who makes the desserts, was also there, and the wait staff were dressed for the occasion -- the male waiter dressed as a Japanese schoolgirl was particularly excellent. All of the people were very friendly and welcoming -- not in that urgent, "please like our new restaurant" way, but seemingly very genuinely.
The owner was previously co-owner and head chef of Ace Wasabi and Tokyo-a-Go-Go, and apparently co-founded those restaurants with a business partner. He decided to start his own place, and it sounded like he was no longer involved in his older restaurants. He said Ace and Go-Go were both aimed at more of a hip crowd, and he was more interested in starting a neighborhood restaurant. The former restaurant in this location closed after the husband/owner died, and the wife/owner decided to retire. We talked for a while about the sushi scene in San Francisco, and he was very open and funny in his commentary on it. "A lot of people think charging $4 for a couple of pieces of fish is a great business, but it's not that easy!" he said. He said the restaurant name comes from the Japanese word for "Eat" -- pretty funny in a neighborhood that also contains Chow.
The menu was brief, with a selection of sushi, rolls, and sashimi, with a set of non-traditional "shared plates" and a few special items. We tried the Spoonful of Happiness, containing Uni, quail egg, monkfish liver wrapped in a sliver of red snapper (Tai), and a bit of truffle oil, all served in two Japanese soup spoons. The Girl thought both spoons were fantastic, and the chef kindly offered me a taste of the monkfish/snapper, which was great. We also ordered all of the nigiri specials, which were all very good, with large pieces and good flavor. The "Flying Kamikaze" roll was fine -- not bad particularly, but not rising to the level of the other pieces. We finished the meal with two Cajun handrolls -- tempura crawfish with tobiko -- which we both liked an enormous amount. The flavor of the crawfish was excellent and it tasted much better than a comparable shrimp tempura roll.
For dessert, The Girl tried the green tea cheesecake, which was not at all sweet and slightly bitter; I tried the Mount Fuji cake, a small chocolate pyramid stuffed with white chocolate mousse, which was quite sweet (very much to my liking), but a little dry. We weren't overwhelmed with the desserts, but at $3 each, they were a well-sized ending to the meal.
Overall, I wouldn't say Koo is (at least not yet) my favorite sushi in San Francisco, but compared with the rude intolerance of Hama-ko, the terrible service and ridiculous prices of Grande-Ho's, and the overpowering lines and mediocre fish of Ebisu, Koo is definitely my favorite sushi in the 9th & Irving/Cole Valley neighborhood. I think they've succeeded in creating a warm neighborhood sushi experience, with moderate prices, generous portions, and excellent fish. I'll definitely be back.
408 Irving Street
San Francisco, CA 94122