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Sebo report (long)

Malik | Mar 6, 200605:09 PM

Last Thursday, Felice and I were supposed to have dinner at Tekka, but when she found out that Sebo, the new restaurant from the Midori Mushi chefs, was opening, she insisted that we change our plans and go there instead. I agreed to make an exception to my "Never go to a restaurant opening week" rule, and we were off to dinner in Hayes Valley.

Sebo had only just opened Tuesday night, and Thursday was the first night that they offered omakase, which is only offered at the sushi bar. It turns out that we ended up being the first customers to order it. Felice mentioned that her only regret at Midori Mushi was to order the five course instead of the seven course omakase, so we decided to go for the seven course version this time ($80). We followed Michael's suggestion to share the omakase, which allowed us to try a few additional dishes when we were done with the seven courses.

The first course in the omakase was a pair of grilled shitake mushroom caps, stuffed with hamachi tartare in a light yuzu-miso dressing. This was one of my favorite courses. The mushrooms were just a tad dry, but the hamachi tartare was perfectly dressed and just delicious.

The second course consisted of a spicy sunomono with nameko mushrooms, wakame and tiny dried white anchovies. This was not one of my favorites, not because there was anything wrong with the dish, but because I'm not a fan of the dried anchovies. Felice was quite happy to finish my share.

The third course was marinated chutoro seared over a flame and served with sweet persian lime, avocado and radish. I'm not usually a fan of marinating or cooking toro, since I find that it's best served raw, but this dish was definitely a big winner. The fattiness of the toro combined with the high heat over which it was cooked gave it a wonderful flavor and texture, almost like a piece of perfect kobe beef.

The middle course was hikari-mono (shiny fish) sashimi. I usually am not a fan of shiny fish, as I often find them too oily, but I really liked these ones. We got one piece each of kohada, aji, shimaaji and saba. What I really like with the shiny fish preparation at Sebo is that they are not over vinegared, so the flavor of the fish shines through. The only exception was the kohada (gizzard shad), I wish the marinade had been a little lighter on that fish. I prefer the version I had at Kiss last year. The aji (horse mackerel) was good, though a touch oily for my taste. But the real winners for me were the saba and the shimaaji. The saba was red and still translucent, it was hard to tell that it had been marinated at all. This was the best saba I've had yet, even better than the one I had at Hama-ko. The shimaaji (yellow jack) was also wonderful, I really enjoyed its delicate flavor. I liked these two fishes so much that we reordered them as nigiri after we were done with the omakase.

The fifth course consisted of shishamo served on top of shaved daikon. Shishamo are small fishes (smelt) grilled whole with the roe still in the fish. You just squeeze a little lemon on top and eat the whole fish. I've only had shishamo one other time (at Ino Sushi), and this seemed like a good rendition.

The sixth course was uni oshizuki with konbu and hijiki served on a sheet of toasted nori. Oshizushi is pressed sushi using a special wooden box. This one was prepared by pressing the sushi rice with some konbu (kelp) in the middle, and then putting the uni (sea urchin) on top with a spoon and topping the whole thing with some hijiki (a type of seaweed).

Finally, the last course was a smoky dashi broth with ankimo, daikon, avocado, wakame and shiso flowers. The chefs at Sebo prepare their own ankimo starting with whole lobes of monkfish liver, and it has a beautiful silky texture. I still prefer the ankimo at Ino with its meatier, firmer texture and slightly gamier flavor, but the ankimo at Sebo is definitely above the norm.

We topped up the omakase with an order of hirame usuzukuri, some nigiri, and a negihamachi maki (hamachi and scallion roll). The usuzukuri consists of paper thin slices of hirame (halibut, fluke or flounder, depending on who you ask) topped with ponzu. It's one of my favorite things to order in sushi restaurants, and Sebo's rendition was very good. For nigiri, we had the saba and shimaaji mentioned above, along with mirugai (giant clam) and madai (red sea breem). All four nigiris were delicious, I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite.

Overall, Sebo is definitely a nice addition to the San Francisco dining scene. It's not quite a traditional sushi restaurant, in fact I think their strength is the creative, more modern non-sushi dishes in the omakase. The nigiris are between $5 and $9 per order, and our total, including two large beers, was a little under $150 before tip, so it's a little on the pricey side, but in my opinion it's worth it. If you're looking for value, Kiss in Japantown would be a better bet.

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