I have often lamented the lack of a true yakitori here in San Francisco. And truth be told, we only have two izakaya in the city; O Izakaya which is close to me in Japantown and Sozai, in the Inner Richmond. It took me a long time to get to Sozai because of its location. I'm sorry it took me so long to get there and I genuinely wish it were closer, despite some minor shortcomings which I'll touch upon later.
But first, the sake. We each ordered a sampler, giving us six different tastes; Yuki no Bosha, Dassai Nigori, Tama no Hikari Yamahai, Take no Tsuyu, Urakasumi, and Tengumai. They were all distinct and enticing, but the Yuki no Bosha was the smoothest and easiest one to get in trouble with. In ordering a lot of food, we were grateful that the owner guided us through the menu on what to order.
We started with an assorted Sashimi platter as we were there the only night they serve sushi. The pieces were not cut perfectly, but the fish was fresh and good. Next came oysters and we loved the presentation; a bit of tobiko and a side of ponzu granita. This was delightfully innovative for the oysters, which were of great quality. A whole sample of yakitori came next; chicken gizzards, hearts, livers, thigh (negi-ma), and meatballs (tsukune). Not quite the quality of Shin Sen Gumi (my favorite in the state), but very respectable.
Our next offering was a slow cooked pork belly shichimi which was out of this world. So tender and rich and very, very satisfying. Lisa always has to try whatever uni is on the menu, so a single nigiri order arrived. Ankimo was next in the offering and I'm sorry to say this was not of great quality. It seemed a bit on the grainy side for my tastes. Some vegetables were recommended and the grilled Japanese eggplant were a pleasant surprise. Grilled to give a sugary, candied exterior, it did not hide the succulent eggplant creaminess inside.
Seeing how much we were enjoying the evening, the owner sent out a treat, the name of which I know not; squid brains in fermented squid gut sauce. The squid was tender enough, but the sauce was a bit too overpowering for me.
We finished up with dessert; a sweet-ish unfiltered sake (came in a frosty, pin, bottle) paired well with chocolate ginger cake and green tea tiramisu. Now I was reluctant on the tiramisu; making it with a green tea flavor seemed rather contrived but both Lisa and I were pleasantly surprised. It was not as kitschy as I thought it would be. The chocolate ginger cake, on the other hand, was superb; decadent hint of ginger in the redolent rich chocolate. Not too dry, not too sweet, and although garnished with a berry sauce, would have been better with simple whipped cream.
On the very minor downside to the restaurant, it is far from elegant. The tables are close together and the bizarre selection of 60s music in the background can occasionally glare a bit loud. But I don't need elegant or appointed to enjoy good food and the service was exemplary. And the good news is that just a day or so before, Eater announced that the Sozai owners and the chef from O Izakaya are going to get together for a third venue in the Mission. Hoorah!
More pics on the blog.
1500 Irving Street, San Francisco, CA 94122