Time: Sunday. April 17. 5:30 PM. Walk-in.
Location: SF; Noe Valley
Address: 3856 24th St
Cuisine: Japanese, Sushi
Party Size: 2 (M&V)
Order: 2 12 pc sushi tasting, 1 5 pc salmon tasting
Pre-tip Cost: $144 [$132 food & drink; $12 tax]
Verdict: No monkeying around with the omakase here.
Omakase; the Japanese version of the course/tasting menu (as seen in Jiro Dreams of Sushi) is taking San Francisco by storm. ICHI+NI is leading the way the scene, but Saru Sushi Bar is making a splash of their own.
The two restaurants have a slightly different take on the omakase experience. ICHI+NI will keep it coming until told to stop (and even mix in hot plates if requested) while Saru Sushi Bar offers a pre-selected succession of sushi, offered in sets of various sizes. As a result of the quality of fish and skill of the chefs, both places put an emphasis on meticulously seasoning each piece, eliminating the need to dowse the nigiri in wasabi and soy sauce.
Saru Sushi Bar is located on 24th street, just off of the J-Church stop. Saru in Japanese translates to “monkey” and that theme is prevalent in the decor.
The dinner seating opens up at 5:30 and they do not take reservations. On Sunday, a small line formed about 15 minutes prior to opening and by 6 the place was full. The dining experience is pretty quick but I imagine that on the traditional “date nights” the wait list could get rather backed up.
The day’s menu is posted outside the door. Some nice reading material as you wait.
For our meal, we each ordered the 12 piece tasting set. Additionally, I ordered the 5 piece salmon tasting set. Saru Sushi Bar does offer ala carte nigiri and sashimi as well as a selection of rolls and small selection of (mostly fish inspired) appetizers.
The 12 piece omakase set is served in 3 batches of 4 pieces each. The cost of $57 average out at $4.50 per piece The first batch included, from top to bottom, bin toro (albacore belly), hirame (halibut), katsuo (bonito), and their toro tartare.
The midpoint set consisted of tobiuo (flying fish), sakura masu (cherry blossom trout), kasugodai (snapper) and baby lobster.
Finally, the last batch in the 12 piece tasting set consisted of uni (sea urchin), hotaru ika (fireflyu squid), kohada (gizzard shad) and chu-toro (medium fatty tuna belly).
The 5 piece salmon tasting set included zuke king salmon, iwana , umi masu, (something, not pictured) and ikura.
(we tried our best to hear each of the names of the fish, hopefully we didn’t miss any more than the one)
Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not taking more detailed notes on the intricate flavors each piece offered. Most of them were a delicious, well balanced piece of nigiri. Each were a unique flavor profile, even among the salmon set. Some standouts include the uni, chu-toro and katsuo. The only ones I was less than thrilled with, mostly because the texture of the fish is less my style (a little chewier), were the hirame and iwana.
There is not a lack of sushi restaurants in San Francisco. The first post on this blog was about Domo – a more american style, roll centric joint. We intend to celebrate my birthday at Maruya and we recently dined at ICHI+NI. The great thing is that with so many options, each place still has its own style and merits. They are not cookie cutter clones of each other, offering the exact same menu with the exact same taste. Saru Sushi Bar is a worthy competitor in the higher end sushi block of San Francisco.
(Some of the pictures might show up sideways on mobile devices…growing pains of learning this thing)