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Nikkei Cuisine

Kaiyo--Nikkei cuisine on Union Street

SF restaurateur John Park, with chef Michelle Mathews in the kitchen, has brought a wonderful addition the Union street eatery scene with Kaiyo, featuring Nikkei specialties of the freshest ingredients, and highly creative cocktails.

Nikkei cuisine in Peru developed as a result of a sizeable migration of Japanese to Peru in the late 1800’s. There was a vibrant fishing industry in Peru, and the Japanese immigrants certainly knew how to deal with great fresh fish. In recent times, notable chefs, including Nobu Matsuhisa and Ferran Adria have shone the light on Nikkei cuisine.

There is a small outdoor section, with the restaurant long and narrow, a marble bar with molded mid-century sort of stools to the right, and to the left a bright yellow banquette, with a verdant living moss wall covering the long wall above. We love bar dining, and there are seats, as the weekend seems to be winding down, so we tell the hostess to give our table reso away, and belly up.

Not to be missed during a visit are the restrooms, covered in hand drawn Manga comics....there’s certainly a story there, if one has the time to linger.....

New head bartender Danielle Taylor explains the concept and the menu to us. It’s mostly small plates, our most desired way to dine. There is sushi, sashimi, izakaya, anticucho—skewers—crudos, vegetables, tiraditos—Nikkei version of ceviche—and few main dishes. And a most interesting cocktail list. After perusing same, we opt for a Green Pea—Botanist gin, sake, mint pea water....limpid pale green and delicious, and a dirty Oxley gin martini.

We begin to compose our own multi course testing menu, with input from Danielle.

First up, beginning in Crudo, a pair of Chefs Oyster...small deep dish Miyagi topped with a bit of uni, cubes of dashi gelee, tobiko, a shave of cured roe, chives and an edible flower petal.....a visual delight, and burst of flavor in the mouth.

Switching to Izakaya we must try Uni toast—Santa Barbara uni on brioche toast with aji  amarillo butter (a popular Peruvian pepper), lardo, chives and....more flowers. Marinated urchin gonads and cured pork fat with chiles.....what’s not to like?

There are several types of nigiri/sashimi, and three grades of tuna...we opt for the tuna flight, which brings nigiri maguro, chutoro and otoro—the increasingly fatty portions of tuna belly—all impeccably fresh.

Moving from cocktails to sake, Danielle describes the short list, and offers a taste of three to decide which we favor….. the pricey Kirinzan Shuzo is rich and delicious, but the crisper Suehiro was the choice for us...a carafe brings just about three glasses....

Back to Crudo, we order the Hokkaido scallop tiradito....four impeccable raw scallops in a lovely bowl with a bright orange broth...this is the traditional marinating liquid leche de tigre, here enhanced with chili (lots) and hibiscus. The scallops are impeccable.

The Head Bar Honcho suggests a shot of tequila to finish the dish, with the remaining tiradito broth as sangrita....we weren’t sure about detouring to tequila, but she offered a half shot each of Tesoro silver, and poured the remaining spicy broth into shot amazing combo.

We asked about the A5 Wagyu skewers, and she said they’re great, but the beef heart is killer. We elected to go with the A5 nigiri, which was great with a fried quail egg on top, but I didn’t realize the beef was quickly grilled, and felt that the Wagyu, raw on its own would have been a cut above.

We had ordered the mixed mushrooms before the Wagyu, and they appeared smelling delicious. We felt we wanted one more somewhat substantial dish, and she recommended the pasta, since we had the mushrooms, stating that combining the two was her favorite thing on the menu. Japanese mentaiko pasta, with Korubota sausage, tiny fresh clams, fish roe and grated Manchego was terrific in its own....adding the mixed king trumpet , maitake, and hen-of-the-woods fungi in matsuhisa dressing took it to a new and astonishingly delicious level. We would learn soon, as she was ending her shift, that Danielle orders the same as takeaway to transport home for her late dinner....

Menu desserts are Yuzu custard and chocolate-lucuma cheesecake, but we elect one piece of kanpachi nigiri for Troy, and one piece of uni for usual sushi bar dessert.

Nikkei cuisine was a new experience for us, despite having spent time in Peru, and Kaiyo couldn’t be a better introduction. We must return to try, among other things, the beef heart skewers with chimichurri, heirloom potatoes with seaweed butter, kaarage chicken thigh, and sake glazed hirame.











Some photos courtesy Kaiyo




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