What:Ijji @IjjiSF A microscopic, unmarked, serene sushi den specializing in high-quality nigiri most of which is imported from Tokyo's famous Tsukiji market
Where:Lower Haight / Divisadero Corridor 252 Divisadero St. San Francisco, CA 94117 [wpgmza id="293"]
When:Definitely splurgy in terms of pricing, so save this one for a special, intimate date night.
I absolutely love how full of super old school places the New Orleans high-end dining scene is. There are tons of these places that remain as popular, famous, and incredible as they were when they opened well over 100 years ago. But, of course, that's not all that New Orleans has to offer. There are plenty of young upstart chefs doing extremely innovative things, evolving the long-standing culinary traditions.
When people hear "California", visions of sun-soaked, brah-filled, coastal, Southern California beach towns usually fill their minds. Imagine the level of surprise and disappointment we've seen on our unknowing out-of-towner guests' faces when they come to visit us in San Francisco and are faced with our unusual patchwork of foggy and rather chilly micro-climates instead of a permanent summer. It always throws them for a (disappointed) loop. Really, Nor-Cal and So-Cal are so extremely different that it would probably make sense to consider them two separate states, but that's a whole 'nother conversation. But, there is a place like this dreamlike version of California that does exist in Nor-Cal and it's actually not that far from San Francisco. This place actually has that stereotypical beach bum vibe where surfers and skaters live their carefree suntanned lifestyles and tourists flock to catch rays of sunshine. This place is Santa Cruz.
The Japan Center Mall is a mysterious maze-like shopping center full of stalls selling Asian miscellany and a wide variety of authentic Asian eats. There are many places you could choose to eat at – with specialists for just about every Japanese food type you could think of. There are in fact a number of sushi options, but there is only one sushi purveyor inside of this massive mall that I find myself consistently returning to. It's called Isobune and its a truly special place.
Everyone that's even partially aware of the Austin dining scene has heard of Uchiko. It's generally regarded as one of the top dining destinations in the city and I've known for many years that I needed to see what all of the excitement was about for myself. I think the restaurant may have actually first come to attention when the now-famed chef Paul Qui tore his way through Top Chef Season 9. He basically wiped the floor with his competition utilizing his signature Asian fusion style and I took notice. Paul has since moved on from Uchiko to work on other Austin ventures such as his food truck East Side King and namesake restaurant Qui. But, Uchiko remains as exciting and buzz-worthy as ever.
Back when I was living in New York, I think I took for granted the fact that it really was "the city that never sleeps". Literally any hour of the day, I could get my hands on anything I craved. Bars stayed open to 4, delivery services ran around the clock and worked lightening fast, and there was always a restaurant open serving exactly what I was in the mood for, no matter what crazy hour it was that I wanted it. Now, let's compare that to San Francisco, where bars start winding down at 1 AM and close at 2. It's a place where most restaurant and bar kitchens close around 10 PM and food delivery is an utter joke. If it's past 10 PM and you feel like having a great late night meal, you've got to approach the situation with a little more care and a lot more knowledge.
*Editor's Note 4/17/15: O-Toro has since relocated to a larger space only a block away at 298 Gough St. I'm constantly looking for sushi joints in the Bay Area serving really high quality fish at very reasonable prices. I've got spots all over the region (see: Wayo, Tataki, Sushi Tomi, Live Sushi Bar, and Geta) and I've even already got a place I love in Hayes Valley, but Domo is quite small and doesn't take reservations so it's not super easy to rely on it as a go-to spot in that neighborhood. Only a few blocks away is another well-reputed sushi den called O-Toro that actually does take OpenTable reservations and also sounded like it had a lot of potential to become my new go-to sushi bar in that neighborhood.
One day, Amy and I were headed to Oakland to check out the California International Antiquarian Book Fair (it's way more awesome than it sounds, I promise). This year, the event relocated from its usual San Francisco venue to the Marriott City Center Convention location in the Piedmont neighborhood of Oakland. Well, I'm pretty much always on the hunt for great, cheap sushi and I knew we would need to grab a good lunch before heading into the event, but I wasn't very familiar with the area's food selection. So, I pulled up Foursquare and did a quick search to gauge my options. Immediately, I was presented with an obvious lunch solution – a tiny hole-in-the-wall well-regarded for its quality fish and reasonable prices called Geta Sushi.