Hip Hip Hooray (Nihon - San Francisco, CA)
I live in a non-neighborhood. If I had to say where I'm located, it would be the armpit where the Mission and SOMA become one. Now I loves me my digs, and I do have the luxury of being able to walk to Zuni, but for the most part the "local" (ie, walkable) restaurant options are on the lame side. It is for this reason that I wanted to kick myself once I finally got my ass to Nihon, eight months after they opened.
Nihon is definitely walkable from my place, but for the longest time Jon and I had no clue what the hell kind of place it was. Bar? Restaurant? Yes.
Jon and I both had a craving for sushi, but we were looking for something new and exciting. We hopped on the web to do a little search for something different but close-ish. Lo and behold, up popped Nihon. OK, we'll give this bitch a shot. (Side note: Nihon is a sister restaurant to Tsunami).
It was a beautiful night for the short walk. We paused to admire the discarded syringes and human waste products as we strolled toward our destination. It was on the early side when we arrived, and I'd say the place got about 2/3 full while we were there.
The decor is painfully hip. If I were choosing a restaurant on decor alone, you would not find me here. I don't want to have to pretend to be cool when I eat, and I certainly don't want to be surrounded by other people who are pretending to be cool. Fortunately, in spite of the decor, the restaurant was good enough to warrant a repeat visit three days later.
I'll start with drinks. I had a ginger cocktail and Jon tried several items over the two visits. Nihon has a fairly impressive whisky selection and both of us enjoyed our beverages. On our second visit, the bartender poured taste after taste of whisky for Jon until he found something he liked. Very cool.
Service was friendly and efficient. Our first server was sweet and offered some solid recommendations. The bartenders were also rocktastic.
Really, though, the whole point of being there was for some food. My favorite thing about Nihon is that their cuisine follows the creative/funky sushi doctrine (because sometimes you just want that) but without the shitty service of Deep.
The Goma Ae is fast becoming our favorite Japanese salad. It's like your traditional spinach with sesame dressing salad but this one adds asparagus. Add to that the freaking GENIUS idea of having three different kinds of sesame paste (regular, with ponzu and spicy) and you've got yourself a deal. Jon and I went nuts for the spicy dressing, but to be honest I don't know how they can get away with serving it without a warning. I adore spicy food, but I could see a lot of people freaking the fuck out over that spicy dressing. Let's face it, lots of folks are pussies when it comes to heat. I applaud Nihon for their risk taking and I will happily eat as much of their spicy spice that I can get.
Speaking of, they have a sushi roll that was designed for me. Reading the description on the menu, I couldn't help but feel like I was reading porn. The Samurai A has spicy tuna with jalepeno and daikon sprouts rolled in habenero tobiko and topped with avocado and spicy sesame seeds. It is also about twice as long as a regular roll, which is good, because after one bite, I was reluctant to share. It would be easy to hide some shitty fish amongst all that spice but they did not. Oh no, this fish was nice and fresh.
We were similarly enamored with the 1974 roll (spicy scallops topped with salmon) and the tai snapper robata we tried (grilled to perfection). The shitake mushrooms stuffed with hamachi and tempura fried gets a big thumbs up as did the local salmon sashimi. The sashimi was even better than we expected it to be and we were quite pleasantly surprised.
A big miss on the menu is the tuna carpaccio. The tuna was fresh, but the dish includes ponzu, hawaiian sea salt and white truffle oil. The ponzu completely overpowers the truffle oil and the whole situation is just a little bit too salty (we're talking hypertension inducing salty here if I'm saying that).
Nihon is by no means the best sushi in the city, but it's a super option for some interesting variations on your standard menu and it's a nice addition to the local dining scene here in crack town. I know that my lazy ass is grateful that it's here.
"To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art."
-- La Rochefoucauld