Wako is located in the Inner Richmond district of San Francisco. Since opening in 2014, the shop has gained a strong following, along with a Michelin star. Head chef Tomoharu Nakamura prepares the sushi for the 10 patrons seated at the bar, while assistant chef Atsushi-san is in charge of the sushi for those seated at the restaurant’s 5 or 6 tables. I have mixed feelings about my latest visit, which took place on February 27th. I do think that Wako is currently the best sushi restaurant in San Francisco proper, but a few small details prevented me from completely loving the meal.
Tomo-san is a very talented chef, there is no doubt about that. His attention to detail is very high, which is one of the hallmarks of a good sushi chef. As I sat down, he instantly noticed that one of my chopsticks had a small splinter in it, and offered a replacement pair. He really pays attention not only to what he is doing behind the counter but also to the customer - a good indication that he cares about the experience. His preparation (teate) and knife skills are also at a high level.
We ordered the nigiri omakase ($100 PP), which is supposed to be comprised of some otsumami followed by twelve pieces of nigiri. This is what I had also ordered on my last visit to Wako back in September of 2015. Strangely, this time around, we were served additional otsumami in between every few pieces of nigiri, Sushi Sho style. I’m personally not a fan of this, as I think it disrupts the flow and continuity of the meal. I’m not sure why Tomo started doing this with the nigiri omakase, but it didn’t really work for me. This is also the way that Kusakabe structures his omakase, and it also doesn’t really work for me there.
The 12 pieces of nigiri served were aged tai, kawahagi, ika, mirugai, shima aji, cold smoked cherry salmon, kohada, maguro zuke (with jalapeno infused soy sauce), bafun uni, toro, anago, and wagyu beef. A nice piece of tamago was served as well, and I ordered a supplemental piece of very good saba.
The shari (rice) is served fairly warm (although not quite at body temperature - in my opinion, he could use a warabistu to keep his shari a few degrees warmer) and seasoned with komesu. The rice has good tsuya and nebari, and overall pairs very well with the neta. Rice is the most important ingredient in sushi, and Tomo’s rice is very good.
The quality of the neta is very good. I found the mirugai, shima aji, and kawahagi to be particularly delicious. Tomo-san’s fish aging skills were on full display with the first piece that was served to us, tai, which was aged for 9 days and simply fantastic. The marinade for both the kohada and the saba showcased a very good balance of flavors. And the bafun uni from Russia’s Sea of Okhotsk, paired with high-quality nori from Kyushu, was also excellent.
A few pieces were misses for me, though. I simply cannot enjoy smoked salmon sushi, an unorthodox neta that, in my opinion, doesn’t work with the more traditional pieces and disrupts the balance of the meal. The maguro appeared to be of good quality, but the jalapeno-infused soy sauce used for the zuke overwhelmed the flavor of the fish. I’m also still trying to figure out the reasoning behind using gold leafs to garnish a piece of toro. It adds nothing to the flavor, and serves no purpose other than to look flashy – which in my mind is not what Edomae sushi is about. And I also have mixed feelings about wagyu beef being served as nigiri. Is it delicious? Well, yes, of course. Does it mesh well with the overall flow of flavors? Not really.
These are ultimately fairly minor squabbles, though. As I stated, I do think Wako serves the best sushi in San Francisco proper at the moment. All the main requirements are met: great shari, high quality neta, and careful preparation by a skilled chef.
Below you will find images of the meal, with some additional comments.
Wako Japanese Restaurant 211 Clement St San Francisco, CA 94118