Ijji Sushi is one of a handful of high-end sushi restaurants that have opened in San Francisco in the past six months. After hearing some decent feedback I decided to dine there in June. The restaurant is located on Divisadero street in San Francisco's Lower Haight neighborhood. It is owned and operated by Head chef Billy Kong of Saru in Noe Valley and Kua Catuang from Seiya in San Carlos. The restaurant looks very nice, but the sushi counter is a bit odd: a huge stainless steel cooking station sits directly behind the bar in full view of the customer - not something you'd typically see in a Japanese sushiya. Also, the seven bar stools are very high and not particularly comfortable.
I ordered the omakase which consists of 1 otsumami plate and 10 pieces of nigiri, and added some extra nigiri pieces at the end of the meal. The 10 piece nigiri omakase is priced "MP" but typically runs in the $80 range. Total bill for the omakase plus some additional pieces, 3 draft beers, tax and tip came to $192.95. One important thing to note about the beer: Ijji serves Asahi Super Dry draft beer from Japan (not the terrible bottled Asahi brewed in Canada) and they have the specially-machined tap that creates a creamy foam as the beer is drawn, just like in Japan. The draft beer was delicious and one of the highlights of the meal.
Service was excellent, the waitstaff and chefs were all extremely friendly and professional. Head Chef Billy Kong prepared my nigiri and handed it to an assistant itamae who plated it for me and explained each piece. They immediately noticed that I am left-handed and adjusted the placement of the nigiri accordingly - always a nice touch that demonstrates good attention to detail and customer care.
So how was the food? Well... overall I enjoyed the experience, but some things were not to my liking. I found the rice to be at a good temperature, and thankfully not too sweet, but, as is too often the case in the US, severely under-seasoned. Apparently, they use a blend of akazu (red sake lees vinegar) and komezu (rice vinegar) to season the rice, but very little vinegar flavor was present in the shari. I like my sushi-meshi to have a sour kick to it, and it wasn't to be found here. Also, in my opinion, the rice was a bit mushy - I would have preferred it to be more al-dente.
The sushi-dane is of good quality, and Ijji offers a variety of neta that are not traditionally served in Edomae-zushi, making for an interesting if unorthodox meal. Sadly, they do have a tendency to over-sauce or over-garnish the neta. For example, many of the shiromi fish flavors were lost to overzealous use of yuzu juice.
These issues are indicative of a restaurant that is trying to strike a balance between traditional Japanese flavors and the western palate. Many sushi shops in the US seem to be reluctant to prepare strongly vinegared sushi-meshi for fear that western customers won't appreciate the sour taste. Likewise, covering up the subtle flavors of shiromi with "bolder" flavors like yuzu juice, sea salt, and miso paste seems like a decision to westernize the food in order to gain greater acceptance.
Ijji is already one of the better sushiya in San Francisco. The food is good and the service impeccable. If they fine-tune the shari preparation and tone down the neta seasoning, it has very good potential. It will be interesting to see if they go in that direction as traditional Edomae-zushi continues to gain wider acceptance in the US.
Below you will find images from the meal, in the order served, along with additional comments.
Sushi counter with one of the wooden neta boxes.
First up a couple of tasty otsumami. In the spoon is young taro root with yuzu miso sauce and in the dish is baby octopus.
Close-up of the otsumami.
One of the assistant itamae preparing ostumami plates. Notice the large stainless steel cooking apparatus in the background. Not something you'd typically see in a sushiya.
Kanpachi. Good quality neta but over-sauced.
Very good katsuo.
Kisu prepared "aburi" (flame-seared).
The aji was very good, but again a bit over-sauced for my taste.
Head chef Billy Kong on the right and one of the other three itamae on the left.
Ayu, or sweetfish, served aburi. Ayu is a freshwater fish not typically used for nigiri.
Hamo, or pike conger eel. I prefer anago nigiri.
The bafun uni from Hokkaido was very good.
Kibinago is a hikarimono that is not often served as nigiri. It was pretty good, although it is not one of my favorites. The shiso leaf between the shari and the neta was not needed.
Tai kobujime (cured with kombu) garnished with miso. Sadly, the miso completely overpowered the delicate flavor of the tai.
Very good maguro zuke. The zuke added complexity to the maguro without overpowering. Nicely done.
Tachiuo, another unorthodox neta, was pretty good.
Delicious chu-toro - one of the highlights of the meal.
Iwashi prepared with a band of shiso; another rather unorthodox choice.
The o-toro was ok but not nearly as good as the chu-toro.
The meal ended on a very high note; the tamago was absolutely fantastic. Good balance of sweet and savory, with lots of umami and a strong shrimp and white fish flavor. My favorite piece of the night.
Ijji Sushi 252 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117 (415) 658-7388 http://www.ijjisf.com/