After the overwhelming accolades from Vsiz on how good Zushi Puzzle was, I was determined to try it and see what all the hullabaloo was about. Vsiz seems to go every week or something, so he took the lead and gathered his friend from LA, TeeJay, Hawbone and myself for an 8pm reservation at the sushi bar.
The restaurant is located smack dab on Lombard in the heart of the Marina. It’s a decent location, and parking turned out to be okay too. I’m sure the fact that it was a Monday evening had a little something to do with it. The restaurant itself is rather plain and simple, but considering the size of your average sushi place, it actually is a decent size. They could easily maximize the space, but interestingly enough, there are tables and/or booths along the two sides of the restaurant but there seems to be an open empty space in the middle of the restaurant. The sushi bar has about 8-10 seats, and that’s where we planted ourselves for the evening, literally.
The menu offers a fresh selection of the typical and atypical sushi from Japan to Italy. I am a big fan of salmon, white tuna and fatty tuna, but I also like amberjack and scallop. Since Vsiz comes so often, we let him take the lead on ordering.
Roger is the owner and sushi chef, and Vsiz is BFF with him and his entire wait staff. In fact, Vsiz goes so much and eats so much sushi and drinks so much sake that they went and gave him his own sake box. Nevertheless, Vsiz told Roger to take care of us and off we were, walking down the path of sushi that Roger prepared for us.
We started off with the Best Hand Roll which is essentially a soft shell crab and spicy tuna roll wrapped in a special rice paper. This was probably one of the best hand rolls I have ever had. The soft shell crab was hot and crunchy but didn’t have the grainy consistency that other soft shells crab have. I don’t know if it’s the roe or guts, but soft shell crabs usually have that funny texture when you bite into it. I don’t mind it so much, but when you taste a soft shell crab that doesn’t have it (like the one from the Best Handroll), you realize how much better it tastes.
Another starter was the Giant Scallops which was prepared nigiri style. We were supposed to eat it with the lemon pieces and dip it in the lemon-flavored soy sauce. I liked the scallop itself, but I think it was a little bit too sour for me. I didn’t like the lemon very much. It was too overwhelming.
I think Roger does a good job or not letting anything go to waste. In fact, he kept boasting how he made 5 dishes from one fish. In this particular case, he took the muscles that hold the scallop in their shell, battered them in tempura and fried them. It tasted okay. I suppose anything that is deep-fried is going to be pretty good, but I could only eat so many before the oiliness started to get to me.
These kebab-looking things were what Roger called Ocean Beef, but they are really cheeks of the tuna fish which he’s slightly cooked and covered in a light Teriyaki sauce and sesame seeds. These tasted heavenly! They were soft and tender, and it literally melted in your mouth. You really think it tastes like meat, like really, really tender meat, but it actually isn’t. It was amazing.
I believe this was the Hirame Usuzukuri which were thin slices of halibut sprinkled with truffle oil and maybe light vinegar or something. There was a slightly tangier taste, but the truffle oil was spectacular. As my friend once said, it’s like you’re cheating when you use truffle oil, because EVERYTHING tastes good in truffle oil. Haha! With or without the truffle oil, the halibut itself was very fresh tasting.
After the collection of starter dishes, up next came a massive plate of sashimi. There were like 10-12 different types of sashimi spread out on a huge plate. Although I liked how the sweet shrimp was presented in a martini glass, the rest of the fish, which included several different types of white tuna (shiro maguro), toro (tuna belly), and salmon (sake) just to name a few. Although it looked nice from a distance, I did think that the knife skills could have been better. Some of the pieces of sashimi looked like a hatchet had been taken to it. The pieces were messily cut, but all that aside, the fish itself was pretty delicious.
The fish was really very fresh. Unfortunately, I can’t remember which one was which anymore, but I think one of my favorites was the shima aji (trevally jack). I think shima aji is a type of stripped mackerel, but that is what I saw on the menu. The toro was also fatty as usual, but very good. Ivory salmon was a new one that I hadn’t tried before which turned out to be very good as well.
The sweet shrimp (ama ebi) was okay. Although I like shrimp, I think the ama ebi is still something I’m getting used to. The raw slimy texture of the shrimp still kind of tastes odd to my taste buds, so I don’t think I full enjoy it like I should.
You would think after that huge sushi boat-like display, we would have started wrapping up the meal…. but no, Roger had more in store for us. He kept going by serving up some Toro cheek. It was delicate yet richly fatty… again simply delicious.
I was already pretty full by this point, but I couldn’t turn down Albacore Toro. Truthfully, I can’t remember it well enough to describe, but it definitely was good.
I would have been perfectly satisfied by this point to stop, but Vsiz insisted that we had to try the kobe so we did. The first kobe was served raw and tasted surprisingly light and tender. In fact, it didn’t taste like beef at all. It was interesting.
This next one was a medium rare kobe with a foie gras glaze served with the “best rice ball”. The rice ball was made from kobe beef fat and foie gras seared into the rice ball. This was sinfully delicious. I really think this was a unique take on the rice ball. The foie gras and beef fat are both so fatty and high in cholesterol that it made the rice taste so good, yet I felt so guilty at the same time.
Ama ebi head soup was very flavorful. It was not a very pretty site, mainly because it looked like they just took the shrimp heads and boiled it in water. So the guts were floating around making it look like a soup of leftover crap. However, the broth turned out to be sooooooo rich and flavorful. I was surprisingly pleased with it.
The tempura strawberries with green tea ice cream was yummy despite the fact that it was sprinkled with coconuts mixed in the with the nuts and served in a light coconut sauce. The battered strawberries just went really well with the green tea ice cream. Yummy!
Strawberry sake sorbet was okay. It was slightly sweet and fruity, but I definitely preferred the tempura strawberries.
Overall, I really Zushi Puzzle for the different and unique things Roger does with sushi. I don’t think he is a Japanese native. I’m guessing he is Chinese as is most of his staff, but none of that matters as long as you serve good food. The sushi style is not as traditional as Kitsho, which serves up fresh quality fish as is. No frills and nothing fancy. Roger definitely stretches his creative juices and conjures up some interesting and unique twists on some traditional dishes, but he also provides big, fresh pieces of yummy sashimi. I would definitely put this as one of the top sushi places in San Francisco.
1910 Lombard St
San Francisco, CA 94123
PAFO Ratings for Zushi Puzzle:
Price 3 ½ stars
Ambiance 3 stars
Food 4 stars
Overall rating 4 stars