I’ve been a little hesitant to try Chotto which is strange considering I’m a big fan of Japanese food, but I wasn’t quite sure if this place was truly Japanese. A variety of different food-centric newsletters had been praising this restaurant and billing it as a modern izakaya, but I noticed the chef’s name, Armando Justo, sounded notably non-Asian and made me think twice. Interestingly enough, his resume includes quite a few established Japanese-esque establishments like Yoshi’s and Ozumo, and even though I’m a bit dubious of the cuisine there, I decided to put some faith in the the 4 stars on Yelp and ignore any preconceived notions about the place. I figured when sharing small plates, the more friends, the more food, so Pcess, MissMM and her boytoy, and ICTran joined Pdho and I for an izakaya-fest.
Tori Pâté was a miso-marinated chicken liver pâté served with some buttered toast. I normally love pâté, and this was no exception, but I guess it wasn’t all that amazingly different from any other pâté. The pickled radishes, however, had a slightly tangy sweet flavor which somehow enhanced the overall flavor of the pâté giving the dish a more unique twist in flavor. The buttered toast were okay, but it would have been better if it was a little crispier.
I heard quite a few raves about the Kani Korokke, so I was looking forward to giving these crispy bites a try. These croquettes were chock-full of snow crab and a miso sauce. Although it might have been a tad bit on the oily side, I really liked the contrast of the crunchy outside with the creaminess of the filling. One of my favorite dishes of the meal.
Koika were baby Monterey calamari rings drizzled with a chili aioli. The calamari was tender, and the batter was relatively light, but generally, it lacked the crispiness in the outer batter that I generally prefer.
The Wakamesu was their version of a seaweed salad so in addition to nori seaweed, there was cucumber and yuzu peel all mixed with a creamy dressing of some sort. It didn’t have the same distinct seaweed taste, but it was different and okay in taste.
I rarely expect sushi to be good at izakaya places, because I figure that in the tradition of most Japanese eateries, they tend to focus on one thing and make it great. We ended up ordering some hamachi sushi which was okay, but not great. Fish was decent, but a little bit too much rice.
Again, going against my belief that there might be good ramen at an izakaya place, we ordered the Karamiso Tonkatsu Ramen. It was a spicy miso, pork flavored broth with chashu and bamboo, and nori on top. The broth was surprisingly good, although not as spicy as I would have expected. It had the flavorful essence of pork but the richer consistency that one normally finds with miso-based broths. Normally, the pork chashu pieces are thinly sliced and layered on top of the noodles. Instead, the cut of pork used in this ramen looked like it was a pork tenderloin that was rolled and then sliced, a little bit on the thicker side. It seemed like the fatty part was on the outside and the inside. Needless to say, it was delicious. Given the cold nippy weather in the Marina, this noodle soup really hit the spot.
The Kara-age was pretty much like most other ones, although the pieces of chicken thigh were bigger than normal, relatively moist and tender, and not as heavily battered. Although it was supposedly marinaded in a ginger soy sauce, I tasted a little more soy than ginger. I think it might have been a tad on the salty side.
The Maguro Yukke was essentially a tuna tartar. It was marinaded in a chili oil and served with a quail egg on top which I proceeded to mix in with the rest of the tuna. It was solid, but it could stand to use a little more flavor.
The Ika Sugata was probably my least favorite dish of the night in spite of the fact that the waitress mentioned it was one of the dishes that everyone goes home happy after ordering. I’m pretty hard when it comes to grilled squid, because the easiest thing that can happen, but the worst thing to let happen is to overcook the squid where it becomes too chewy. Unfortunately, that’s what happened here. It wasn’t terribly overcooked, but when you add the strange, grainy taste of the squid to the fact that it was slightly on the chewy side, I just couldn’t enjoy it. So sad.
The Bacon Mochi was definitely the most interesting dish of the night. Basically, pieces of mochi were wrapped in Applewood-smoked bacon and strips of nori and subsequently grilled until it was nice and crispy. The mochi was very soft in consistency such that when it was eaten with the bacon, one would think they were chewing on a chunk of fat. I really enjoyed the slight crunchiness from the grilling though. A very unique dish that I would definitely recommend trying.
The Agedashi Tofu was very regular tasting. As usual, it was deep-fried tofu served in a tentsuyu broth. Nothing really special, but I don’t think Agedashi Tofu is very special in general.
The skewer on special for the night was the beef tenderloin. I thought it was a very tender piece of meat. Not only was it well-seasoned, but there was a nice smokiness as well.
The Avocheezu was Chotto’s version of the Italian caprese where instead of tomatoes, it was slices of avocado served with fresh slices of mozzarella cheese, and instead of a balsamic-based vinaigrette, there were sesame seeds and a soy wasabi sauce drizzled on top. I kind of liked this dish for the creative twist on a traditional favorite, but I’m not sure if anyone else appreciated it as much.
I had high hopes for the saba (aka spanish mackerel), but I’m starting to think that maybe I only like saba when it’s raw. The taste was actually pretty good. It was marinaded in a sweet sesame miso, but I think that when saba is cooked, it becomes a little dry.
The Gyu-chan were grilled pieces of beef ribeye that was marinaded in a ponzu daikon oroshi shitake sauce. After the beef skewers, I couldn’t imagine meat tasting more tender, but the Gyu-chan was so much more so. One of the best dishes of the evening.
As I’ve mentioned several times in other entries on this blog, I’ve developed a strong liking for beef tongue. In this version, domestic Kobe beef tongue is seasoned with sea salt and shichimi chili and then grilled. It was delicious… probably not the softest beef tongue I’ve tasted, but it was still very good.
All in all, I was very pleased with almost all of the food this evening. There were a few outstanding ones, several creative ones and everything else was pretty solid. The prices were relatively reasonable given that it is a hip izakaya spot in the Marina, but I think it becomes a better deal with more people to share. The restaurant isn’t very big, and the tables kind of border on being cramped, but it doesn’t matter too much when the food tastes good.
3317 Steiner St
San Francisco, CA 94123
PAFO Ratings for Chotto:
Price 2½ stars
Ambiance 3 stars
Food 4 stars
Overall rating 3½ stars