I heard about Jū-Ni from my hair stylist who’s sister supposedly taught the executive chef, Geoffrey Lee, everything he knows about sushi. There were some good reviews that supported her recommendation so I immediately made a reservation. It was so far in advance that I can’t even remember how I managed to nab one, but this was several months before Jū-Ni had garnered a Michelin star. I think the reservations are even harder to come by now and I believe the cost of the menu even went up from $90 to somewhere close to $120. Hubster and I have dined at some notable Michelin-starred sushi restaurants including Sushi Yoshizumi in San Mateo and Kusakabe in the Financial District. I think comparisons are commonly made between these highly regarded sushi restaurants including Omakase which I have yet to visit.
Considering there are 17 courses with 14 of them being sushi nigiri, I might as well get to the punch line knowing that some of my readers may not make it through the entire entry. I definitely enjoyed my recent experience at Sushi Yoshizumi, and although it’s been awhile since I’ve been to Kusakabe, I do recall it being very delicious as well. Jū-Ni is probably the best sushi place I’ve been to in the Bay Area in particular for the balance it strikes between traditional execution with the freshest fish and use of techniques that give the flavors an edgy, SF-esque sensibility.
We arrived right at 6pm for the first of only 2 seatings each night. The restaurant exuded Japanese aesthetics with minimal decor and clean lines throughout the small space. There are only 12 seats at the bar with 3 sushi chefs taking care of a quartet of diners. As we sat and waited for our meal to begin, we watched Chef Steve carefully cut each piece of fish and lay it out on the plate. It looked like he was pre-cutting everything for the entire meal which was notably odd to us. The intention and precision behind each slice complemented his laser focus and was quite impressive to observe.
We started with small appetizer of beets, radishes and cauliflower that were served with a romesco sauce and almonds. It was a clean and simple dish. The cauliflower tasted a little sour which I didn’t care for, but aside from that off note, it was overall rather muted and unremarkable.
These Shigoku oysters were served with some soy sauce, vinegar, and yuzu tobacco then topped with sturgeon caviar and a some chopped shiso. Not only were they clean and refreshing, but they had to be the meatiest oysters I’ve ever had. Someone literally must hand pick every oyster to ensure that each one would be as plump and juicy as they were.
The Kampachi is aged in house for 1 day and then served with a bit of lime zest, lemon drops and soy sauce.
The scallops, sprinkled with sea salt, lemon and brushed with soy sauce, were deliciously sweet and fresh. Definitely one of the best I’ve ever had.
The red snapper was torched and finished with some miso mustard and finger lime (which is cornichon-like looking fruit from Australia).
I generally like albacore tuna, but it can easily be disappointing because I don’t think it stays fresh for long. It’s no surprise then that they cured it with soy sauce and sake probably to avoid the fishy taste that oftens results with albacore.
This was also torched and then finished with lime zest, soy sauce and kept salt.
This little intermezzo was a slice of japanese cucumber in a shoyu-based sauce with sesame seeds and bonito. It was crisp and refreshing, serving as a nice palate cleaser at the midpoint of the meal.
The aji was topped with ginger blossom, grated ginger and green onions which I think is what helped to minimize that strong fishiness that comes with aji. I really liked how this tasted considering it is rarely ever a fish I enjoy.
This was, by far, the most impressive fish of evening, and considering this was just Blue fin ahi tuna, that is saying A LOT. Maguro is hands down the most boring tasting sushi and I really only enjoy it as a spicy tuna hand roll, but I’ve always thought maguro from Japan was special. It looks the same, but it tastes completely different. For the first time, I’ve found maguro here in the US that comes the closest to what I’ve had in Japan and it is DELICIOUS!
This was torched and finished with sea salt and truffle zest. It was quite a delicate tasting fish and I really enjoyed it.
Chef Steve spent quite a bit of time working on each piece making sure it was completely topped with some shredded yellow stuff. He chuckled when I asked him if was grating cheese on to the sushi. It turned out to be super frozen monkfish liver, also known as ankimo.
The salmon roe was cured with soy sauce, sake and a bit of honey then covered in oodles of grated monkfish liver. The burst of briny liquid from the eggs with the creamy ankimo imparted a melt in your mouth effect in one bite. It was amazing!
The baby Japanese barracuda was torched and topped with a bit of ginger, sea salt and lemon. I don’t think I’ve ever had it before, but considering it’s shark, it tasted surprisingly delicate.
Salmon is so common that even the freshest kind tastes pretty familiar. What really made this memorable tasting was the use of salted cherry leaf giving it an ever so subtle fruity after taste.
Bonita was smoked and cured and topped with grated ponzu. The smokiness was distinct and imparted a real meatiness, like a piece of ham but not.
This was the last of the chef’s menu of nigiri. I think I could have gone home satisfied at this point, but the meal had been so good, I was curious to see what else they offered so we ordered a few complements.
As I’ve always said, it is hard to go wrong with fatty tuna. You’ll obviously notice they do a lot of curing in particular to the tuna. The caviar balanced the richess with some saltiness. It was tender and rich but the smokiness was a nice touch.
The ebodai was different but very good.
Chef Steve told us that they buy the eel whole and fillet and prepare it in house. This unagi was crispy and tender, and the gold flakes didn’t add too much in flavor but definitely made for beautiful presentation.
This was amazing and was a more perfect way to finish off than your typical miso soup. It was clear and simple in appearance with only a few enoki mushrooms and a shiso, but there was so much depth and flavor in the broth. It was a fantastic way to top off the wondeful parade of sushi thta had just preceded it.
The absolute last course was dessert which was their take on green tea ice cream. They used Gen Mai tea which is a Japanese barley tea that I don’t particularly like. However, it wasn’t that sweet and actually went quite well with the cookie crumbles. Overall, it was a refreshing way to end the meal.
All in all, as I said at the beginning, this was definitely one of the best sushi meals. With the exception of the appetizer, every course following it, particularly the sushi, made me go “yummmm.” One interesting thing that Chef Steve mentioned is that they are able to open 7 days a week (which is quite rare for any quality sushi restaurant due to the timing of their fish shipments) because of the different techniques they use like smoking, curing and torching. I’m not sure if the sushi purist would be offended by this, but ultimately, I think the most important thing is how the fish tastes, and I can confidently say this is some of the best, if not the best, I’ve ever had.
1335 Fulton St., Suite 101
San Francisco, CA 94117
PAFO Ratings for Jū-Ni:
Ambiance 3 stars
Food 5 stars
Overall rating 4½ stars