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A Big Kiss: Rediscovering One of the City's Top Sushi Spots

Takao Nakagawa works the sushi bar

It's tough for me to go to places that aren't new or trendy—especially places that I've already been to. My job is to try out the restaurants that are hot off the press and report back. It honestly doesn't leave time for much else.

So, for better or for worse, I don't get back to old standbys very often, or places I've been. But last week, I chose to do just that. I had dinner plans with my friends Sona and Cecilia. Cecilia Chiang might in her 90s with a hard-earned Wikipedia entry, but she can hang at pretty much any restaurant—whether it be loud and boistrous or calm and serene. Personally, my 40-year-old self needed an infusion of the latter, so I chose Kiss Seafood as our dinner destination.

Neither Cecilia nor I had been to Kiss Seafood in years. The tiny mom-and-pop Japanese restaurant is located on a corner of Japantown that you could drive by every day and never notice. Inside, there are about four tables and a counter with room for five. It might be the tiniest restaurant in SF. There's jazz on, you can hear yourself think. If I were to rate this restaurant on hottness, I would give it a very proud zero.

You're here to eat well and beautifully. The wife, Yoko Nakagawa, serves while her husband, Takao Nakagawa, crafts gorgeous sushi and other dishes, head down. Takao, who used to cook in Japan before moving here to open Kiss twelve years back, is not a real joker or show-off. He's not the chef at Oyaji, swilling sake like water.

English isn't spoken much, although it is if you just ask. Luckily, the food speaks for itself. I'd had a disappointing dinner the other night at one of SF's temples of sushi, so I sat down without a lot of high expectations. We ordered the $50 omakase dinner (the smaller of two options). A little bowl of teensy sardines the size of a toothpick tossed with mirin-sweet threads of daikon skin came out and was promptly inhaled. Next was a simple dish of tofu tossed with crunchy, bitter bits of a Japanese green called komatsuna. We had gorgeous sashimi, that was as fresh as it gets. Dipping a pleasantly chewy, rippled slice of clam into freshly-grated wasabi and a drop of soy sauce, I started to understand that this dinner was going to be special.

Out came a piping hot ceramic crock of jiggly chawan mushi. This version of the classic delicate egg custard was served full of mushrooms with a tiny wooden spoon. Then came a pristine row of different nigiri, the fish laid on top pieces of rice no bigger than my thumb. It wasn't showy but it was perfect.

Our simple meal ended with miso soup and some fruit. After all this, plus a few glasses of cold sake, and I felt restored, even invigorated. Considering all the new Japanese restaurants in town that are getting all the love from trendy food writers like myself, I wanted to run out and tell everyone to book a table now at Kiss. What's old is new again. Make reservations now.

Kiss Seafood, 1700 Laguna St. (at Sutter), 415-474-2866