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Kaiseki at Sanraku

I’ve been going to Sanraku for a while now. It’s a solid choice when you’re craving sushi and the Sutter Street location happens to be near our office (they also have one in the Metreon, which makes a great pre-flick dinner). The food there is solid, always really nice. Above average certainly, but nothing’s ever taken my breath away.

I had no idea that there was so much talent hidden behind the sushi bar until last Saturday when I was served some dishes that you’d normally find on their word-of-mouth kaiseki menu. The talent is in the hands of sushi chef Koji Murakami, a 10-year vet of Sanraku who worked in D.C as the private chef for the Japanese ambassador, and before that for five years in one of Tokyo’s most famous kaiseki restaurants.


Preparing the kaiseki meal at Sanraku.

While being poured large amounts of sake (hmmm: a theme? see previous ramen entry), we started with an ethereal when-the-sea-meets-the-earth two-way, comprised of a cube of jiggly, housemade sesame tofu topped with similarly sweet and unctuous uni (unctuous is a word that should be used sparingly, but good uni is unctuous). Next to it was a rustic ceramic cup filled with slices of fresh okra, perfect dice of crispy-slick mountain yam and tonburi (an edible seed that looks for the world like a spoonful of sevruga caviar), all flavored with a bit of dashi-based soba sauce and pickled-plum paste. The chef instructed us to mix it all together and eat. In classic Japanese form, it was delicate in flavor, but a texture wonderland (a wonderland, that is, if you like a certain texture). Some might describe it as creamy, but they’d be skirting the truth—mucilaginous is the word. And if you like that texture, as many Japanese do (and I happen to), it was truly sophisticated, unique and memorable.

From there we went on to have kampachi and scallop nigiri and snowy-white hamo eel, some of it served on banana leaves that had been cut into elaborate shapes. More sake was poured, more beautiful fish was brought out. Chef Murakami serves the kaiseki dinners at the sushi bar on Fridays and Saturdays: six to seven courses cost $70 per person. Call two days in advance to reserve.