Rounding out last week's izakaya probe, we bring you a run-down of the unfamiliar terms most likely to pop up on an izakaya menu. Our local Japanese chef know-it-alls Hiro Sone of Ame and Mari Takahashi of Nombe chimed in to walk us through words like agemono and onigiri. We've compiled their definitions below along with a few revelations on the secrets of perfect sushi rice. What makes the best grains? And why does sushi rice tastes so much better than the regular stuff from the supermarket? This and your izakaya 101 after the hop.
A few years ago, nobody around here knew what an izakaya was. The Japanese word literally means "sitting in a sake shop," but it's evolved to encompasses all manner of casual Japanese eating and drinking establishment. Now San Francisco has been hit with a slew of izakayas in the past year or two. We've got Nombe, Nojo, Hecho and Chotto. All of them have simply grilled, seasoned meats that are served on skewers; some have traditional sushi as well. There's also a sustainably minded izakaya called Ki on the way in the Mission. And Sebo, a sushi spot that's long been devoted to the highest quality raw fish, has recently expanded its menu to include cooked items, making it more of an izakaya-type hangout.
So by now, even those who don't have a clue what "izakaya" means, have probably eaten at one. We sat down with two of our city's successful Japanese chefs, Hiro Sone of Ame and Mari Takahashi of Nombe, for a long-overdue schooling in all things izakaya. Here you'll get the male and female perspective on what it all means.
I first heard about cod sperm, and how it's an edible delicacy for the "jet set," back in December. Socialite wrangler Gilt City threw an upper crust mingle fest at Benu. Chef Corey Lee decided to serve a liquified version of cod sperm in shot glasses as a passed appetizer. The well-to-dos knocked it back and liked it with reckless abandon (even though most of them didn't know what they were sipping). And the Chronicle's Beth Spotswood wrote about the affair and her server's insistence that "it's like a thing. It's the male version of caviar."
It would be a lot more thrilling if fugu (blowfish) fin sake (called hirezake) could maybe, almost, kill you, if it weren't for the masterful, surgical skills of the sushi chef that extracted the fin from the infamously poisonous fish. As I sat at the bar at Ame, and took a sip of this piping hot sake yesterday—a dried and toasted blowfish fin steeping in the bottom of my ceramic cup—I asked Susan Johnston, the g.m., if I could expect imminent death. But apparently, unlike the liver of the blowfish (which is where the danger lies), the fin is utterly safe. My legs didn't go numb. Not even a little buzz. Just the savory flavor (finally!