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.
In January, the Mission's Nombe izakaya brought on chef Vincent Schofield to replace Nicholas Balla, who had shuffled over to a little spot nearby called Bar Tartine (more on that here). So the world turns in the realm of chefs and restaurants. Although Balla is a bit of a golden boy in these parts—earning rave reviews from almost everyone who tastes his food—Schofield is no slacker. Besides forging ahead on a new direction at Nombe, he just opened Parkmerced taqueria Taco Libre and regularly checks in on the kitchen at SoMa's miniscule Darwin (212 Ritch Street). In early January, Schofield embarked on a prodigious journey to Tokyo with Nombe owner Mari Takahashi for a crash course in all things Japanese. So the big menu changes he implemented over the last month at Nombe come truly inspired. Schofield took some time out to give us the skinny.