If you want to get noticed as a chef in the Bay Area, a fancy tasting menu can be one way to go. But as any local foodie knows, it can take a lot to stand out among the stars—like a whole beast lot.
At Ittoryu Gozu, the new SoMa restaurant from chef Marc Zimmerman (Alexander's Steakhouse, Nobu) and his partner, Ben Jorgensen, the tasting focuses on wagyu beef (points for that) but especially on using all the rich, marbly, meaty parts (ding ding ding).
But let's be clear: A multi-course steak experience with back-to-back plates of capital-M-meat this is not. Zimmerman's nose-to-tail approach is more refined than that, weaving light touches of wagyu into each course of 10 traditional Japanese dishes: wagyu skewers; albacore tataki with wagyu garum; wagyu tartare; koshihikari rice served with a side of wagyu tea; and chawanmushi with wagyu custard, to name a few.
At Ittoryu Gozu, every seat is the best in the house, all with a full view to the cooking at centerstage.(Photography by Sarah Chorey)
The beef is expectedly top quality, sourced from farms in Japan, Australia, and America, and the menu aims to educate diners with notes about the animal's history, breed, sex, farm, grade, and cattle ID. On our visit, we dined on A5 snow beef from Hokkaido, Japan's Chateau Uenae. From one of the highest quality steers raised on that estate, the meat easily garners a marbling score of 10 or higher (on a scale of three to 12); in other words, it melts in your mouth.
When you settle in for a two-hour tasting experience, ambiance matters. At Ittoryu Gozu, the comfortable-cool design was devised by James Beard Award–winning ALM Project (In Situ, Benu). A glowing light and simple Gozu sign marks the otherwise dark entrance; once inside, a blackened steel wall momentarily cordons off the dining room, which is anchored by a wood U-shaped wood dining counter. You'll pull up a cushy leather bar chair to eat elbow to elbow with 24 other guests, all facing inward to the culinary action, including a large marble cooking island and open-fire robata grill, at the center.
Mouths water as fresh cuts of beef are grilled out in the open and rice is crisped in cast-iron pans, fresh hunks of bread visibly charred. This intimate, up-close experience is called Kappo dining in Japan; literally translated as "to cut and to cook," the Kappo experience allows for an almost familial kitchen experience, with diners practically sit in the kitchen to observe the various cooking techniques and tightly orchestrated performance of grilling, steaming, frying, simmering, and raw preparations.
As with any lavish tasting menu registering $150 a person, the experience could veer toward pretentious AF, but it doesn't. The culinary team is calm and effortless, the dishes precise, and the beverage director friendly and knowledgeable. The soundtrack: Bill Withers, Mumford & Sons, and friendly chatter between guests.
(Photography by Sarah Chorey)
There's no missing the wagyu, though, in this tartare, which is perched over egg and topped with pickled Fresno cucumbers and candied shrimp.
// Ittoryu Gozu, 201 Spear St. (SoMa), gozusf.com