Get a fresh POV on Japanese food and drink at Russian Hill's Nisei and sister bar Iris
At Nisei, seasonal Japanese cuisine is beautifully presented. This croquette of Santa Barbara uni with smoked pepper relish is served in a traditional masu cup. (Courtesy of Nisei)

Get a fresh POV on Japanese food and drink at Russian Hill's Nisei and sister bar Iris


Love yourself some ramen, tempura, and spicy tuna rolls? Us too, but you won't find them on the menu at Nisei, the debut restaurant for chef David Yoshimura, who is honoring his Japanese-American heritage with a 12-course menu inspired by Japanese home cooking.

The Houston-born chef, who hails from the fine dining kitchens of New York's WD~50 and San Francisco's Californios, dove deep into Washoku cuisine during his stage at Tokyo's three-Michlin-starred restaurant Kagurazaka Ishikawa. At Nisei, he presents a Japanese culinary experience that's new to San Franciscans, one that focuses on the balance of flavors and seasonal ingredients.

As you part the noren (a Japanese curtain) hanging in the black doorway, you enter a large, mostly black minimalist space kept awake by white banquettes, gold and red accents, and colorful paintings by local artist Maya Fuji. This theme of spare yet bold sets the tone for the chef's Californian-Washoku tasting menu ($184), in which the carefully crafted courses are all petite and uncomplicated but bursting with flavor.

A scallop with pine nut miso, turnip, and upland cress.(Courtesy of Nisei)

Each course balances tradition with a modern twist and killer presentation. A croquette with Santa Barbara uni, for example, is served in a traditional masu cup, with smoked pepper relish. A mini dorayaki (similar to a pancake) is filled with banana cream and topped with caviar. The Japanese black curry comes with sweetbread and chanterelle mushrooms, while black truffle is shaved over pumpkin chawanmushi. On our visit, a trio of desserts included Okinawa sweet potato with black sesame sable and strawberry, and a mochi donut with chestnut milk and cremeux.

Since the place is literally run by sommeliers—Yoshimura, GMs Ian Cobb (Californios, Atelier Crenn) and Mayanka Somiah (Quince, Californios), and bar manager Ilya Romanov (Niku Steakhouse, Bergerac) are all certified somms—you can expect an equally expert wine program. The pairing (for an additional $105) proves that Japanese food can match seamlessly with a barolo, a grüner veltliner, or even a pinot noir.

At Iris, the Faithful Fool combines calvados, yuzu sake, and green apple.(@equal_parts_cocktail)

If you're more into cocktails, Nisei comes with a surprise: the perfectly laid-back, adjacent bar, Iris. Dressed in midcentury modern furnishings, the lounge has a sleek—dare we say sexy—vibe, and it's here that Romanov's mixology skills shine in playful and inventive Japanese-inspired drinks.

You'll probably want to imbibe your way through the menu of six signature concoctions, including the refreshing Faithful Fool (calvados, yuzu sake, and green apple), the creamy and tropical Okinawa (rum, Okinawa yam, oat milk, and plum) and, our personal favorite, the Linda Linda (clarified milk punch with floral undertones). The hand-cut ice cubes are crystal clear and the straws are metal, adding to the cool factor. Iris also serves a small selection if izakaya-style bites including karaage chicken, black curry smoked eel, and Hog Island Oysters. There is also a selection of Japanese whiskies and stylish parklet.

Who's up for dinner and drinks?

// Nisei, 2316 Polk St. (Russian Hill),

The parklet at Iris.(@equal_parts_cocktail)

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