Sushi Nagai's bright, spare interior. (Photography by Sarah Chorey)

First Taste: At Sushi Nagai, true minimalism allows the fish to star

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Whether you've actually traveled to Japan or are just obsessed with sushi, you're likely familiar with omakase, those multi-course meals prepared at the discretion of the chef, made with the freshest fish, and oftentimes reaching 14 or 15 courses, with round after round of fresh nigiri artfully prepared so that each bite requires no adjustment. Read between the lines: no extra wasabi, soy sauce, or Japanese mayo allowed; the sushi chef has the flavors queued up just so.

There are a handful of omakase restaurants like this sprinkled throughout San Francisco; Sushi Nagai is the latest to join the coterie.


Blocks from Union Square and this city's most upscale shopping, Sushi Nagai's design mimics that of a luxury goods store: A crisp yellow awning shades the clean glass storefront that offers barely a glimpse of what's happening within; inside, a curvaceous, elevated platform, painted bright white, seats 20 or so with views to the sushi masters doing their expert slicing in the center.

While the wine glasses are being filled, you'll note the respectful, quiet silence of the dining room where's there's no background music at all—just the hush conceived to inspire awe for the magic of sushi being crafted with care. Settle in, you're going to be here a while.

Head chef Tomonori Nagai (Morimoto, Shinji by Kanasaka) will be your guide for the night, leading you through a collection of morsels that comes with a luxury price tag—expect to throw down northwards of $200 per person. But the ingredients, of course, are top notch, flown in from Tokyo's famed Toyosu fish market, and the omakase is meticulously prepared in the Edomae style, meaning the fish is preserved with soy sauce, broth, or salt and vinegar for a few days before it is served, just as it was centuries ago in the days before refrigeration.

Tap through our slideshow below for a taste of Sushi Nagai's current 18-course meal. Prepare for decadence.

(Sarah Chorey)

The tidy awning and glass entrance to Sushi Nagai mimic the high-end retailers in nearby Union Square.

// Sushi Nagai, 125 Ellis St. (Tenderloin), sushinagaisf.com

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