If you've ever had a friend open a restaurant, you'll know that it can be a difficult situation. The biggest problem of course, is what if it's bad? I mean, what do you say?
So friends of ours opened a restaurant in San Francisco. And we went, and it was Awesome. Now, you can call me biased if you like. But let me tell you, I'm not. Ha. If I didn't like the place I just wouldn't say anything at all. And instead I'm saying lots.
So here it is, Izakaya Sozai in the Sunset district of San Francisco owned and operated by husband and wife team
They're great people and really love their food. Which often seem to go hand in hand to us. But that's just our opinion.
It's really fun restaurant with a great atmosphere. And if you have a chance, go sit at the bar in front of the kitchen and chat with Ritsu and Suemee, you'll enjoy it even more.
Now if you don't know what Izakaya is then I'll give you the brief and uneducated opinion. Izakayas generally center around smaller dishes that are to be shared. Some would call it bar food as Izakayas are known for drinking as much as eating, but I feel like that's cheapening the experience. Think Tapas.
So they were kind enough to just start sending out whatever they thought we'd like. And we started here.
Mushroom Fritters. They were delightful. I've said it before and I'll say it again. The Japanese know something about frying that no one else does. Well, good Japanese restaurants at least. They always manage to get it crispier and less oily than everyone else. And who doesn't love good fried food?
This was the marinated mackerel. Also off the specials menu. Mackerel is one of those fish that you either love or don't. We love it. And this was brilliant. Layers of flavors, different textures, I can't hope to explain it adequately so just go and hope they have it that day.
Scallop Kiwi Sandwich, with Yuzu Salt and Jalapeno infused Oil. You always see Albacore with Jalapenos and the same old same old modern sashimi, so this is a very nice departure from the norm. Doesn't hurt that it's good too.
Now here's the business. I love Yakitori. I love it. It's everything that's great about grilled food. And for Yakitori I go to Nanbankan. I've been to other places and I've tried yakitori in Japan and still I keep going back to Nanbankan. I've been going there for 20 odd years (and if you've been opertating a restaurant for 20 years in LA that says something very good). And what I have to say is this.
Damn, I feel bad enjoying the yakitori at Sozai so much. I mean it's really good. Really good.
From the left lets start with the Duck Breast with Bluberry Glaze. Very Un-Nanbankan and very tasty. Fantastically tender. Duck breast can really suffer when done badly. It can dry out and become a mealy brick. Sometimes it can have too much flavor and just taste a little off. Done right? You get the crispy salty skin and the tender juicy meat and it's a delight. Topped with the fruity glaze? A french restaurant would kill to be able to do this.
Third from the left is the Chicken Skin. Yeah, chicken skin. You know you love crispy chicken skin, and this is just perfect. Crunchy, tender, salty and just chickeny. Order it and love it.
Behind the lemon is the Bacon Wrapped Mochi. You like mochi? You like Bacon? You'll love them together. Wife would've stolen mine if I hadn't grabbed when I saw her eyeing it.
And on the far right is pork cheek. If you haven't had pork cheek it's really worth trying. Often when you find pork cheek it's braised or stewed. And the conclusion you'd draw from that is that it must be tough. That would have been my guess. WRONG. It has a great texture when grilled. Maybe a little firmer than a pork chop but still juicy and so much great porky flavor.
Now you'll notice that I skipped the two skewers second from the left. I had to save them for last, as they blew our minds. Beef Tongue. And without a doubt the tastiest beef tongue I have ever had. Honest. I've had beef tongue at yakitori before, and I've had it at Korean BBQ before. Lengua tacos? Check. Tongue Tonnato? Check. Roast, Grilled, Broiled, Boiled, Braised? Tried it. I like tongue so much I made it at home .
And this was the best. By Far. Simple grilled tongue, and not skinny little slices like you're used to. Look it was more tender, juicy and tasty than any tongue I've ever had. I can't possibly begin to describe it. But I'll tell you that it's making my mouth water. Is there a secret to it? Maybe. Did I ask? Maybe. Will I ever tell? HA! Go eat it and ask for yourself.
Oh and the wonders never cease. Buta Kakuni. It's a simple dish you find everywhere. And often it's just an overlooked piece of braised pork belly. Kinda mushy, kinda salty. HA! Not at Sozai! Look Ritsu called it one of his specialites okay? So it has to be good. And really, it is. It's just so well done. Everything is soft without being mushy. The meat is tender, and the fat is so tasty. It has a little firmness to it then just melts. you have to have it.
And what do we have here? Guesses? Wrong!!! It's fried Yama Imo. The only times I've had Yama Imo (mountain potato) it's been mashed and releases all this slime. I don't like it. But fried like this? Very Very nice.
If you haven't noticed already, I really like the food at Sozai. Without a doubt it's one of the best Izakayas I've ever been to. If you like Japanese food, traditional and non-traditional, and you don't try Sozai, well...I'm not sure I can be your friend.