{Restaurant Review} Kusakabe, San Francisco

So last week I teased you with a few shots of the gorgeous deliciousness of Kusakabe. Did you drool? I drool just thinking about it.

The first time I ate at Morimoto Napa, my friend and I promised to bring our sushi lover husbands back because we knew they’d love it. Well, that still hasn’t happened, BUT as soon as I heard Kusakabe had earned it’s first Michelin star, I knew we needed a double date there. And let me tell you, it did not disappoint.

Look! It’s us! Also, our awesome Chef Ngai.


Welcoming Tea
konbu cha – kelp tea

 The restaurant is fairly small, so reservations are definitely recommended. About half the seating is along a sushi bar (they refer to it as the chef’s table). If you can get seated there, do it. Not only do you get to watch all the sushi making and torching action, but you’ll also get to interact with the chefs. We lucked out and were sat in front of the super friendly Chef Ngai. The guy was a total ham, as you’ll see.

Sushi Prelude
zuke chutoro – lightly seared bluefin medium fatty tuna cured in soy sauce
seasonal sushi – halibut muscle with yuzu and its own liver, seared bonito with radish and chives

chef’s sashimi nestled in shaved ice with fresh wasabi and yuzu onion sauce
kampachi and scallop sashimi

Kusakabe offers an Omakase menu of eight courses. Near the end of the meal they give you the a la carte menu, so you can supplement more pieces (yes, each is offered per piece of nigiri) if you’d like more. Their menus are dated and change based on what fresh fish they’re able to get.

“kamo dango” duck and “asari” clam miso soup with mitsuba leaf

Chef Ngai told us that they try to have an assortment of Japanese/Korean fish (which they have shipped in) as well as local fish so that patrons from around the world can try something they don’t normally have access to. It definitely was the best assortment of fish I’ve ever had. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen Japanese Barracuda on the boards of any of my usual haunts.

shigoku oyster with french daurenki caviar and four kinds of chef’s assorted le petit plates
bone marrow gelee with soy sauce, black snapper ball sushi with key lime, toro tuna flakes with sesame rice

We eat sushi several times a month, but I must admit that I’m normally a sauce covered maki roll orderer, so a meal that consisted mostly of nigiri was a pretty big switch up for me. I was a bit surprised and thoroughly impressed that I was not bored. Each course brought different textures and flavors using little more than the fresh fish and perfectly seasoned sushi rice. I truly had no grasp of the range of textures and flavors possible until this night, and I know that there’s way more out there that I haven’t tried!

Warm Dish
tofu-chawan-mushi with fresh steamed dungeness crab and nameko mushroom

Sushi Chic
three kinds of seasonal sushi of the day
kamasu – salt and vinegar cured barracuda
shimaaji – stripe jack
king salmon – copper river king salmon with sakura cherry leaf

The second course alone took us from melty fatty tuna to firm and chewy halibut muscle to smokey bonito each one unlike any sushi I’ve tasted/felt before. The last one was especially fun for me since I never bothered to consider what bonito looked like in fish form. I’ve always just had it in flake form on top of agedashi tofu. It’s like when I first visited a pineapple plantation and realized that pineapples grow on bushes not trees. Mind blown. ;P


Sushi Finale
toro – bluefin fatty tuna, grade a5 miyazaki wagyu beef

kan buri – lightly cherry wood smoked wild winter yellowtail
ji kinmedai – lightly cherry wood smoked golden eye snapper

In between sushi courses they brought out a couple warm dishes as well as a few petit plates. I have to say that while I did enjoy the the warm dishes (the mushi was particularly delightful), the sushi won the night.

The torch also won the night. 😉

My favorite dishes of the night were

deep ocean uni : super soft and sweet. Anyone who says uni is an acquired taste has not had uni this good.

wagyu beef nigiri : raw beef as sushi? Yes. It worked, and it was awesome. (technically, it was lightly torched)

– zuke chutoro : meltingly delicious and slightly salty and savory from the soy sauce cure. I could have had just this all night and walked away happy.

kan buri : the slightly firm texture and smoke flavor won me over. The fish we had is only available in the winter (according to Ngai), so if you make it out here in the winter and it’s on the menu, GET IT.


hokkaido short spine sea urchin
deep ocean packed hokkaido sea urchin
shirayaki – fresh BBQ white eel with sansho pepper

yuzu sorbet with matcha cracker

This was my first Michelin level sushi experience, and it defintely exceeded my expectations. I have a deep appreciation and respect for the fine palates of master sushi chefs. The flavor and texture differences between the different types of fish were so subtle in some cases, and in the menu we received, they even highlighted difference between sections (ie. muscle vs belly) on the same fish.  Respect. For real. Also, the knife skills!

The service we received was really great, too. Chef Ngai chatted with us the entire time, and he and the other servers were not only able to answer my questions on specific ingredients, but they did so with a smile. Chef Nori was on site as well (you can see him in a couple of the shots above), and I do regret not asking for a pic with him. I’m always shy about things like that.

At the time we went, the Omakase menu at Kusakabe was $95 per person. The A la Carte sushi/sashimi menu ranged from $6.50 – $14.50 per piece. You can order maki and hand rolls, too, for an additional charge.

Now that I’ve had a taste of this master chef sushi, I’m really itching to try Sukiyabashi Jiro (of Jiro Dreams of Sushi fame) in Japan! Who wants to come? 🙂

Have you had fine sushi before? Or are you a sauce-covered-maki lover, too? 🙂

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Looking for fine eats in San Francisco?

San Fracisco Bay Afrea Michelin List. SF Michelin Guide.   A casual foodie's take on newly minted three Michelin starred Benu in San Francisco.A casual foodie's review of Michelin starred Luce in San Francisco.   An Amateur foodie's take on SPQR in San Francisco, Ca.

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  1. Okay, that Sushi Prelude and Sushi Chic look super YUMMY! I’m a HUGE sushi lover and am always hitting up new sushi spots in Chicago! I’ll in California (LA area) in May and really want to make a pit spot to San Francisco <3

    • LA has some good eats, too! I’ve been wanting to do a food trip to Chicago sometime. I’ll have to hit you up for some recommendations!

  2. I just love the trendy atmosphere and clean style of this place! The sorbet with matcha cracker looks delicious. Thanks for sharing!
    Jamie | North of Something recently posted…Traveler Interview: Mon Amye!My Profile

  3. I can see why this restaurant earned a Michelin star! The food looks incredible. I love venues like this that not only offer great food but also a great experience, we will definitely check it out if in the SF area for sure.
    Ashley recently posted…Sweet Dreams: 5 Tips for a Better Night’s Rest, NaturallyMy Profile

    • They definitely deserve that star! I wouldn’t be surprised if they earned another one this year because they are one of the better single star restaurants we’ve tried.

  4. I’m drooling just looking at the pictures. I would love to sit at the “chef’s table” and watch the art of sushi being made. Looks like such a fun night at such a beautiful restaurant. If ever in San Francisco, I would relish a visit to Kusakabe.
    Alli recently posted…Peter Cottontail Easter TablescapeMy Profile

    • It really is like art! The super smooth knife cuts and how quickly and easily he made the rice pillows can’t really be appreciated in still shots. I wish I had taken video!

  5. Courtney

    omg this restaurant looks pretty delicious!!! Can’t say I’m surprised though with it being in San Fran! So many awesome places to eat in that city!

    • There really are! We tend to go to better known places, but there are tons of hidden gems around the City as well.

  6. I love sushi, but I’m not very experimentive with something’s I’ve never seen it tried. It takes some convincing. I wish my husband like it.
    Heather recently posted…Website Design For Bloggers Wanting That Professional LookMy Profile

    • I totally get you. I don’t normally order a lot of nigiri – I’m a roll kinda girl, but after the first piece of nigiri here I was so much more open to trying what they had because it was so good! It was easier for me to be open to trying new, unfamiliar fish because I knew what they had was so, so fresh. I might not try barracuda again if I see it on another menu just because I know it wouldn’t be the same.

  7. I’d love to go to this amazing place for some sushi. The only kinds of sushi I’ve had have been from grocery stores.
    Liz Mays recently posted…Mardi Gras Universal Studios OrlandoMy Profile

  8. Michelle Hwee

    Yummm! It looks delish! I love sushi/sashimi and especially when its of higher quality, its pretty amazing! Thanks for sharing.

  9. This is an amazing looking restaurant! My husband would love to eat here it looks like the perfect date location to!
    Tammilee Tips recently posted…Crock Pot Orange Glazed Ham RecipeMy Profile

  10. Dude. Your images make this post amazing. The first photo sold me on this place, and the colors are gorgeous. I am a fan of sushi, and love when people share what they eat. There’s so many combinations of food and things to try, so it’s nice to have options from others.

    • Thanks so much! It helps that the food was beautiful. 🙂 I love reading others food and travel experiences as well, so I try to be good about sharing mine, too.

  11. The food looks delicious but I have fun watching the chef’s facial expression for some reason lol. It’s been a while since we have went to a Japanese restaurant.
    Chubskulit Rose recently posted…Baked Chicken Wings with Sriracha, Ranch, and BBQ SauceMy Profile

    • He was so friendly! I loved that he posed every time I lifted my camera. It really made it fun. Not all the chefs were as outgoing as he was, so we were lucky to have him.

  12. Rebecca Swenor

    This sounds like an awesome place to eat sushi indeed and even try it if you have not before. I have not tried it but would for sure try it hear from reading your review. The wagyu beef nigiri sounds different but I think I would love it. Thanks for sharing.

    • The wagyu nigiri was pretty unexpected for me, but I thought it was delicious. It really worked! I’m sure you’d love it.

  13. Everything looks so delicious, this is definetley a great place to eat!
    Chrissy Mazzocchi recently posted…Winnie & Kat/~Fashion FridayMy Profile

  14. Exceptional photographs. It was almost like being there without the huge bill at the end. All kidding aside, that was a really good review.
    Margarita Ibbott (@DownshiftingPRO) recently posted…4M–Spring Cleaning means Cleaning your Vacuum in 15–20 minutesMy Profile

    • Oh, girl, I don’t think you want to see the end bill! 😛 Just kidding. We knew what to expect going in. Thanks so much for the compliments. 🙂

  15. This looks more like art work than actually food you can eat. I wouldn’t want to eat it because it looks so perfect. But at the same time it looks so good!
    Natalie recently posted…Throw a Fun SpongeBob Themed Birthday PartyMy Profile

  16. What beautiful looking dishes! I’d love to eat Michelin rated food. I used to eat sushi a lot when I lived in Hawaii, but now that I live in Texas and I am vegan, I don’t really eat it anymore.
    Bailey K. recently posted…Cool Beans Taco Truck – Austin, TXMy Profile

    • I imagine the sushi in Hawaii is awesome. I don’t think I’ve ever had any there. We always go straight for the poke.;)

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