Japanese eateries of all kinds have opened in San Francisco recently, and I’ve been eating at them.
Ichi, on Mission Street near Bernal Heights, focuses on sustainable fish. About a month ago, I had delectable tuna tataki ($12.95) made with local albacore seared on the outside, cut into pink slices and dressed with fried shallots and sudachi-fragrant Japanese lime.
Ichi chef Tim Archuleta likes mackerels, which he paints with a sweet glaze of sake and white soy. An albacore and avocado roll ($5.25) with crunchy tobiko-flying fish roe-played with texture. The small, homey space has just enough room for an L-shaped wooden sushi bar and a few tiny tables.
Izakaya Yuzuki moved into the corner spot across from Tartine Bakery. It specializes in small plates to accompany sake or beer. Some of these dishes are very good, such as renkon maju ($12) — a soft, glutinous lotus root dumpling larded with bits of shrimp in dashi broth scented with celery and yuzu; and unusual agedashi tofu ($12), — a big, round tofu dumpling deep-fried, served in dashi and topped with salmon roe.
I’d certainly return for little tumblers of cold Aramasa junmai sake ($10) with satsuma age ($10) — crunchy fritters of julienned vegetables bound with fish cake.
But when someone asks me where I go for Japanese on my night off, I hesitate for a moment before I mention Ted’s place — otherwise known as Hama-ko. This purposely obscure little place cannot handle crowds.
For 30 years, Tetsuo Kashiyama — in khakis, white T-shirt and clear plastic apron — has prepared impeccable sashimi, sushi and a few warm fish dishes cooked on a burner behind a counter.
His lovely, faultlessly gracious wife Junko Kashiyama, whose cut paper art decorates the walls, tends the dining room.
Otherwise, Hama-ko is spartan, with no sign on the door, website or menu, really. Just a husband and wife, working at an almost ritualized pace, serving what he decides is best.
A full omakase — chef’s choice — meal at Hama-ko costs roughly $75 a person, depending on how hungry you are, as Ted says. For more casual meals, a seven-piece sushi combination, chef’s choice, with one maki roll is $19.95; 10 pieces $25.95.
On my last night off, four of us visited Hama-ko. Ted knew we were coming. He had steamed a whole tai snapper stuffed with hand-pounded shrimp and wild matsutaki mushrooms (pine mushrooms) from Japan ($87.50).
He served it with wilted chrysanthemum greens and his own house-made ponzu, fragrant with grated yuzu (Japanese lemon). We sucked every morsel off the bones, from head to tail.
Then we demolished a hunk of sake kasu — Bolinas black cod ($37.50) gently marinated in sake lees and mirin (sweet rice wine), giving thanks to the sea with each silken bite. Just to take the last bit of hunger away, Ted sent out five different sushi, lavishly topped with pristine fish or roe, the best of their kind.
We sipped chilled Wakatake daiginjo ($19.50 for an overflowing masu — a cedar box on a saucer) — a charming, balanced sake so drinkable, two bamboo buckets of it disappeared.
The bill was high. The surroundings modest. The service slow but endearing. And all I can do is dream about going back.
Patricia Unterman is the author of many editions of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Guide.” Contact her at email@example.com.
Location: 108 B Carl St. (at Cole Street), San Francisco
Contact: (415) 753-6808
Hours: 6 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays
Price range: Nigiri sushi starts at $4.50; set menu $25 to $30; omakase $55 to $75
Recommended dishes: Chef’s choice sushi, sashimi
Credit cards: MasterCard; Visa
Reservations: Not accepted