Yoshi’s, the new jazz club and restaurant in the Fillmore Heritage Center, is the most exciting thing to hit San Francisco in years. The 420-seat club hosts two shows every night while the dramatic restaurant, independent from the jazz theater, showcases super chef Sho Kamio’s inspired, provocative Japanese cooking.
I felt the excitement just walking down Fillmore to this glittering destination, a few blocks south of Geary. The whole street buzzed with people from all parts of The City drawn by the jazz clubs and bars. Now-vacant high-rise residential buildings that line the blocks promise even more activity. The vibe of this neighborhood transformation is gratifyingly inclusive.
Yoshi’s, central to the revitalization, spent more than $10 million to build a 10,000-square-foot venue featuring a soaring dining room hung with sculptural rice paper lanterns and noise-baffling panels. Seating options include sleek booths; small polished wood tables; a glass omakase room with a shinto wooden gate entry; a cozy tatami room that looks out to the happening street; a mezzanine lounge; and a bar.
Kamio, who opened Ozumo to rave reviews seven years ago, presides over 34 cooks in a huge, open kitchen outfitted with a high-temperature wood burning oven and a charcoal robata. He uses traditional Japanese ingredients and flavor profile in his dishes but spins them into sparkling and surprising creations.
The playful sensibility of star pastry chef Marissa Churchill matches Kamio’s high-profile performance. An artisan sake list allows for plenty of quality tasting.
One of the best dishes in town, a roasted half big-eye red snapper ($65), emerges from the kamayaki, the wood-burning oven, with crisp skin and juicy, buttery flesh. Presented on a gorgeous platter, the fish is strewn with oven-crisped leaves of rosemary, sage and thyme and an airy pile of nori, sheets of toasted seaweed. With chopsticks you pull off bits of fish, tuck them into a sheet of nori with the herbs and dip into a scintillating ponzu sauce. The flavors and textures dance in your mouth. We ate every morsel — skin, eyeball and collar, sucking every shred of delectable flesh off the bones.
Anago shirayak (eel)
Many of the dishes are easily shared, like battera ($15), Japanese box-pressed sushi topped with lightly pickled saba, mackerel — though I wanted to eat the whole plate myself. Tuna tartare layered into a multi-colored cake with avocado puree and gorgonzola tofu cream, which tastes uncannily like fresh white truffle ($15), works best for one or two.
You can order sushi rolls ($12 to $20) or organic vegetable tempura ($14), but if there were ever a place to throw in all your culinary chips, Yoshi’s is it. Luxuriate in toro misoyaki (market price), sublime flash-grilled slices of fatty tuna with grilled daikon; or uni ise ebi (market price), citrus marinated spiny lobster in a nutty yellow miso-and-sea-urchin puree.
For dessert ($8), don’t miss Churchill’s enchanting yogurt semifreddo with sesame florentine or cucumber mint ice served in a stunning malletted glass bowl.
As the dining-room crowd thins out, the live music feed from the club wafts in, and I thought I was in heaven. The conjunction of ravishing food, buoyant jazz and soaring surroundings made me want to stay forever.