Izakaya Sundays at Sebo

November 12, 2007

Well over a year ago, I wrote a post on a then recently-opened Japanese restaurant (primarily sushi-focused), Sebo in Hayes Valley. I haven’t had the chance to write a follow-up review, but I’m happy to report that an update has not really been necessary, as chefs Michael Black and Danny Dunham continue to offer excellent quality fish; in time, it seems they have been able to source more frequently particularly delectable items such as Hokkaido uni. In the past week, though, changes have been afoot at Sebo, and these changes warrant an update. The first notable change is that Fukashi Adachi from Deep Sushi in outer Noe Valley has joined the ranks. The other notable change is that the restaurant is now open on Sundays (previously only open Tuesday through Saturday). On Sundays, however, no sushi is served. As proof, here is the empty fish cabinet:


Instead, the regular menu is replaced by a list of about 15 izakaya small plates — essentially Japanese “bar bites.” The Sunday izakaya menu will change weekly, and yesterday was the very first Sunday serving. (Note: full-sized versions of all these images are stored on my Flickr account. To see the larger version, just click through any image link.)

The first plate was the delicately flavored ni-daikon,


which was the daikon simmered in sake. There was also the goya chanpuru, a stir fry of Okinawan bittermelon:


One standout item was the aji ichiyaboshi,


a whole horse mackerel fish: cured, toasted, butterflied, and mostly completely edible. Toasting amplified the natural flavors of the fish, and the thin, crisp skin was a nice foil to the moist interior flesh. Another standout dish was the inari yaki:


The inari wrappers were filled with natto (fermented soybeans), grilled, and topped with green onion. Even if you are squeamish about eating natto, I would recommend trying this dish, as the grilled wrapper was a really nice complement to the more pungent natto.

One of the great highlights of the meal was the homemade tamago yaki (Japanese egg omelette). Most sushi restaurants will serve tamago nigiri, but this can often be lackluster. The process of making the omelette is so time-consuming that few restaurants will make it in-house, so was a real treat to try not one but two homemade tamago samples at the Sunday izakaya meal, courtesy of Fukashi Adachi:


These blocks of tamago are a work of art, as I am told that they emerged from cooking exactly in the perfect form you see in the above picture. The block on the left is an omelette infused with slivers of the green seaweed ao-nori, while the flavor of the block on the right literally sang of dashi. Both samples were delicious, complex, and had a very nice texture: firm, but with a latent juiciness. This is easily some of the best tamago currently being served in the Bay Area. Here is a close-up shot of the ao-nori tamago:


And once more, the tamago, but served on a plate:


Yesterday was the very first izakaya Sunday and the restaurant was, rather surprisingly, packed for much of the night, so the cooking pace was rather frantic. However, I am sure that Michael, Danny, and Fukashi will work out the operational acrobatics in time. Even on this first day, the dishes were really nice, so I am looking forward to seeing this new tradition evolve and mature. With the izakaya Sundays, Michael and Danny have continued to demonstrate their passion for serving their customers a serious, high-quality product.



517 Hayes Street (between Octavia St. and Laguna St.)
San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone: 415.864.2122
Hours: Tues-Sat (sushi menu), 6:00-10:30 pm; Sun (izakaya menu, no sushi), 6:00-11:00 pm.

Cuisine: Japanese
Neighborhood: Hayes Valley/Civic Center



November 11, 2007

Tajine is a Moroccan restaurant in San Francisco’s Polk Gulch neighborhood. The restaurant used to occupy a small Tenderloin storefront on Jones Street but moved this past spring to a larger space on lower Polk, between Bush and Pine.

Naturally, the restaurant offers a selection of tajines, a signature dish of North Africa, generally slow-cooked in a glazed pot that also shares the name tajine. Also offered is the traditional harira (a lentil soup), kabab plates, salads, sandwiches, and various dishes involving meat and vegetables over couscous. On a recent visit to Tajine, a friend and I shared two dishes, including the lamb tajine:


The slow-cooked lamb was quite tender in some spots and a little tough in other spots, but it was still delicious, steeped in the spices and herbs. Soft prunes added a sweet fragrance to the dish, and almonds, roasted to enhance their flavor, added a comforting crunch. The whole dish was topped with sesame seeds and was served with a plate of Moroccan bread. The bread was a bit too dry but was still good to mop up the thick sauce in which the lamb and prunes had been stewing.

We also enjoyed the chicken bastilla:


Although listed as an appetizer, this dish is easily the size of an entree. Essentially a large fillo pancake, the flaky bastilla is topped generously with a brown and white criss-cross pattern of sweet cinnamon and powdered sugar combined with a savory interior of chicken, egg, and almond. I found the interior of the bastilla to be somewhat under-seasoned, but the diversity of textures and flavors made this is a successful dish.

Mint tea is a serious endeavor in Morocco, so if you visit Tajine, you will want to try out a pot of the mint tea:


Served in a traditional pot, poured from a couple feet above the cup, and brewed with a large stalk of fresh mint, this tea is richly sweet and is a very nice treat either during or after the meal.

Although the food can really be quite delicious, my experiences at Tajine have not exactly been a home run. The cooking at the Polk Street location is at the same level as what was offered at the Tenderloin location. However, prices have risen considerably since the move, and to my mind, the quality of the total experience has not risen in correspondence with the prices. The service is often friendly, but sometimes indifferent, and repeatedly forgetful — either portions of my meal have been forgotten, or I have heard diners around me reminding the server that some portion of their meal had been forgotten. I am usually completely willing to overlook this for meals under $10, especially if it happens only occasionally, but now that Tajine’s entrees are in the double-digit range, it is easy to spend $20+ per person here including tax and tip, even without a salad or appetizer. (Note: diners should keep in mind that despite these prices, the restaurant is cash only.) At that price point, the “value” of a meal is not only connected to the quality of the cooking, but also the atmosphere and service, and therein lies the disconnect. Basically, the price increases seem to be disproportionate to the dining experience, which is essentially unchanged except for the somewhat larger (but often very crowded) space.

I still enjoy Tajine’s food, but the restaurant has been in a slightly awkward stage since the move to Polk. At heart, it is still a hole-in-the-wall serving tasty dishes. The price increases suggest that it strives to be something more, but that has not really happened yet. Although no longer a bargain secret gem, Tajine is still a nice choice in the area.



1338 Polk Street (between Pine St. and Bush St.)
San Francisco, CA 94109
Phone: 415.440.1718
Hours: Daily, 12:00 noon – 10:00 pm.

Cash only. Takeout available.

Cuisine: Moroccan
Neighborhood: Polk Gulch/Van Ness


End of Hiatus

November 11, 2007

Yes, contrary to popular belief, Short Exact is actually still alive!

I wasn’t really planning on such a long hiatus, but the time off has been useful and productive. Life has been very busy, and in the meantime, I have started writing another blog on a topic completely unrelated to restaurants. I’ve been enjoying working on that other project, but it became too difficult to maintain two blogs while doing everything else, and something had to give somewhere. Unfortunately, Short Exact turned out to be the something that gave. If you have been checking in all this time, I would like to apologize for my silence and to let you know that I appreciate your readership.

The good news is that I am planning on calling an end to this hiatus, and it will be nice to get back to writing restaurant posts again. With everything that is going on, it will be difficult to post as often as I sometimes have in the past, but at least, I will try to keep to some sort of regular schedule. If you haven’t already done so, subscribing to the feed is a good way to to be notified about any updates.

At any rate, it’s nice to be back. Please check back in tomorrow, as I’ll have a new review posted — for real.