Kusakabe - Omakase

Dinner after Hamilton, spoiler alert hamilton dies and so does all the sushi

Excellent meal, professional service, friendly chefs, everything was a hit. Highlights were zuke chutoro, shima aji, scallop and uni, hamo, A5, fresh unagi, and ayu.

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zuke chutoro - bluefin medium fatty tuna cured in soy sauce
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live ikejime halibut with its own liver
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katsuo - lightly cherry wood smoked bonito
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hokkaido scallop, Santa barbara uni
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hairy crab, quail egg
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sashimi - honmaguro, tai
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hassun - jellyfish, soft-shell crab, beef croquette, fresh baby sardines, king salmon, Kumamoto oyster
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hakudaku jiru - fish bone white soup with kuro dai black snapper
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hamo - pike eel, arima shansho-yaki with heirloom tomato and summer truffle
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shima aji - stripe jack with daikon radish and yuzu kosho
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sake - wild copper river alaskan king salmon with oboro konbu
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kasugodai - bamboo leaf cured baby red snapper with crystallized egg yolk
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A5 miyazaki wagyu #theotherwhitemeat
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bafun uni - Hokkaido short spined sea urchin
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shirayaki - fresh bbq white eel with sancho pepper and monaka cracker
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nodo guro - black throat fish cured with ryuhi konbu
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negitoro - fatty tuna with micro onion and roasted nori temaki
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iwashi - fresh japanese sardine
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masaba - japanese mackerel cured with konbu
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tekka maki
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ayu - Japanese sweet fish with grated japanese cucumbers
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kohada - gizzard shad with konbu
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ji kinmedai - lightly cherry wood smoked golden eye snapper
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kisu - whiting cured with ryuhi konbu
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kaisui uni - deep ocean packed Hokkaido sea urchin
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gyoku - fresh lobster omelette with organic egg
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toto
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Hi @PorkyBelly,

Nice report! :slight_smile: So that’s where you’ve been (SF)! Wondering what happened.

Looks great. That Zuke Chutoro looks stark / shocking in color. Looks great overall. How would you say it compares to Mori and Shunji?

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Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in L.A. anymore…

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I take it that was the $165 version?

Have you been to Sasaki?

Thanks @Chowseeker1999, yeah I have some catching up to do, more reports to come.

The zuke was slightly seared giving it that color.

All three are very good, but maybe because I’ve been to shunji and mori multiple times and kusakabe was new to me, I enjoyed kusakabe more. The sushi at shunji tends to have very subtle differences and the flavors start to blend together after awhile, so I appreciated how unique each piece tasted at kusakabe.

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Yes, plus supplements.

Not yet, but it’s on the list.

Yeah Mitsunori Kusakabe was the chef who started the movement in SF Bay Area of incorporating kaiseki and Tokyo style techniques into nigiri (hence the decorations and seasonings), and having some kaiseki style dishes as part of the omakase course. I’m not clear if he did this when he was at Sushi Ran (Sausalito), though one can argue that Wako (which opened the same month) did something similar, although Wako’s nigiri was much less decorated in comparison.

At least one who worked with him at Sushi Ran took his ideas/concepts to Akiko’s and incorporated modern kitchen gadgets (e.g. sous vide, freeze dry) and some later departed Akiko’s, Kusakabe, Sushi Ran and ended up at at other restaurants (one of which will earn a Michelin Star, Ju-Ni, chef Geoffrey Lee who also worked at Sushi Ran beside Nori-san). The time when Ju-Ni got their star, Kusakabe lost theirs.

Indeed, some of the best items are from the add-on nigiri menu after you are done with either omakase course.

Their sake selection is interesting, but higher end bottles have a steep markup ($1600 for Dassai Beyond). The day they earned their Michelin star was when they had a sake somm putting together the beverage list and pairing menu.

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I’ll post more detail later, but this meal made me so happy. Here’s a link to my IG with a little slide show:

https://instagram.com/p/BbrymE_F5Qo/

I’ll give a more substantive report when I get home. I really want to go back again. And soon.

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Nice, glad you liked it. Looking forward to your report. If you enjoy the kaiseki/modern sushi menu at kusakabe, as @beefnoguy mentioned, Geoffrey Lee also came from sushi ran and has a similar style at ju-ni.

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Is that uni and shirako?

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Looks like uni, shirako, and shaved truffle

I was at Kusakabe a month ish back, and it was a really wonderful experience.They lost their Michelin star two years back and the rumor is inconsistency, but I’ve experienced worse at other places. Though my most recent visit was one of the best ever. And what makes the experience more enjoyable is if you recognize the flavors and taste in Kyoto cuisine (and like them), it’s blended seamlessly with Edomae-esque techniques, with some modern fancy ingredients (adding a Western flair where needed), and interspersed with kaiseki courses. It’s still refreshing to go back, especially after you experience or witness the travesty that passes as high end omakase. There is a lot of skill involved, but at the end it delights and is delicious when done right on a good evening. Even after coming from Tokyo, I still think Kusakabe is noteworthy and unique in its approach. However certain expectations need to be set…Kusakabe is not Edomae sushi, but they do incorporate such elements. At least they don’t overdrown everything in lemon wedge, truffle oil, blowtorches etc.

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ahh the ol’ gonad, sperm, fungus gunkanmaki

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Ah, good to know. When I went it was probably 2 years ago. It was pretty good, not amazing, but better than most other places I tried in SF so far. I probably owe it another visit! Is there anything you recommend I don’t miss in the ala-carte extras?

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I once had a nicely plated dish of shirako, ponzu, and decorative flowers amongst other things. Easiest joke to crack that evening…hmmmmm…sperm & flowers! The chef couldn’t hold in his laughter. Oh the things alcohol makes us say.

Yeah it was extremely painful to see Kusakabe lose their star, and Ju-Ni took it from them (so to speak). But also that year, Hashiri scored one. And now this year, Kenzo and Kinjo (which are just as baffling, but not as baffling as Ju-Ni…).

I think I’ve been to Kusakabe a total of 4 to 5 times. One time was at the table with 3 other people (they don’t take reservations for the bar if you have more than 3 in your party) and that was the worst of all the visits (not bad, just not satisfying). So I could get the sense of what it could have been like on an off night.

My recommendation is to stick with the basic course then do add on nigiri to your heart’s content. The grand course to me is not worth the $60 extra unless someone out there loves wagyu, toro, caviar, a wagyu mini course etc…you could diff the two set menus online from their website to be sure of what you are getting in the grand that you are not in the basic (though not down to specific fish items since they rotate their specials). As far as the add-on nigiri menu goes, it may be different when you get the restaurant vs on the website, some overlap and some might not.

My favorites from the add on would be some of the more interesting seasonal white fish (kawagahi was good but not as good as I had hoped), blue fish/salmon (particularly the hikarimono which are all good), shellfish, and some things from others. Their bluefin does not particularly excite me, but I do enjoy their zuke chutoro which they always have in the base or grand course (only if you enjoy it enough to want a repeat). Of the hikarimono the masaba is excellent as they add a slice of Kyoto pickle on top to add some acidity and tartness (in place of a slice of kelp) that I particularly found extremely noteworthy.

Otherwise if they still have shirako, go for it. Gyoku which is the fresh lobster omelet with organic egg, is always excellent and I never miss ordering that at the end. There may be a variant of the Gyoku in the kaiseki-eqsue platter of the main course, where they roll it up and it resembles a datemaki 伊達巻 (I believe that’s a specialty of Nagoya) which you tend to see in some osechi ryori sets (and department store basements in Japan) that’s also quite tasty.

I would say give the meso anago (sawani) and shirayaki anago a try, where the latter is served on top of a rice based monaka cracker (open faced) with sansho pepper that celebrates washoku. To me these are far more delicious than those high priced sea urchin varietals.

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Went with the “Grand” option - very happy with my decision.

Some of my highlights:


Zuke chutoro


Katsuo

The aforementioned shirako/uni/truffle gunkan-maki


Kegani


Sashimi: bluefin tuna and tai wrapped around mountain yam


Hassun: asari clam chowder/ rock shrimp with eggplant/Shigoku oyster with caviar/wagyu croquette/shirasu/steamed shrimp pressed sushi


A5 wagyu with buckwheat risotto, dashi reduction, and matsutake mushroom


Hokkaido uni

Snapseed-3
Otoro cured for 10-14 days (I forgot)

Neglected to get a photo of one of my favorite dishes which was the eel on monaka with sansho. My photo taking was set aside to have a very nice chat with Chef Mori who asked me if I was in the “industry” (second night in a row I was asked that) and his correct assumption that I really enjoy Japanese food. I’m not that enthused about posting my meal the previous night at Nightbird, which was good, but didn’t have much soul. On the other hand, the meal at Kusakabe felt like a lot of care and attention was given from top to bottom. Not only was the food delicious, every member of the staff that I came across was warm and genuinely interested in the experience. I left with a very nice grin of my face. I’d be happy to return again. Gladly.

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Glad you had a great time!

Some people slag Kusakabe for a number of reasons. For example, not “Edomae” enough, or not consistent. Then there is the ridiculously high markup for alcohol e.g. Dassai Beyond ($1600). A lot of it is noise (yelp reviews and opinionated folks who prefer the other Michelin places).

At the end of the day, this place still works great for me.

This was dinner from mid October 2017

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Ichiban Dashi
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Zuke Chutoro
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Hirame with liver
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Katsuo
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Sashimi: Bluefin and madai

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Hassun: Asari (clam) soy cream and corn chowder, Hamo nanbanzuke, Shigoku oyster with caviar, U-maki (oomaki),
steamed sea urchin with roasted pine nuts, steamed shrimp braised kelp bousushi

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Kawahagi with liver
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Masaba with Kyoto pickle (forgot the name but it is not bettara)
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Unagi shirayaki with sansho on top of monaka
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Chutoro with menegi, wasabi (as a nigiri) with a sheet of nori to make a handroll
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Kohada with crystallized egg yolk
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Shiro ebi with poached egg yolk
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Nodoguro with liver
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Sperm & Funghi
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A repeat of the masaba
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Meso Anago
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Gyoku (made with lobster)
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Kurage (jellyfish) sunomono. A nice delectable crunch like salmon softbones sunomono
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Sake Kasu creme brulee
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Tofu Tiramisu
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Thanks for sharing your pics. It looks as if the general course of the meal mirrored mine. And I would gladly take another riff on it again!

The only extra things that I ordered were a piece of scallop nigiri (dressed with a drop of miso that he slightly torched) and the yuzo/shiso sorbet to finish. I wish the sorbet was a bit more finessed. Large chunks of ice in the scoops, but the flavor was right on point and a perfect way to end the meal.