Off The Menu: Cherry Blossom Inspired Tastings at Ozumo

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Growing up in Japan made my taste buds really picky when it came to Japanese cuisine. When it’s sushi and sashimi, my first impression is all about the freshness, the texture, the taste, even to the way it feels when you take the first bite. That’s the case for Ozumo, an outstanding Japanese restaurant in the Embarcadero. Meet the traditional stylings of Japanese cuisine mixed with the American flavor of presentation.

As I walked in I was happily greeted by a friendly hostess and I was quickly escorted to my table. We passed through their bar arrangement and private rooms in the middle which were so exquisite. One room was very zen which looked like you were about to dine in a temple garden and the other was a room walled off by sake bottles!

As we reached the back of the restaurant into the dining area I hear “Irashaimase” — this is a traditional warm greeting as they welcome you to their establishment. That alone brought me back to Japan instantly. With an amazing view of the Bay Bridge, the service was very attentive throughout my entire stay.

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Dining alone gave me the chance to soak in the full Ozumo experience. My nicely paced dinner lasted about two hours but was entertaining the entire night through. The staff interacted with their customers constantly making sure they had everything they needed and that their dining experience was the best that the restaurant has to offer.

Another plus for the staff is their knowledge about their menu, which is amazing considering the fact that just their sake menu alone is bafflingly large. I mean, they pretty much had sake from every corner of Japan and to add on to it, Ozumo is constantly challenging themselves to keep their menu different, to bring in both Japan and San Francisco’s cultures in a dish.

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To be frank, walking into Ozumo I wasn’t expecting to be amazed or surprised by the dishes. I thought, “Oh it’s just another high-end Japanese restaurant, but it’s still not ‘Japan’ enough.” Out of the courses that I was served the 3 plates that stood out the most was the day’s special, their Yaki tako salad and the Uzura.

The special dish they had for the day was a seared toro sashimi and Japanese scallops (iwate), sashimi served with asparagus, daikon, eatable flowers, salmon roe, cherry blossom puree and edamame puree.

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At first observation the presentation of the food was exceptional. It was nothing short of a work of art. The toro, which was chutoro specifically, was phenomenal. For those that don’t know, chutoro is the belly lining of the fish — What makes this part of the fish delectable is the fact that it is between the akami (the leaner meat) and the toro (the fatty part), which makes it fatty but not as fatty as otoro.

At first glance and a few touches with the chopstick, you can tell the freshness of the toro on the plate. Between a Grade 1 or 2 tuna. As I took my first bite, the toro nearly just melted and fell apart in my mouth, it was such a foodgasm experience!

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The most curious part of the dish was the purees. I enjoyed the cherry blossom and edamame in puree form and surprisingly their distinct flavors were subtle but familiar just how it should be.

The yaki tako (grilled octopus) salad was the other dish that really stood out to me. The octopus was the best I’ve ever had. Just when I thought my fathers’ grilling was the best, they served me this… Sorry dad. The dish served with orange accents created by satsumas and red Yuzu Kozo chimichurri was undoubtedly very SF, intentional or not, it was a nice way to present the dish.

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The plate consisted of olive oil poached baby octopus, confit fingerling potatoes, watermelon radish, satsuma mandarins, and grilled endive. Somehow the tako on this plate was not at all hard to eat, the flavor really came out too. The octopus, the citrus, and the chimichurri alone took me to a nice hot weekend in the beach grilling some fresh seafood.

From Ozumo’s specialty menu to celebrate spring and the cherry blossom season, I was served Uzura. It consisted of Panko fried quail, English pea with cherry blossom puree watercress salad, and dashi cream. The perfectly breaded quail meat was probably the dish I least expected to find at this restaurant. The meat itself was very tender and juicy, and not at all as gamey as I expected. It was actually quite tasty. Compared to chicken, I actually found it more enjoyable. The tenderness and juiciness of the quail meat along with the crisp of the panko breading all worked together in unison.

I did enjoy other dishes like their blacked cod, a fresh salad with apple slices and almonds, and an amazing cherry creme brûlée for dessert. You have to sample one of the many sakes that they have to offer. A key hitter that was truly intoxicating was the Amabuki Junmai Ginjo Nama strawberry from the Saga Prefecture. This sake’s definitely going on top of my spring drinks to repeated get. After the meal, I got the chance to talk a little to Ozumo manager Nichole Salgado. We had a brief conversation about the backbone and foundation that makes Ozumo successful.

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Bob Cut: Is this the first time you guys are doing the Cherry blossom menu?

NS: We’ve done the Cherry Blossom menu before, but this is the first of this kind. It’s a different menu every week, and we’re changing it up through the entire month. We’re incorporating our restaurant from the sushi bar to the cocktails and just blending it all together.

Bob Cut: How do you guys come up with menu items?

NS: Really we just look at what’s in-season and play around with what blends together. And then come up with color concepts. Like for the cherry blossom. You think of cherry blossom you think of sweet and silk. Also, you have to think of spring and floral and you come down to pinks and pastel colors so that really helps with our plating, our cocktails, and our dishes.

Bob Cut: What do you think separates your seasonal menu from the rest as far as San Francisco Bay Area?

NS: Well I think when you have such an upscale contemporary Japanese restaurant and you want it to stand out different from everybody else, we’re going a little bit off of the traditional menu.  We’re contemporary and we’re also fusion so we’re also bringing in this San Francisco vibe as far as these new concepts of platings, we do foams, mousses, different kinds of powders, and the purees. One of our executive chefs, Michael Zito, he goes to the farmers market daily, so he’s always pulling things from there. It’s important for everybody, as far as whether it’s the chef getting to know what’s going on in the market, what other restaurants are doing, and just being up to date with the time. I think that’s something that not just separates us but just makes us unique and gives us our own personality and being an individual as this restaurant.

Bob Cut: Are you guys influenced by a specific region of japan?

NS: I wouldn’t particularly put it by the region. We do have our sake director, Jessica. Depending on certain sakes that she brings in. Some of them are one time deals and we’d get up to three bottles and we’ll never see them again. She’s phenomenal in working with our chefs. She’s the one that prints our menus. Like this is the flavor profile lets try to pull out something special that gives us savory or sweeter. There’s that that goes into it. It’s mostly just what’s up and coming. Things that are different and we want to evolve all the time. We’ve been here for 15 years so we need to have options that will excite our staff to sell and guests to be like “wow that was unexpected I wouldn’t have thought of putting that together.

Bob Cut: How do you guys keep it different all the time?

NS: Something we do with the bar is we’ll do a cocktail throw down. We get our seasonal ingredients and we bring in the bartenders and they come up with 2 cocktails each, and we just throw down and just start getting ideas from each other. It’s about interacting with the staff and getting everybody together. You know it’s a learning experience and taking advantage of the opportunity to learn a culture, and it’s about growing and keeping up with the times, and becoming an adult in this world and we take pride in that.

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// My whole experience with Ozumo was definitely one for the books. From their friendly knowledgeable staff, the amazing food that brings people together for a delish meal, to the awesome yet strange combinations of flavors that work together — I’m definitely coming back. The entire experience definitely rings true to traditional Japanese cuisine with an American twist.

Food: 4.5/5
Service: 5/5
Overall: 4.8/5


Story and photography by Myles Penaflor, Myles is an SF lifestyle image maker and writer. More food  to be had and shared here. Need more in city recommendations? We know the Best of SF.

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