“Does Sushi Ran need another review?” my dining partner asked me during a recent visit to one of the Bay Area’s most revered restaurants. It’s true the Sausalito veteran, owned by Okinawa transplant Yoshi Tome, hardly needs publicity. As one of the only Marin haunts regularly on the tongues and credit card bills of San Francisco diners, the 20-year-old restaurant is perpetually full. (Likewise its newer sister wine bar next door serving 30 wines and 30 sakes by the glass alongside the same menu with a more limited sushi selection.) And I’m betting most diners are like me: When it comes to sushi, I have such an extensive list of favorites there’s no reason to even read the menu before ordering. Still, Sushi Ran’s five pages of raw fish and fusion cooking begs to be explored—and recommended—especially considering some of the exciting new offerings.
Anyone with a reasonable amount of sushi-dining experience knows that if you sit at the sushi bar you can ask the chefs to make special creations that are not on the menu. Master sushi chef Mitsunori Kusakabe and Garth Murakami, who preside over the front-room 16-seat bar bordered by small cramped tables, are no exception. With expert knife skills, an impressive selection of fresh fish (some is flown in from Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji Fish Market) and perfectly prepared rice (an essential often overlooked by other establishments), they often surprise adventurous diners with creations made on the fly. During my last visit it was a gorgeous spicy crab, red tuna and cucumber roll draped in seared albacore tuna, topped with a vibrant tangle of fiery red Japanese chili and surrounded by two puddles of soy sauce sweetened with brown sugar.
Whether you sit at the bar or one of the 14 tables (in the front or in the slightly more spacious back room), another reason to stray from the usual is the Omakase sashimi plate. Introduced earlier this year, it features five raw fish selections chosen for seasonal perfection—in my case refined presentations of rudderfish, barbecued freshwater eel, classic maguro (tuna), monkfish pâté and ocean trout. These are composed as they should be eaten; the chefs recommend skipping the extra soy sauce and fresh wasabi (which here, incidentally, is infinitely better than the typical reconstituted stuff).
Cooked dinner specials by Bay Area restaurant veteran executive chef Scott Whitman make ordering even more of a tantalizing adventure. Scallop-chive dumplings and water spinach, bathing in a slightly tart soy-vinaigrette, are a riff on shu mai dim sum—and take it to delicate new heights that perfectly complement a light sushi meal. But many of Whitman’s creations are rich, decadent contrasts to the clean, pure flavors of raw fish. Seared jumbo scallops topped with large tufts of crab-cake-like “miso crab crust” are accented with spinach and creamy white wine sauce. Vietnamese shaking beef is the perfect winter comfort food—tender chunks of medium-rare beef smothered in a deep, dark and velvety mushroom-soy sauce.
Further lifting this simply adorned restaurant above the Pacific Rim–influenced pack is an award-winning wine and sake list. Grab new director of operations Thomas Bunker to help navigate the outstanding options and indulge in the desserts that go worlds beyond mochi ice cream, and you, too, will find something new to say about longtime favorite Sushi Ran.
Sushi Ran, 107 Caledonia St., Sausalito, 415.332.3620, sushiran.com. Lunch Monday–Friday, dinner nightly; sushi and sashimi
$4–$16, cooked specials $6.50–$19.50
Salt House Tavern (The trio from the immensely popular, Town Hall (SF) Doug Washington, and brothers Mitchell and Steven Rosenthal from Mill Valley, have opened a new hot spot on Mission between First and Second Street. Set in a former printing press, it’s now a 75-seat, contemporary tavern. “We love the idea of mixing the atmosphere of the traditional Londonesque gastro-pubs with our range of local, organic ingredients,” says Washington. Signature dishes will include crispy shrimp with spicy green beans and the menu ranges from raw bar items to heartier dishes. 545 Mission St, 415.543.8900
FARM Enjoy the wine country air at the alfresco lounge, featuring rich chocolate leather seats, extensive cocktail and wine list, and tasty bar menu. The main dining room (120-seats) is sophisticated yet comfortable. Executive chef Kimball Jones uses an in-house butcher and sources from local vendors. Items such as Sonoma lamb and ricotta ravioli, butternut squash-ginger soup with garlic cream and Hobb’s pancetta and scallions are familiar fare on the menu. The wine list is vast—interesting yet unexpectedly well priced. 4048 Sonoma Highway, 707.299.4882
Legal Age Ghiringhelli’s Pizzeria in downtown Fairfax has turned 21! Many local kids have dawned the official burgundy apron, as well as three generations of Ghiringhelli’s –Vinny G. is the official pizza maker these days. 45 Broadway, 415.453.7472
Cheese with a Porpoise Award winning Marin French Cheese Company will donate $1 to the Marine Mammal Center for every 24 ounce slice of cheese sold, including their top medal varieties like The Rouge Noir Triple Crème Brie and Marin Chevre Blue.
For more information, 800.292.6100, marinfrenchcheese.com
Piatti Expandi Great news for those of us who have been turned away from Piatti’s on a crowded night, they are expanding their existing space. “After 12-years Piatti Mill Valley will be updating its look with a complete one-month remodel starting in Spring ‘07” says Linda Salman, of Piatti, 415. 380-2525, piatti.com/millvalley —MT