In San Francisco, there are great restaurants that everyone knows about. The ones that you’re lucky if you’re miraculously able to get a reservation at. These are the hot spots that everyone is buzzing about, writing about, yelping about. You know the ones. If you’re on top of things, you’ve probably managed to score a resi one or two months from now (for a 5:30 or 10:30 pm seating). Then, there are the restaurants that are quietly satisfying customers day in and day out, killing it each night with delicious, creative, soulful food without fanfare. Skool is one of these places. Tucked away in Potrero Hill, Skool is a neighborhood gem that offers a welcome oasis from the surrounding industrial warehouse offices. The food is, you guessed it, seafood-centric with a strong Japanese influence. What makes it stand out though is the inventiveness and culinary prowess in which it’s all presented. Take the Uni Flan for example.
1725 Alameda Street (at De Haro)
San Francisco, CA 94103
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A light Sea Urchin Flan topped with ikura (salmon roe), fresh uni (sea urchin roe), and fleur de sel. Yes, it is every bit as good as it looks and sounds. The flan is cool, lusciously creamy, and surprisingly light. It takes on the decadent flavor of the sea urchin roe (or as I like to call it, the foie of the sea) beautifully, making it seem like you are indulging in a truly extravagant amount of the stuff. The uni is fresh, velvety, buttery, kissed with the taste of the sea. The salty pops of salmon roe are delightful. And the accompanying toasts are happily replenished when they’ve been devoured too quickly. May I mention that at $10 this dish is a luxury bargain. If you visit Skool for one reason only, make this Sea Urchin Flan it. Everything that came to our table was beautifully presented, and sublimely balanced in flavor and texture. The Chef’s Usuzukuri enchanted me before I even had a taste. Thin slices of sashimi lightly dressed in a coriander vinaigrette were adorned with a delicate brunoised confetti of Japanese cucumber, microgreens, and powdered black sesame. A prettier plate of sashimi there never was. I’m usually not one to die over a salad, but the Rock Shrimp Salad was exceptional. A generous portion of plump rock shrimp were sauteed with Hon-Shimeji and Buna Shimeji mushrooms, seasoned with coriander seeds, and served with a salad of arugula tossed in an addictive citrus-seaweed-dashi vinaigrette. The tang and umami of the vinaigrette made my mouth water. I couldn’t stop eating it. Here’s a fun fact: Skool is run by a team of two husband and wife pairs. Restaurateurs Andy and Olia Mirabell run the front of house, while executive chef Toshihiro Nagano (aka "Moto”) and his pastry chef wife Hiroko handle the back of house. Prior to opening Skool in June of 2010, Mirabell and Nagano worked at Blowfish Sushi To Die For before striking out on this venture together. Before that, Moto was at Bushi-Tei. You can see traces of these places in the food, but chef Moto has done well in creating a style that is all his own. For our main course, we had the U-10 Scallop, gigantic scallops pan seared in a yuzu- shoyu sauce, served over a creamy kobucha puree, curried spiced rice, coco beans, and edamame. A well-executed dish, although not quite as exciting as our next dish... Squid Ink Spaghettina. This dish blew me away, full of intense flavor that kept my taste buds dancing. Think Ramen falls in love with Cioppino. Homey, rich, comforting, and unlike anything I’d tasted before. The tangle of squid ink spaghettina was perfectly bouncy and chewy, soaking up all the flavors of the broth as I worked my way through the chunks of Monterey squid, shrimp, and strands of enoki mushrooms. The broth itself was a gorgeous brew of garlic tomato compote, warm red curry, lemongrass dashi broth, and seaweed butter. Shredded ribbons of shiso adorned the top, weaving intriguing notes of anise throughout. I dare say, this dish was a bit of sorcery, because really, only a wizard of the highest order could have conjured up these flavors into one bowl. You get heat and spice, acid and aroma, earthy richness and the sweetness of the sea, all in perfect balance. Just tell me that isn’t magic. For dessert, team Skool continued to wow, scoring in the top percentile in creativity. The Point Reyes Blue Cheese Cake was a playful take on the cheese plate, served with almonds, local honeycomb, and a slice of rosemary-chardonnay poached pear. And, it would be remiss to not mention the fantastic cocktail program. A+ for boozy deliciousness. Favorites included the Birds of a Feather (Redemption Rye, Yellow Chartreuse, Luxardo Maraschino, Peychaud’s Bitters, fresh grapefruit juice) and Noir 75 (Bombay gin, lemon, organic blackberry syrup, prosecco). I’m looking forward to coming back for weekend brunch on the roomy patio one fine day. $1 oysters and a killer sounding crab cake benedict? Yes, please. So, now my latest hidden gem is revealed. Go ahead, blab all about it, but just sayin’...I better still be able to get a table when that Uni Flan craving hits.