Review featured in AsianWeek, December 19, 2008
With lines out the door, Sushi Zone is no neighborhood secret, but it sure is a gem. This charming little sushi joint has been serving up exceptionally fresh sushi and other delightful morsels for almost eleven years. Regulars know to stop in, put their name down (since reservations don’t fly), and grab a drink at a nearby bar while the wait time ticks down. Your patience will be handsomely rewarded.
An intimate space, Sushi Zone maximizes its real estate wisely with only two booths and an L-shaped counter where you can watch sushi chef Aoyama work his magic. I’ve always enjoyed this kind of front-row seating at sushi restaurants. There is something deeply satisfying and nurturing about watching a skilled chef prepare the food you are about to eat. Although the self-taught chef modestly claims that anyone can learn to make sushi, I beg to differ. I’ve sampled a variety of his handiwork. Skill necessary.
In a city with such an abundance of sushi restaurants to choose from, why Sushi Zone? The gently priced, high quality fish – portioned quite generously – the warm hospitality, cozy ambiance, and lively salsa music make this dining experience a real pleasure.
Chef Aoyama (or just “Ao” to his friendly customers) makes you feel at home as he serves up sushi and jokes over the counter. The waitresses are friendly and won’t steer you wrong with their recommendations. And you will marvel at how their bare bones kitchen is able to produce a steady stream of perfectly broiled, baked sea bass and mango on the half shell using only an ancient looking, tiny toaster oven mounted on the wall.
Which brings me to the good stuff. Sushi, sashimi, and baked bits of deliciousness! The first must-try is said Baked Striped Sea Bass and Mango. I loved this so much, I decided to try to recreate it at home.
Baked in a custard of mayonnaise that has been broiled to savory, golden perfection, the juicy, tender sea bass and sweet mango are like hidden treasures buried beneath a crust of rich decadence. It is topped with tobiko for some texture and a burst of color. You will be left slurping every last bit from the shell, and wishing you had made it a double order.
The specialty rolls at Sushi Zone are outstanding and a great value with most prices ranging around $5.50.
My favorite is the Hawaiian #2, which features albacore tuna, mango, a touch of mayo, and a snowfall of crushed macadamia nuts. Its sister roll, the Hawaiian, is similarly adorned with macadamia nuts, but contains tuna and avocado rather than mango. With either one, you cannot go wrong with that wonderful crumbly crunch.
The Spicy Scallop roll is a sculptural work of art, with whole pieces of succulent scallop spilling out, flanked by chives and julienned cucumber stalks that taste like spring.
For scallop purists, go with the nigiri. The silky pieces of scallop are so large they drape heavily over the edges.
The Spicy Tuna here is unlike the typical mashed up tuna/mayo concoction you find at many other restaurants. At Sushi Zone, the buttery tuna is left unadulterated and is just kissed with a bit of spicy mayo. Paired with avocado and scallion, it’s a welcome step out of the box.
A standard crowd-pleaser, the Spider Roll, is executed with finesse and presented in style. The softshell crab is lightly battered so the natural sweet flavor shines through. It is rolled together with avocado, microgreens, and a dusting of Indian spice.
If sashimi is what you’re after, you’ll be pleased with the hefty pieces presented. Try the delicate hamachi or the full-flavored mackerel.
Sushi Zone is the kind of place everyone wishes they had in their neighborhood. It is a place where you can sit shoulder to shoulder in communion with fellow patrons, and enjoy food that has been prepared with care and craftsmanship.
1815 Market St.
(At Pearl St.)
San Francisco, CA 94103