Early-Bird Special: Yu-Zen

futo maki.jpg
Yu-Zen's futo maki.
An early nibble from the Weekly's Wednesday food review.

We all know the taste of mid-grade sushi-joint food like we know the taste of a McDonald's burger: starchy tempura, elaborately gooshy fantasy rolls, watery miso soup. Get something better, and it seems like revelation. That's the case at Yu-Zen (4036 Balboa at 42nd Ave.), a no-frills Outer Richmond sushi bar where the sprawling menu offers up modest delights in the form of chirashi sushi, izakaya dishes, and long-cooked pork belly. The emphasis is on simplicity and freshness, minus mayonnaise-oozing maki, cranked-up Nickelback mixes, and parasol-sprouting cocktails. Explore Yu-Zen's quiet space later today online at SFWeekly.com. In the meantime, catch a whiff of satori in SFoodie's paragraph-long excerpt (after the jump).

The three-page menu is wide-ranging. In addition to sushi and sashimi, there are about 20 izakaya dishes, some simple salads, and several miso soups; dinners featuring teriyaki, tonkatsu, tempura, and a couple of seafood hot pots; and a few noodle and porridge dishes. Daily specials included a variety of seasonal fresh vegetables, prepared ohitashi (blanched), goma-ae (blanched with sesame dressing), or kinpira (sautéed). We tried chrysanthemum ohitashi, cut stems and leaves stacked like a little log that tasted similar to slightly bitter spinach, sprinkled with salty bonito flakes. It was a chewy and fresh contrast with the delicious buta kakuni, succulent long-simmered pork belly, dotted with a welcome bit of hot mustard, presented like a miniature pot roast resting in soy-flavored broth. An exceptionally good clam miso soup came topped with four fresh clams in the shell.

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