Tawara Sake opened earlier in the year in the old Urban Fish space. Chef Ritsuo Tsuchida, of Blowfish Sushi fame (as well as a couple of ramen places, both named Iza), opened this Izakaya and sake bar, with the idea of it being a small, intimate space, as if you were eating with the chef at his home. It certainly is cozy, and our server was completely attentive and knowledgeable.

Supposedly the dishes are re-imagined from the chef’s childhood, which I find odd, as Izakaya dishes are meant to be paired with sake and beer. I must be honest, I hadn’t been to Blowfish Sushi in years, because the last time I was there, about 13 years ago, it … well, it blew (insert groan here.) Literally, bad. But Blowfish has been around for more than 20 years, so what do I know? And because it had been so long, I thought I’d give Chef Ritsuo’s new endeavor a try.

I went with my sister and a friend, and we started out with a sake flight recommended and very well described by our server.

Sake tasting.

We had the taru sake — which is a dryer sake, oaky in flavor — the asamurasaki — sweeter, with a reddish hue, and the kurashizuku — which I found smooth. I also tried an additional two: the high-end Kubota, and Aramasa — very elegant. I know so very little about sake, and these were all interesting to try.

First up was the salmon tartare, off the specials menu:

Salmon tartare.

The salmon was very subtly flavored, which I appreciated more and more with each bite, as it allowed the fish to shine with its freshness.

We shared an assortment of skewers.

Skewer assortment.

From left to right: chicken thigh with yuzu pepper, chicken breast with plum sauce, crispy pork with Kakuri sweet soy sauce, potato and gouda cheese “gnocchi” with Armadare sweet sauce, bacon-wrapped mochi with spicy miso sauce, and beef hanger steak with garlic tamari sauce. Of these, I believe the pork was my favorite, with the bacon-wrapped mochi just being a bit odd. The chicken thigh was also tasty, but lacked juiciness.

Next up, hand rolls.

Hand rolls.

Tuna with spicy miso and cucumber, blue crab with kaware sprouts and lemon salt mayo, and marinated albacore with ponzu sauce and momiji chili radish. Unfortunately, these were as inelegant as they look; heavy-handed and rather bland, and the seaweed wrappers had none of the expected crispness you’d get if they had just been rolled.

We then tried the shrimp shumai dumplings:

Shrimp dumplings.

Meh. Fine. But nothing exciting, and no better than I’ve had at a Lee’s Deli, even. I don’t like being harsh in these reviews, but so far, the food had mostly been disappointing. We soldiered on.

Next, we went off the menu again and tried the tofu:

Tofu.

These were lightly fried and topped with grated radish and scallions, to be dipped in the accompanying soy sauce concoction. Tasty.

Fried avocado was up next:

Fried avocado.

I didn’t think I’d like hot avocado, but it was fine. Just rather texturally boring.

We were still hungry, so we ordered the fried scallops:

Fried scallops.

Now, there were three of us. Why serve us two, necessitating an awkward cutting so that we could all taste some of this dish? But it was not worth the trouble in the end, so it was probably best we didn’t each get our own. The crust was hard and slid right off the scallop.

I really wanted to like Tawara Sake. It’s an intimate space, and obvious care went into the décor and the sake list. And again, our server could not have been more conscientious, friendly and helpful. I’m hopeful that these are still growing pains, as the restaurant is only about six months old. But in our neighborhood, one rarely gets a second chance to make an impression, as there is just so much good food surrounding us. There just isn’t room for mediocrity here.

Tawara Sake
website
2193 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94110