Kappa (SF) – Good not Great

The Chowhounders say it’s the best Japanese in the city (San Francisco.) Given the abysmal state of Japanese cuisine in the city, it’s certainly possible. However, don’t kid yourself into thinking this might be a hidden treasure ala Urasawa (LA) or Sugiyama (NYC.) It’s not.

Kappa is a mom & pop shop, hidden behind an unmarked door in Japantown, with 10 seats at the counter or so. There is a menu but I went with the omakase option. The meal was good, but it wasn’t as refined as the best. The “koriyori” menu followed a similar pattern to my Sugiyama meal – starters, appetizers, sashimi, meat, and broth – generally speaking. Each taste is designed to showcase a flavor, or nuance, some dishes yielding to others; but, despite the valiant attempt, the limitations of the cooking or ingredients often spoke loudest.

Halibut w/ Ankimo sauce – a very strong start, fish had a nice dousing of vinegar while the ankimo accents provided a lush mouth-feel.
Kappa (San Francisco) - Halibut w/ Ankimo sauce

Asparagus with Sesame Tofu – a let-down considering it’s not asparagus season yet. I also prefer my tofu silkier than the grittiness this displayed.
Kappa (San Francisco) - Asparagus with Sesame Tofu

Collection of Appetizers – squid with spicy roe, chicken meatball, duck breast, shrimp. (non-massaged) fuyu wrapped around an egg yolk, salmon & cream cheese, and tamago. All were tasty but nothing was a revelatory. The fuyu / egg obviously displayed some craftsmanship.
Kappa (San Francisco) - Collection of appetizers

Sashimi – the dish I was expecting to least like but this was *very high* quality for San Francisco. In fact, the tuna was some of the best I’ve had in awhile and the fish was a grade higher than my Ino Sushi meal a few days later. The uni was steamed and, while that technique ruined the texture, it did bring out the sweetness more.
Kappa (San Francisco) - Sashimi
Kappa (San Francisco) - Sashimi

Collection of Meat Dishes – fried shrimp ball, fried pork, black cod, and eel. The black cod was basically the Nobu miso formula but it was very good nonetheless. I haven’t really met a shrimp ball I appreciate yet. The fried pork was dry. The eel was ok. This series of tastings ultimately showed the limits of the kitchen – it can be tasty food but it’s missing a degree of exactness that one appreciates in the best Japanese kitchens.
Kappa (San Francisco) - Meat course

Daikon & Eggplant in Mushroom broth – the broth was heady stuff with a strong mushroom flavor but the eggplant and daikon servings were just too large (for my personal preference.)
Kappa (San Francisco) - Daikon & Eggplant in Mushroom broth

Some Desserts
Kappa (San Francisco) - Some desserts
Kappa (San Francisco) - Some desserts

It was a good meal but it pales in comparison to the refinement of Sugiyama (NYC) and Urasawa (LA.) At $100/person, the value isn’t there for me; I’d rather save up my money and take a trip down south.

- chuck