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Courtesy of Kusakabe

Where to Try Sake and Seafood in San Francisco

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You already know that sushi and sake are a match made in heaven, so it’s no surprise that this specialty rice brew also pairs beautifully with all different kinds of seafood. Sake’s wide range of aromas and flavor profiles find an occasion for almost every type of seafood, from briny oysters and pan-seared sole to umami-sweet black miso cod and brightly red steamed lobster.

Nancy Cushman — a certified Advanced Sake Professional for o ya, Covina, Hojoko, and more in her restaurant group that she co-owns with her husband Tim, her business partner and a James Beard Award-winning chef — knows a thing or two about this overlooked sake pairing. “Sake is a delicious and perfect pairing with many seafood dishes well beyond just Japanese sushi and sashimi,” she says. “From East to West Coast oysters to Gulf shrimp to Baja snapper, there is an unexpected sake match out there to be explored and enjoyed.”

Not sure how to pair sake with seafood? Start by familiarizing yourself with the different categories of sake. Sake categories are most easily differentiated by how much of the rice grain has been polished away. Junmai sake, for example, is polished to 70 percent of the grain, which gives it a rich, full body and imparts some umami flavors. The more grain you polish away, the lighter, and more elegant, the sake becomes; for example, honjozo, ginjo, and daijingo sakes are polished to between 70 percent or 50 percent of the grain.

With Cushman’s help, who has sampled sake from coast to coast, we’ve found the sake and seafood pairings in San Francisco you’ve never thought to try before — until now. Skip the white wine and shake up your usual order by trying a glass (or two!) of different sakes, like a clean and delicately floral junmai daiginjo with raw seafood, a rice-forward junmai with brothy shellfish, or even a supple unfiltered nigori alongside similarly buttery and meaty white fish. Here are the 9 restaurants to head to this weekend and try an unexpected pairing, led by Cushman’s sake expertise.

Learn more about sake and seafood pairings at foodandsake.com.

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The French Laundry

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Even more stunning after its recent remodel, Napa Valley’s French Laundry from acclaimed chef Thomas Keller is the quintessential fine dining experience for life’s most special occasions. The spirit of the lengthy wine list — hard-to-find, distinctive expressions of each varietal — shines through on their sake selection as well. Pair their signature Oysters and Pearls with a pour of Katafune’s juicy Daiginjo Tobindori, or perhaps sip on a glass of cult favorite Chapter Seven from Takachiyo 59 during the delightful cheese course.

Hog Island Oyster Co

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You may have to line up at Hog Island’s Ferry Building outpost, but it’s well worth it for a few rounds of their bouncy, supple bivalves freshly harvested just 50 miles north of the city. Plus, the al fresco dining environment, the cool breeze off the pier, and the backdrop of the historic Ferry Building is hard to beat. Spruce up the usual pairing of white wine and oysters with a lovely-hued rose sake instead, or spring for a full sake flight as you work through the many iterations of oysters available from raw and grilled to Rockefeller and chipotle.

Remy Hale

Kusakabe

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Sleek and modern Kusakabe may be a Michelin-starred, tasting-menu-only restaurant, but it always feels warm and welcoming. Its kaiseki (traditional Japanese coursed meal) is offered in two different sets, each flowing graciously through the seasons with dishes like dashi infused with cured cherry blossoms, or purist shirayaki-style unagi (freshwater eel roasted and seasoned only with salt). The curated sake pairing is a perfect accompaniment to the rhythm of the meal, though enthusiasts may want to splurge on some of the high-end, exclusive junmai daiginjos available.

Courtesy of Kusakabe

Liholiho Yacht Club

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Immerse yourself in the island vibes of Liholiho and its downstairs sister bar, Louie’s Gen-Gen Room, with plates like scallops with pork belly and pecans or whole lobster with preserved black bean sauce. Chef Ravi Kapur doesn’t shy from taking often-overlooked cuts — fish tail, pig ears, tripe — and turning them into something magical with his blend of lightly Hawaiian, very NorCal flavors. Nama (unpasteurized) style sakes are an excellent choice here to complement the food’s tropical notes, and there’s also The Tightrope drink for those who prefer their sake in a cocktail.

Shannon McLean

Onsen Bath & Restaurant

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Forget dinner and a movie — at sanctuary-like Onsen, treat yourself to a hot bath and dinner instead. After relaxing in the facility’s waterfall hot pool and invigorating your pores in the steam room and pink Himalayan salt sauna, tuck into delicate bites like tangy trout poke with lime tamari or a few skewers of local sardine with a dusting of togarashi. Chef George Meza’s cuisine is vegetable-forward with carefully additions of fish and proteins, grounded in local, seasonal sourcing; opt for a custom sake flight for a holistically well-rounded experience.

Courtesy of Onsen

Hinata Sushi

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Hinata translates to “sunny place” in Japanese, and it’s an apt description: The sushi bar is brightly lit with daylight-toned drop lights, bolstered with additional under-bar lighting. It throws the delicate work of the sushi chefs Gavin Leung and Weida Chen into sharp relief: voluptuous scallops with crystal sea salt, Spanish mackerel gently smoked in cherry wood, ankimo (monkfish liver) dotted with ponzu jelly. But don’t let the minimalist décor fool you — the vibe is decidedly relaxed, the music upbeat, and the choose-your-own sake cup process always fun. Reach for a sublime junmai daiginjo like Cold Mountain Water from Kitaya Kansansui or a rice-forward junmai like 9 Headed Dragon from Kokuryu Kuzuryu to end your meal on a high note.

Courtesy of Hinata Sushi
Read Review |

Robin’s experimental approach to sushi and sliding-scale omakase makes it an easy choice for a nice dinner out. Chef-owner Adam Tortosa carefully levies California aesthetic to each piece of nigiri, topping a piece of flounder with Meyer lemon and blood orange kosho, or adding lovely opal basil to aromatize a slice of grouper with grapefruit. New-aged sake offerings, like those from local brewery Sequoia Sake, pepper the list alongside an array of sake staples and even a sake-style saison.

Izakaya Sozai

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Izakaya Sozai is a true neighborhood staple, combining all the comforts of a local diner with an always-interesting roster of Japanese small plates. From rotating sashimi specials like salmon carpaccio with mango salsa and wasabi-marinated raw octopus to regular favorites like sake-steamed clams and grilled squid, there is never really a misstep to be made. This is an institution that takes its sake seriously, with a rigorous list from herbaceous junmais — like Man’s Mountain from Otokoyama Tokubetsu — to silky junmai daiginjos and flavored varietals. They even have an entire segment of the menu cheekily named “After Sake.”

Courtesy of Izakaya Sozai

ICHI Sushi

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The Mission’s ICHI is the fun aunt of sushi spots, complete with a mural that turns dining etiquette (“eat sushi in one bite”) into wall-sized art. Although it has downsized since the initial opening, ICHI still boasts a menu that fits everyone: three tiers of food tasting flights, a la carte, and of course full-on omakase, plus a six-course sparkling and sake beverage pairing to complete the package. Rarities like the three-line grunt and barracuda share the limelight with essentials like kelp-cured fluke, Japanese mackerel, and gorgeously pink toro, while sakes like the Green Ridge from Dewazakura or Dreams Come True from Born Yume Wa Masayuma span the range of crisp fruit to graceful and rich.

Darren Samuelson
This advertising content was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and our sponsor, without involvement from Vox Media editorial staff.

The French Laundry

Even more stunning after its recent remodel, Napa Valley’s French Laundry from acclaimed chef Thomas Keller is the quintessential fine dining experience for life’s most special occasions. The spirit of the lengthy wine list — hard-to-find, distinctive expressions of each varietal — shines through on their sake selection as well. Pair their signature Oysters and Pearls with a pour of Katafune’s juicy Daiginjo Tobindori, or perhaps sip on a glass of cult favorite Chapter Seven from Takachiyo 59 during the delightful cheese course.

Hog Island Oyster Co

Remy Hale

You may have to line up at Hog Island’s Ferry Building outpost, but it’s well worth it for a few rounds of their bouncy, supple bivalves freshly harvested just 50 miles north of the city. Plus, the al fresco dining environment, the cool breeze off the pier, and the backdrop of the historic Ferry Building is hard to beat. Spruce up the usual pairing of white wine and oysters with a lovely-hued rose sake instead, or spring for a full sake flight as you work through the many iterations of oysters available from raw and grilled to Rockefeller and chipotle.

Remy Hale

Kusakabe

Courtesy of Kusakabe

Sleek and modern Kusakabe may be a Michelin-starred, tasting-menu-only restaurant, but it always feels warm and welcoming. Its kaiseki (traditional Japanese coursed meal) is offered in two different sets, each flowing graciously through the seasons with dishes like dashi infused with cured cherry blossoms, or purist shirayaki-style unagi (freshwater eel roasted and seasoned only with salt). The curated sake pairing is a perfect accompaniment to the rhythm of the meal, though enthusiasts may want to splurge on some of the high-end, exclusive junmai daiginjos available.

Courtesy of Kusakabe

Liholiho Yacht Club

Shannon McLean

Immerse yourself in the island vibes of Liholiho and its downstairs sister bar, Louie’s Gen-Gen Room, with plates like scallops with pork belly and pecans or whole lobster with preserved black bean sauce. Chef Ravi Kapur doesn’t shy from taking often-overlooked cuts — fish tail, pig ears, tripe — and turning them into something magical with his blend of lightly Hawaiian, very NorCal flavors. Nama (unpasteurized) style sakes are an excellent choice here to complement the food’s tropical notes, and there’s also The Tightrope drink for those who prefer their sake in a cocktail.

Shannon McLean

Onsen Bath & Restaurant

Courtesy of Onsen

Forget dinner and a movie — at sanctuary-like Onsen, treat yourself to a hot bath and dinner instead. After relaxing in the facility’s waterfall hot pool and invigorating your pores in the steam room and pink Himalayan salt sauna, tuck into delicate bites like tangy trout poke with lime tamari or a few skewers of local sardine with a dusting of togarashi. Chef George Meza’s cuisine is vegetable-forward with carefully additions of fish and proteins, grounded in local, seasonal sourcing; opt for a custom sake flight for a holistically well-rounded experience.

Courtesy of Onsen

Hinata Sushi

Courtesy of Hinata Sushi

Hinata translates to “sunny place” in Japanese, and it’s an apt description: The sushi bar is brightly lit with daylight-toned drop lights, bolstered with additional under-bar lighting. It throws the delicate work of the sushi chefs Gavin Leung and Weida Chen into sharp relief: voluptuous scallops with crystal sea salt, Spanish mackerel gently smoked in cherry wood, ankimo (monkfish liver) dotted with ponzu jelly. But don’t let the minimalist décor fool you — the vibe is decidedly relaxed, the music upbeat, and the choose-your-own sake cup process always fun. Reach for a sublime junmai daiginjo like Cold Mountain Water from Kitaya Kansansui or a rice-forward junmai like 9 Headed Dragon from Kokuryu Kuzuryu to end your meal on a high note.

Courtesy of Hinata Sushi

Robin

Read Review |

Robin’s experimental approach to sushi and sliding-scale omakase makes it an easy choice for a nice dinner out. Chef-owner Adam Tortosa carefully levies California aesthetic to each piece of nigiri, topping a piece of flounder with Meyer lemon and blood orange kosho, or adding lovely opal basil to aromatize a slice of grouper with grapefruit. New-aged sake offerings, like those from local brewery Sequoia Sake, pepper the list alongside an array of sake staples and even a sake-style saison.

Izakaya Sozai

Courtesy of Izakaya Sozai

Izakaya Sozai is a true neighborhood staple, combining all the comforts of a local diner with an always-interesting roster of Japanese small plates. From rotating sashimi specials like salmon carpaccio with mango salsa and wasabi-marinated raw octopus to regular favorites like sake-steamed clams and grilled squid, there is never really a misstep to be made. This is an institution that takes its sake seriously, with a rigorous list from herbaceous junmais — like Man’s Mountain from Otokoyama Tokubetsu — to silky junmai daiginjos and flavored varietals. They even have an entire segment of the menu cheekily named “After Sake.”

Courtesy of Izakaya Sozai

ICHI Sushi

Darren Samuelson

The Mission’s ICHI is the fun aunt of sushi spots, complete with a mural that turns dining etiquette (“eat sushi in one bite”) into wall-sized art. Although it has downsized since the initial opening, ICHI still boasts a menu that fits everyone: three tiers of food tasting flights, a la carte, and of course full-on omakase, plus a six-course sparkling and sake beverage pairing to complete the package. Rarities like the three-line grunt and barracuda share the limelight with essentials like kelp-cured fluke, Japanese mackerel, and gorgeously pink toro, while sakes like the Green Ridge from Dewazakura or Dreams Come True from Born Yume Wa Masayuma span the range of crisp fruit to graceful and rich.

Darren Samuelson

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