[San Francisco] OzaOza, kaiseki HO-down report


#1

2 big HO’s and a little HO gathered tonight to try out OzaOza, the newish kaiseki restaurant in Japantown that replaced Kappa, the Kyo-ryori restaurant when the owner retired last year and Chef Ozawa-san and wife Gana took over the space. Chef Ozawa-san hails from Kyoto, the birthplace of Kaiseki and is trained in classical kaiseki techniques, before he made his way to San Francisco 9 years ago. The chef and his wife Gana ran the entire restaurant, with Ozawa-san doing all the cooking and Gana managing the dining room. The restaurant seats 9 at the counter around the chef station, and is very intimate and conducive to conversations.

The menu changes each month and like all kaiseki meals, uses the ingredients of the seasons. The chef brings all the elements of the meals together to create a very harmonic experience. The chef ships certain Japanese ingredients from Japan, and the rest he sources from farmers’ markets on Clement, Civic Center, Daly City, etc.

Its great that of all HOs and hounds, @charliemyboy decided to join the meal. He had previous experiences with Wakuriya and so provided good comparisons between the two kaiseki restaurants. I haven’t been to Wakuriya, so I’ll comment on the meal based on my observations tonight. In general, the tastes were very subtle. The meal peaked towards the end with the sunomono and wagyu dishes.

Sakizuke (small appetizer)- sesame tofu mixed with fava bean, lily bulb, wasabi. Mildly sweet ‘tofu’ made with sesame in a more pronounced broth made with bonito seasoned with shoyu (details a little fuzzy already, if I remember incorrectly, please correct). The wasabi here was, like the rest of the meal, subtle and restrained.

Hassun (seasonal appetizer)- from top left, clockwise:

Stewed wagyu, with sugar, soy sauce and ginger(?). The wagyu was ‘pulled’ and shredded. Mildly sweet and savory. Pretty delicious.

Squid legs with spicy cod roe. Squid was tender with the cod roe added just a tiny bit of heat to add flavor. Enjoyable.

Bamboo shoot with a pepper bud miso. The pepper bud miso add a savory component to the bamboo shoot.

Tamago (layered egg cake) was served with I think a shoyu based and slightly sweet sauce.

Fried baby shrimp. Ate the whole thing. While not unique, it was sweet and savory.

Snap pea with fermented soybean. The subtlety of the fermented soybean was a bit underappreciated by me since I only got to eat one of the soybeans before the kid finished the rest. But I think @charliemyboy said he enjoyed them.

Grilled sand borer with egg yolk. I forgot to ask but it seemed like the sand borer was dried before grilling. The kid ate most of it so I only remember I enjoyed the small piece I ate.

A little bit of molecular gastronomy here? with the roe jelly of red snapper. Basically a cube of less of a jelly to me but more of a formed/ thickened paste that tasted of the mild sweetness of the red snapper.


Nimonowan (soup). Soup with red rockfish, freeze dried bean curd, wheat bran, brocollini. Refreshing and palate cleaning.

Mukouzuke (sashimi). Bonito wrapped around shiso leaves, radishes and some microgreens. The shiso leaves added an interesting cool minty counterpoint to the warmer savory tones of the bonito and shoyu. Wild red snapper sitting on a shiso leaf and a bed of shaved radish underneath. Cherry trout on the right.

Yakimono (grilled dish)- grilled king mackerel and butterbur with pickled. Well grilled, with a little bit of char and skin slightly crisped up and tender flesh inside. Personal preference is a softer flakier fish.

Sunomono (vinegared dish). Loved this dish with the vinegar providing a great punch that brought the rest of the dish- the fire fly squid, ice fish, cucumber and radish with a bit of sauce made with egg yolk- to life.

Supplemental wagyu beef steak. The fatty wagyu got a complex flavor boost from the wasabi radish with a highly aromatic crispy deep fried garlic slice sitting on top. Its meant to be devoured together. Glad to get this and I liked this dish.

Osyokuji (rice, miso soup and pickles). The fatty tuna, mountain yam and pickle stirred together. I made the mistake of adding the shoyu before tasting the combination first so the taste was mainly from the shoyu (they use Kikkoman). The sake kasu, leftover from sake production, added a sweet-savory dimension to elevate the miso soup. Very delicious.

Mizumono (dessert). Sweet red bean along with mochi with a cherry leaf wrapped around. Mild sweetness from the redbean.

The whole kaiseki meal was $100 plus the $25 wagyu supplement. Had a glass of chilled Kokoryu sake. In general, I thought it was a reasonably-priced kaiseki experience in San Francisco, with the ingredients carefully and skillfully prepared, subtly seasoned, and artfully (but not overly so) presented. The team created a very warm, welcoming and comfortable environment for a harmonic meal where the components ranged from ok to great. While not transcendent, it was quite enjoyable with good conversations about food and everything else. Just the right group size for a kaiseki HO-down.

The restaurant.


(Ailsa Konzelman) #2

Lovely report with great photos! The food looks fabulous.


#3

What did the little one have? Did they make something special?


#4

She just end up having what I had, and she got to pick out whatever interested her from the entire meal. We’ll have to make sure she doesn’t get used to food like these.


#5

Since my total kaiseki experience is limited to five or six meals (of which two were in Japan) it’s hard for me to recall all the details of a meal with many unfamiliar ingredients and techniques for more than a day or two afterwards. I wrote down some notes three days after my very satisfying meal with sck at Oza-Oza but was too busy to do more at the time. Still, some impressions I had at the time stand out.

Overall I enjoyed the meal and was very happy I went. It somehow seemed less special than my two meals at Wakuriya but those Wakuriya meals are among my top restaurant experiences in recent years.

sck’s post accurately describes my memory of the various dishes. My further impressions–

Sakizuke—

A very good start to the meal. The subtle broth was delicious.

Hassun—

The wagyu was one of my favorite tastes of the meal. The squid was very enjoyable but similar to other dishes I have had. The tomago was one of the best I’ve ever had, but also not particularly unique or unusual. Lack of uniqueness here is not necessarily a criticism, just noteworthy in a meal with many new (to me) and unusual flavors. My first bites of the snap peas with fermented soybeans were very pleasing but later bites were overwhelmed by the lingering stronger tastes of other items.

Mukouzuke—

The fish were all very high quality and very good. I enjoyed the bonito most.

Sunomono—

The ice fish with their beady eyes were pretty cool looking but didn’t have much flavor. However overall this was one of my favorite dishes of the meal

Wagyu beef steak—

I’m also glad we added this option. The ingredients worked very well together and the beef was incredibly tender.

Osyokuji—

The miso soup was the best I’ve ever had—really delicious. The rice concoction was the one dish of the meal that I found bland and uninteresting, maybe even slightly unpleasant. Adding the shoyu made it slightly more interesting but as sck has noted the shoyu overwhelmed the rice flavor. I think this was “user error” on my part. I didn’t realize I was supposed to add the pickles and yam to the rice concoction which I’m sure would have made a big difference. I ate the pickles separately and they were great.

Mizumono—

Pleasant but nothing special in my book.

The matcha tea was very mild and subtle. I liked it a lot, though I’m a fan of the strong, bitter whisked matcha I had in Japan.

As at Wakuriya, the chef’s wife functions as the server. The service was very good, though occasionally my faulty hearing prevented me from understanding Gana’s accented explanations. She was more attentive and seemed a bit warmer than her counterpart as Wakuriya, perhaps due in part to the lesser number of diners to attend to. With the formalities of Japanese culture in general and the status of kaiseki in particular I would imagine that a certain reserve on the part of the server is considered appropriate.

It was only when the Kid, who had maintained a surprisingly calm demeanor throughout almost all of our long meal, finally required extended attention from her Dad in the restroom that the server and I made more contact, discussing style differences with Wakuriya and my interest in planting an ume tree and trying my hand at making umeboshi.

She said that Wakuriya is more experimental and OzaOza is more traditional, which was in line with my impressions of the two, though I must admit I haven’t a clue as to what is traditional in kaiseki. Wakuriya’s dishes just seemed more showy than OzaOza’s.

The tables at Wakuriya move the visual focus away from the chef to the members of your party. Six of us at Wakuriya sitting facing each other were energized by our conversation and shared excitement over the food in a way that would have been hard to duplicate at OzaOza’s counter. For our party of three at OzaOza the counter arrangement was fine. If you want to talk to the chef about each dish the counter at OzaOza is better.

I like Wakuriya’s sake flights which allow you smaller glasses of three different types of sake, but my sake at OzaOza (don’t remember the name) was very good. If I hadn’t had to drive home I would have tried the ume liqueur, but on top of my sake it would have been too much.

All in all it was a very pleasing meal with good companionship and delicious interesting cusine


#6

Great report. Thanks @charliemyboy.

I think the comment that OzaOza is more traditional is quite apt. While I haven’t been to Kyoto, I suspect this meal wouldn’t be out of place if one come across it in a traditional ryokan there.


#7

Had dinner at OzaOza. I’ve had dinner once at Kappa, the previous occupant of this space before the owners retired. I’m glad to see that the space remains - like Kappa before it - a kaiseki restaurant run by a husband and wife team. A kind of passing of the torch from Kappa to a new generation. Kind of like how Sushi An in the building across the street took over from Ino Sushi a little while ago. We went here for dinner on a Friday in June. There were only 4 other people in the restaurant for our seating, though game 4 of the NBA finals may have had something to do with that.

As @sck mentioned, the menu changes to highlight seasonal ingredients. Kaiseki also highlights different ways of cooking - steamed, simmered, deep frying, raw, etc. This was what we had that night:

Menu


Sakizuke (Small Appetizer)
Salad with organic chicken, asparagus, pine nuts, seaweed and plum and sesame sauce.

A nice, cool chicken salad to start with.


Hassun (Seasonal Appetizer)
Steamed abalone, grilled sillago, barracuda sushi, deep fried taro with pepper leaf bud miso, deep fried lotus root, tofu skin, kabocha squash ball, green plum cooked with syrup

A plethora of small bites. My favorites of these were the tender, flavorful abalone and the kabocha squash ball. The barracuda sushi was also quite good. The little plum was long cooked and almost falling apart.


Nimonowan (Soup)
Pike conger, egg tofu, carrot, baby broccoli, yuzu

Next was a soup. Delicious dashi based broth. The conger eel was nice and delicate. The egg tofu tasted a bit like a chawanmushi.


Mukouzuke (Sashimi)
Striped jack, Copper River wild king salmon, bar fin flounder

Delicious sashimi with freshly grated wasabi. Beautiful presentation.


Agemono (deep fried dish)
Deep fried belt fish stuffed with tofu and vegetables with black vinegar sauce
Eggplant, snap pea on the side

The sauce had kind of a sweet and sour taste. Fish was nicely cooked - delicate and flaky inside with a crispy skin.


Shinzakana (Small dish)
Big eye tuna with shredded mountain yam, avocado, okra

This tuna dish was slimy because of the nagaimo (mountain yam) and also the okra. A bit of an acquired taste, but I liked it.


Wagyu beef steak (Supplemental dish)

We added the wagyu supplement for $25. This was delicious. Not quite melt in your mouth but very tender. Fatty and flavorful. Garnished with some nice crispy garlic slices, daikon wasabi, a potato, and a light salad.


Osyokuji (Rice and Soup)
Rice with Red snapper
Red miso soup, pickles

A rice dish to finish. This tasted kind of like a rice with salted fish, only not too salty. Came with a nice miso soup and some pickles.


Mizumono (Dessert)
Triangle sweet rice jelly topped with sweet beans

A bean cake and a couple of perfectly ripe cherries. A nice light dessert.


A delicious meal. I’ve not had kaiseki before in Japan but this definitely showcased different ways of presenting/cooking seasonal ingredients. A fine successor to Kappa.


#8

Its not like there was any drama in game 4 anyway! More people should be here instead!

I’ve never been to Kappa. Was it kaiseki, or was it more like kappo cuisine?

That reminds me I still need to make it to Wakuriya. I periodically will call them up and see if they have cancellations, but my willpower is not strong enough to call them a month ahead to get seats.

I don’t think nagaimo is slimy, unless perhaps its cooked very soft? Even then its still not as much as okra.

Glad you had a good meal!


#9

From what I understand Kappa served koryori which is a Kyoto style of kaiseki. I don’t know enough about kappo/koryori/kaiseki to really tell the difference though. Nagaimo is pretty slimy at least when grated - kind of has a texture between glue and snot. In this dish I think it was chopped up so not quite as slimy at that.


#10

Looks delicious! I will have to add it to the list (after Ju-ni next week)

Nagaimo is the base used to make tororo which is definitely slimy like elastic snot. An acquired taste indeed!


#11

Kappo and kaiseki share the element of seasonal cooking, though kappo can be a bit more informal compared to kaiseki, with kaiseki being more elaborate.

Although one can argue Ozaoza, despite adhering to the kaiseki format, e.g. hassun, nimonowan, etc., is also fairly informal and we got to chat with him. :smiley: The chef is from Kyoto though, versus Osaka.


#12

There is now another Kaiseki restaurant in the Bay Area- Ranzan in Redwood City. Its run by a East Coast native trained 6 years in Kobe according to Elena Kadvany. Kinda pricey for a new restaurant though, and compared to OzaOza and Wakuriya: