If you want to get noticed as a chef in the Bay Area, a fancy tasting menu can be one way to go. But as any local foodie knows, it can take a lot to stand out among the stars—like a whole beast lot.
At Ittoryu Gozu, the new SoMa restaurant from chef Marc Zimmerman (Alexander’s Steakhouse, Nobu) and his partner, Ben Jorgensen, the tasting focuses on wagyu beef (points for that) but especially on using all the rich, marbly, meaty parts (ding ding ding).
But let’s be clear: A multi-course steak experience with back-to-back plates of capital-M-meat this is not. Zimmerman‘s nose-to-tail approach is more refined than that, weaving light touches of wagyu into each course of 10 traditional Japanese dishes: wagyu skewers; albacore tataki with wagyu garum; wagyu tartare; koshihikari rice served with a side of wagyu tea; and chawanmushi with wagyu custard, to name a few.
The beef is expectedly top quality, sourced from farms in Japan, Australia, and America, and the menu aims to educate diners with notes about the animal’s history, breed, sex, farm, grade, and cattle ID. On our visit, we dined on A5 snow beef from Hokkaido, Japan’s Chateau Uenae. From one of the highest quality steers raised on that estate, the meat easily garners a marbling score of 10 or higher (on a scale of three to 12); in other words, it melts in your mouth.
When you settle in for a two-hour tasting experience, ambiance matters. At Ittoryu Gozu, the comfortable-cool design was devised by James Beard Award–winning ALM Project (In Situ, Benu). A glowing light and simple Gozu sign marks the otherwise dark entrance; once inside, a blackened steel wall momentarily cordons off the dining room, which is anchored by a wood U-shaped wood dining counter. You’ll pull up a cushy leather bar chair to eat elbow to elbow with 24 other guests, all facing inward to the culinary action, including a large marble cooking island and open-fire robata grill, at the center.
Mouths water as fresh cuts of beef are grilled out in the open and rice is crisped in cast-iron pans, fresh hunks of bread visibly charred. This intimate, up-close experience is called Kappo dining in Japan; literally translated as “to cut and to cook,” the Kappo experience allows for an almost familial kitchen experience, with diners practically sit in the kitchen to observe the various cooking techniques and tightly orchestrated performance of grilling, steaming, frying, simmering, and raw preparations.
As with any lavish tasting menu registering $150 a person, the experience could veer toward pretentious AF, but it doesn’t. The culinary team is calm and effortless, the dishes precise, and the beverage director friendly and knowledgeable. The soundtrack: Bill Withers, Mumford & Sons, and friendly chatter between guests.
At first glance, one could easily assume the albacore tataki is wagyu-free, but the tender cuts of fish are actually served in a wagyu garum with whiskey vinegar and then topped with crispy leaves of kale “nori.”
There’s no missing the wagyu, though, in this tartare, which is perched over egg and topped with pickled Fresno cucumbers and candied shrimp.
The chawanmushi blends wagyu fat and duck eggs for a creamy custard base and is layered with chives, wild black trumpet mushrooms, and smoked roe.
Matsutake mushrooms are cooked with wagyu smoke and served in a conifer bearnaise sauce, perfect for dipping pieces of grilled milk bread.
These seemingly straightforward hunks of wagyu come from lesser used parts of the cow, like an inside round or knuckle cut.
Embracing the nose-to-tail cooking approach, various parts of the cattle are combined for something of a wagyu meatball.
Can’t say we’ve ever had liquid wagyu before. Zimmerman pulls out the stops for this delicate, rich wagyu broth tea, perfect for sipping with your next course: koshihikari rice.
Fried rice has nothing on this dish. Koshihikari rice is crisped in wagyu fat to delightfully crunchy result; its topped with a puree of smoked celery root and fermented garlic cream. Pieces of dried seaweed, charred allium, and crispy onions add another layer of dimension.
Two words: pumpkin mochi. This kabocha pumpkin cake is sweet, thick, and chewy with a drizzle of ginger-infused sweet cream. While there’s no wagyu here, the dessert plays with a whole-pumpkin theme: pumpkin seeds are toasted and turned into crumbles, while little dollops of pureed pumpkin stems accompany the treat.
Looking for an even more intimate experience? Book the whiskey den for a private dinner for your group of 12. When there are no private bookings, the bourbon-hued room will become a Japanese whisky bar in the late evening. Regulars here can get a personalized plaque and shelf space to house their private stash.
// Ittoryu Gozu, 201 Spear St. (SoMa), gozusf.com
This article was originally written and photographed by me for 7×7, and can be viewed here.
Looking for another upscale-ish tasting menu? Sushi Nagai has you covered.