Whether you’ve actually traveled to Japan or are just obsessed with sushi, you’re likely familiar with omakase, those multi-course meals prepared at the discretion of the chef, made with the freshest fish, and oftentimes reaching 14 or 15 courses, with round after round of fresh nigiri artfully prepared so that each bite requires no adjustment. Read between the lines: no extra wasabi, soy sauce, or Japanese mayo allowed; the sushi chef has the flavors queued up just so.
There are a handful of omakase restaurants like this sprinkled throughout San Francisco; Sushi Nagai is the latest to join the coterie.
Blocks from Union Square and this city’s most upscale shopping, Sushi Nagai’s design mimics that of a luxury goods store: A crisp yellow awning shades the clean glass storefront that offers barely a glimpse of what’s happening within; inside, a curvaceous, elevated platform, painted bright white, seats 20 or so with views to the sushi masters doing their expert slicing in the center.
While the wine glasses are being filled, you’ll note the respectful, quiet silence of the dining room where’s there’s no background music at all—just the hush conceived to inspire awe for the magic of sushi being crafted with care. Settle in, you’re going to be here a while.
Head chef Tomonori Nagai (Morimoto, Shinji by Kanasaka) will be your guide for the night, leading you through a collection of morsels that comes with a luxury price tag—expect to throw down northwards of $200 per person. But the ingredients, of course, are top notch, flown in from Tokyo’s famed Toyosu fish market, and the omakase is meticulously prepared in the Edomae style, meaning the fish is preserved with soy sauce, broth, or salt and vinegar for a few days before it is served, just as it was centuries ago in the days before refrigeration.
Take in the photos below for a taste of Sushi Nagai’s current 18-course meal. Prepare for decadence.
Inside Sushi Nagai
The tidy awning and glass entrance to Sushi Nagai mimic the high-end retailers in nearby Union Square.
With only bar seating on an elevated platform, every diner has a front-row view to the sushi chefs working their magic centerstage.
The fish offering will change based on what’s available and fresh at Tokyo’s Toyosu fish; I was lucky to get a bite of this rich, wild red snapper.
Another delicacy: tender barracuda, not commonly found on sushi menus in the States.
Lean and delicious, a piece of tuna is sliced in a rectangular form to deliver the best flavor, then paired with a layer of crisp nori seaweed.
One bite pretty much everyone can get behind: fatty tuna that melts in your mouth. You’ll want seconds.
Only in season for a few short weeks each year, a prized mantis shrimp makes the menu.
A portion of Japanese sardine is placed over a nugget of sushi rice. Fancy another? At the end of your meal, the chef will ask if you’d like another piece of anything he has prepared, so take note of your favorites (and do note the additional price for additional bites).
More melt-in-your-mouth goodness comes with a round of sea urchin nigiri—smooth, rich, and buttery.
You’ve never had a sushi restaurant egg omelet like these. At Sushi Nagai, the tamago is light and silken, almost with the texture of a delicate bread. I asked for details about the preparation, but it’s a secret too good for them to share.
All good meals end with dessert. Here a scoop of matcha ice cream is topped with a teaspoon of red bean paste and presented in a kind of open-faced, waffle-cone cookie sandwich. The green leaf is hand-carved by the restaurant’s resident artist.
// Sushi Nagai, 125 Ellis St. (Tenderloin), sushinagaisf.com
This article was originally written and photographed by me for 7×7 and can be viewed here.
Looking for another great sushi spot? Check out the R&B vibes and creative nigiri over at Robin.