So you’re cruising through an eight course omakase tasting menu (it could have been seven or nine or ten - you did the sake pairing as well) and halfway through, in comes a tray of five small different bites.
Up to this point your mind has more or less been blown, so of course you slurp down the first little glass of chunky white mystery liquid. It’s rich, almost nutty, and there’s a tangy ponzu sauce in it with a little micro garnish. You’ve never tasted anything like this before, but there’s an oyster next with effing caviar on top, so you’re not about to start asking questions.
But as the waiter takes away your plate, you can’t help but engage the kind young sushi chef behind the counter (you called ahead to request a seat at the counter because it’s a non-starter): “What was that?”
“Cod milt,” he says, once you’ve broached the question so many other virgin diners sitting there at Kusakabe have also pondered. “Ummmm,” he gathers himself as you stare blankly back at him looking for something more. “Male caviar.”
The stare turns slowly to a smirk as you and the rest of your party finally get it. This is hands down San Francisco’s best damn sushi menu.
You don’t get much of a choice at Kusakabe; in fact, you have to do the $95 tasting menu before you can order anything off the a la carte menu (good luck finding room at that point). The menu builds in richness with each course, so just sit back and enjoy.
Hindsight is 20:20, and when you finish this marathon menu, you’ll want to remember that you actually thought this was good. It is. It’s great. But it pales in comparison to what’s coming.
The chef’s raw choices of the day come with a sweet, tangy yuzu-onion sauce that would make shoe leather taste tremendous.
Here’s one of your few choices: go with the black truffle miso, because plain ol’ duck miso isn’t rich enough.
Let’s talk some more about fish semen. If you’re going to eat another animal’s potential progeny for the first time, Kusakabe is as good a place as any. And before you know it, you’re slurping down a lush caviar-topped oyster.
A savory little pot of tofu and egg-custard with Dungeness crab. It’s a tiny portion but filling. The warm broth will wake up your tastebuds for what’s next.
Now the fun really begins, as the sushi chef starts bringing three rounds of nigiri. Consider yourself lucky if the flavorful and fatty Shimaji (striped jack) is on the menu tonight.
You think you have to choose between the toro and the wagyu beef, but life is never this hard. Of course you get both. The wagyu is good, though it and other fine cuts of fish at Kusakabe tend to soak up the chemical butane flavor from blow torches used by the chefs. The divine toro, with its thick, hypnotizing layers of fat, is an appetizer, entree, and dessert in itself.