Sunday, December 17, 2006

HFF Quickie: Yoshi's

Yoshi's, Oakland's venerable jazz club recently hired a new chef and overhauled their menu in an attempt to revitalized what had become a staid, unchanging menu of traditional Japanese food and outdated fusion food. Not to say it was bad before--Yoshi's has always served some of the best sushi and sashimi in the area--but this new menu is a giant leap forward.

The menu changes weekly, and is broken down into a family-style/tapas format with dishes grouped by type (small plates, carpaccio, smoked sashimi, salads, shellfish, tempura, grill, sides) with everything served a la carte. The excellent sushi and sashimi selection is also still available.

We dove right in, trying an array of menu items. First up was the ohitashi trio--three cigars of densely-packed blanched spinach each topped with black sesame, vinegar-miso dressing, and tofu-walnut puree. Pretty good. The spinach itself was a little underseasoned but the toppings were well done--in particular the tart, earthy miso.

Next up, the smoked hokkaido scallop sashimi. Sliced sea scallops, lightly smoked, and topped with salmon roe and truffle oil. The scallop ensemble was deliciously full-flavored. The spicy citron puree on the bottom was a bit overpowering--strong, heavy, and smoky it got in the way of the comparatively milder flavors on top.

Asari clams steamed in sake and miso were fucking great. The clams were tender, the broth rich and redolent. The broth itself was a bit salt for solitary consumption, but complimented the clams beautiful.

Two tempura dishes: one, a mix of organic vegetables (that somehow included asparagus in December) was decent; the other, silken tofu and avocado was great. Crisp fluffy batter and a nice (if underseasoned) tentsuyu broth.

The finale--the most entree-like--was the kurobuta pork chop. The thick, fatty chop marinated in a broth similar to what the clams were steamed in. It was pretty damn good., One would imagine that it'd be hard to fuck up a cut of meat this fatty, but I've had versions that were either too puckeringly salty or glazed with a sickeningly sweet teriyako-ish syrup. So this was nice change of pace.

Yoshi's has also expanded their sake selection and marketing with a very nice, detailed, and focused sake menu. The two tasting flights Yoshi's offers are each very distinctive and well-articulated. Yoshi's has become a friendly spot for sake novices to get their feet wet.

Once we got into the jazz club itself we satisfied our fish craving (a limited appetizer, sushi, sashimi, and dessert menu is available during the shows) with an order each of unagi and saba sashimi and hamachi nigiri. Phenomenal. The eel was sweet and dirty like the a dirty river, the mackeral firm and oily, and the yellowtail soft and buttery with just enough lingering firmness to hold in a hint of oiliness.

So, in the end Yoshi's was pretty good. Well worth a stop before seeing a show in the jazz club (10PM show ticket-holders can reserve their seats in advance if they're dining). Worth a visit for dinner on its own? Sure. Nothing mind-blowing but some really good (and probably continually improving) food.

Eight stars!

510 Embarcadero West
Oakland, Ca 94607
510-238-9200 or
Total cost for two (six plates, two sake flights, tax, tip): $130

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