Written By: Carly Salzberg
Photographed By: Vanessa Ross Aquino
Styled By: Katarzyna Tarabula
Arrangements Provided By: Grant Avenue Florist, www.grantaveflorist.com
In the heart of the Embarcadero, just South of Market Street, the heavy wooden doors to Ozumo restaurant open into an impressive dimly lit lounge area. To your left a lavish bar is lined with green, black and blue imported bottles of Japanese sake. With approximately fifty varieties of sake decorating the restaurant and the modern thirty person sushi bar, Ozumo totes one of the largest sake lists in all of North America.
As you walk into the Robata dining room, a zen garden design creates an open space atmosphere for guests to mingle comfortably while maintaining an authentic yet contemporary Japanese fine dining experience. Lightly polished wood paneling frame large windows in the main room that offer breathtaking views of the boardwalk and the San Francisco Bay Bridge. The mood is as unique and as fresh as the fish served daily, imported from some of the finest markets and purveyors in the world.
So take a seat adjacent to the giant window overlooking the Embarcadero. The lustrous wooden table is divided by little green pots of succulents offering a rustic landscape for the vibrant entrees. At the head of the table adorns a bouquet centerpiece that looks almost as visually stimulating as the food in front of you. The large vase is assorted with ruby colored ginger flowers composed of symmetrical leaves that lift your senses to a more tropical climate. The fuzzy looking dark red kangaroo paws, delicate green ferns and tall stalks of bamboo grass display a warm exotic flare and ambiance. As a pleasant contrast, the table setting is minimal and draws your eye back to the food. The simple style of the tall crystal sake glasses showcases the smooth lucidity of the rice wine. Likewise, the gently folded white napkins and side sushi plates are like blank canvases awaiting some masterpiece drizzled in shiso dressing.
Take a sip of the fruity Amabuki Ichigo, its strawberry sake punch and sweet lingering aftertaste complement the tangy tenderness of the spanish octopus in the Yaki Tako. The radicchio and pea tendrils are charred evenly under the octopus to retain all of its succulent flavor. If sea urchin is too much for you, dig into the Tontoro. The Kurobuta pork jowl is braised to a savory degree that is melt in your mouth delicious. In between bites, you can cleanse your palate with Tedorigawa Yamahai sake. It’s rich, earthy and on the dryer side with hints of tropical fruit and nutmeg to level out the fattiness of the pork. All three of the main dishes are artfully composed of bright colors that mimic the season. In the Hirame, the peachy crust of the halibut against the yellow clam dashi brothe and nude manila clams bring out the green playfulness of the sugar peas. This silver dish is best partnered with some Kubota Manju, a limited reserve sake that is complex, lively and exceedingly dry. Whatever your poison, don’t be shy to get familiar with your favorite sake and de-stress from the hectic day. The dedicated staff at Ozumo are educated on their sake and cocktail pairings and they are eager to make recommendations.
For the past 4 years, Ozumo’s Chef de Cuisine for SF, Donnie Goolesby has led a team of talented chefs who create bold, intense dishes that emphasize high quality and fresh ingredients. Upon starting his career at Ozumo’s sister restaurant in Oakland in 2007 as a lead line cook, Goolesby quickly mastered the art of Japanese cuisine and took on higher culinary positions. Despite his disciplined background in French Cuisine, as well as his experience working at Michael Mina’s Aqua, Goolesby shares the knowledge of experiences that have brought him success.
Q: How many years have you been working as a Chef de Cuisine for Ozumo and how does this position differ from other culinary positions you have held?
Donnie Goolesby: I started out as a lead line cook for the Oakland restaurant in 2007 and then quickly got to the sous chef position and then just moved up from there to Chef de Cuisine in SF. I’ve worked in kitchens where there is an old school French vibe, where there is an extremely stern [atmosphere] and I never really enjoyed working in places like that. I think that I’m stern, but I like the idea of working together as a team. I’m lucky to have a good crew and for the most part, everybody gets along.
Q: Is it true that you learned to cook from both of your grandmothers? How do these experiences reflect your management of the Ozumo kitchen today?
DG: That’s how I got interested in food. I became interested in cooking at an early age. In my family, the kitchen has always been the focal point of the house. It was always important as far as social gatherings. Both of my grandmothers were very strong women from a certain generation with an emphasis on farm to table cooking, and they were both great cooks so it was natural that I learned from them.
Q: What strengths do you have as a chef as someone that leads a team in the kitchen?
DG: I’ve been a cook for a very long period. I know how kitchens work and how chaotic it can be, and I realize it’s always somewhat of a revolving door. With a huge turnover rate, there will always be some issue but it’s important to try to work together as much as possible.
Q: How has your previous culinary experience working at Aqua in the SOMA district and Gather in Berkeley prepare you for your position with Ozumo today?
DG: My background with Aqua was French cuisine. But I love food, and there is so much information to be constantly learning, and these new culinary experiences have changed my palate and the way I look at food in general.
Q: What is one item on your menu that you find yourself repeatedly craving? What makes this dish so delicious?
DG: I’m constantly asking my kitchen guys to make me something with Saba, that is mackerel. It’s a little bit too fishy for some people, but I like it. I also like the Torporo, our pork jowl plate. It’s got a house-made kimchi, and we do a forbidden black rice with squid ink and the jaw of the pork is just fatty, so it makes for a good balance of flavors.
Q: Please explain the Japanese style Robata Grill that your chefs utilize and how it enhances the flavor of your dishes?
DG: Robatayaki (Robata Grill) is an authentic Japanese grill that cooks over a fire and can get to an extremely high temperature without the smoke of a regular grill. Cooking over the binchotan coals is a very clean way to cook as far as flavor. It’s also just made for doing things fast.
Q: Ozumo has an incredible sake list with over 50 premium sakes available. What might you prefer to drink after, say, a particularly long night in the kitchen?
DG: I like the Konteki or the “Tears of Dawn.” It’s very smooth and refreshing and great at the end of the night.
Q: Please tell me about your renowned sushi bar and what makes it stand out from other up and coming Japanese restaurants in SF?
DG: All of our chefs at the sushi bar are very skilled at their craft. The fish that we get is extremely fresh because we are a high volume restaurant. We probably receive around approximately 50 to 60 pounds of fish a day.
Q: Is there an art behind the sushi rolls served at Ozumo?
DG: At our sushi bar we have guys that are old school — older Japanese men who are very traditional. And then we have some younger guys that are putting a more contemporary flare on it. I think it’s important to have that traditional practice as a backbone for new styles. It’s very much an art and knife skills are very important when cutting fish.
Q: Is it true that Mark Zuckerberg has a special seat reserved for when he visits Ozumo?
DG: Yeah, he does. He’s been here with his wife several times, and I think they both like it. They usually arrange for a private room.
What’s On the Menu
Ozumo Sushi Roll
Unagi, cucumber, snow crab roll topped with tuna, avocado and spicy aioli.
Main Dishes & Spring Features
Pan seared Alaskan Halibut with stinging nettle, English peas, wild mushrooms in a manilla clam dashi broth
Sake Pairing: Kubota Manju: This limited reserve sake balances the Halibut with a clean, dry texture
Spanish Octopus with charred radicchio, pea tendrils, chopped macadamia nuts and shiso dressing
Sake Pairing: Amabuki Ichigo: This juicy, bright sake has a strawberry punch with a sweet lingering aftertaste that complements the octopus smoothly.
Braised Kurobuta pork jowls with forbidden rice and house-made kimchi
Sake Pairing: Tedorigawa Yamahai: This grey sake offers earthy mushroom aromas, hints of fruit and nutmeg that pairs well with the succulent pork jowls
Chef’s nine-course tasting menu
Flourless chocolate cake, green tea ice cream and shiso syrup
161 Steuart St
San Francisco, CA 94105