415 Presidio Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94115
Chef John Beardsley
Sushi Chef Akira Yoshizumi
UPDATE: October 2006
I was disappointed to see that the sushi had gone substantially downhill in both quality of fish and originality, even in the omakase. However, the makis are surprisingly flavorful and well-balanced (even though I generally do not care for anything spicy in a sushi concoction). Stick to the cooked dishes, which are acceptable if not extraordinary, akin to Betelnut.
Although open barely two weeks, (415) Lounge is already showing the marks of a see-and-be-scene spot, along the lines of g Bar and Matrix Fillmore. The decor, with sumptuous red walls, black tables and chairs, and tiger print painted concrete floor, is lavish enough to forgive the kitschy Asian motif if you overlook the faux Asian lettering of "(415)," emblazened on the sign outside and on the menu-- just in case you can't tell that this is supposed to be an Asian-influenced bar and restaurant. Even on a school night, the impressively opulent lounge area was packed with people dressed in black, sporting Maiden Lane hairstyles and communicating with their friends on bluetooth headsets and Razr cell phones.
In addition to a separate sushi menu, the menu at (415) is divided into "tapas," "salads," "bread & dumplings," "satays & skewers," "curries," "barbecues," "noodles, rice & vegetables," and "other large plates." The large and varied selections offer something for everyone. The not-to-be-missed dish is the Golden Pineapple appetizer with Thai chili salt. The fresh, juicy pineapple chunks in single bite size pieces are speared with toothpicks and presented with a wedge of lime and a dish of finely ground salt, speckled with green chili bits. Squeeze the lime onto the pineapple, dip into the chili salt, and pop into your mouth to experience an explosion of tart sweetness combined with the pleasant spicy and savory zing from the chili salt. It is one of the most unique and delicious flavors I have ever experienced. (Use sparingly. It's REALLY spicy!)
Chef Beardsley continues to demonstrate his experience and versatility with the spicy lamb samosas. The crispy filo wrapping and the moist, well-spiced lamb matched perfectly with the vanilla date chutney. The 2003 viognier/roussane/marsanne blend of Terre Rouge from the Sierra Foothills ($6 for 3 oz. and $12 for 6 oz.) that Sommelier Nicole Burke paired with this dish complemented the spicy, sweet, earthy flavors of this dish quite well.
The sushi is also surprisingly decent for a restaurant that has such a large menu. If you are a sushi purist, go for the sashimi as opposed to the sushi, which generally has fresher pieces of fish (this is true for almost any sushi place, and (415) is no exception). Note that per the terms of the restaurant's agreement with the Jewish Community Center, there is no shellfish (or pork) anywhere on the menu, but the California rolls, even with faux crab, is still quite good. In view of Yoshizumi-san's expertise, I would not hesitate to go with the omakase selections. Definitely also try the tuna-foie gras sushi, with teriyaki/galangal/mandarin orange sauce. The flavor combination is delightful, without losing the taste of either the maguro or the foie gras.
The coconut braised beef short ribs with sweet chili glaze were as tender as expected. Beware of the occasional brittle herb stems hiding in the meat, but the flavors were well balanced and satisfying. I was less enthralled with the miso glazed cod and the crispy duck. The duck was overcooked and gristley. The miso was too thick and sweet and did not match the cod. The cucumber salad accompanying the cod, however, was fresh and crunchy, and hit the right balance of vinegar and sugar.
While (415) has an acceptable although somewhat mundane list of sakes (odd since Beau Timken of True Sake is associated with this list), the wine list is better-conceived. Burke has assembled a varied yet manageable collection of fairly priced, tasty wines that match well with the diverse pan-Asian menu. I also quite enjoyed the Rogue Morimoto Imperiale Pilsner. Apparently these are Iron Chef Morimoto's name brand brewed beers from Japan. The sweet, malty flavor would match well with sushi.
The desserts, however, were disappointing. The Chai tea parfait tasted like marshmallows interspersed with defective maple flavored pop rocks. The tangerine sorbet was so tart and sour that it seemed like the kitchen was just thinking sweet thoughts as it was being made, as opposed to actually adding any sugar or sweetener. The custard of the ginger-bergamot creme brulee, while flavorful, was grainy in texture and lacked the requisite hard candy coat on top.
In the end though, I'm not sure that the foo, while solid and even innovative at times, really matters here. The cocktails and wine list are extensive, and (415) seems destined to be a beautiful people place. I would not be surprised if there were a velvet rope outside the Jewish Community Center soon.