Ozumo and Piperade: Two SF Gems

Categories: Travel Hog
Lee Klein
Ozumo chanpon
During my recent visit to San Francisco described here and here, I visited two of that city's most innovative venues.

Piperade (1915 Battery St.) is the more acknowledged of the two, having opened in the Embarcadero neighborhood in 2002. Chef/owner Gerald Hirigoyen, a native of the French pays Basque, is well known for having written the book on Basque cuisine with his 1999 cookbook The Basque Kitchen. Five years before, Food & Wine Magazine had selected Hirigoyen as one of its Ten Best New Chefs in America.

We expected great things from Piperade, and it delivered, But our meal at Ozumo (161 Steuart St.) was shockingly divine. Who knew? I was drawn there partly because it was recommended to us, but also because it was a combination robata/sushi/noodle place that I thought might be interesting to compare with our own Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill. The difference between the two is huge, but Sugarcane needn't feel ashamed -- Ozumo pretty much knocked the socks off of every restaurant on this trip.

The first course brought slices of hamachi and avocado drizzled with warm ginger-and-jalapeño ponzu sauce. I'll let the photo at left do the descriptive work here. We tried some peerlessly pristine sushi along with an explosively tasty akebono maki of chopped toro, avocado, asparagus, and kaiware, wrapped in paper-thin pickled daikon and topped with kiwi and tobiko. The weather was damp and chilly on the day we lunched here, so we shared a family-style bowl of nagasaki chanpon, which is a mix of braised pork, black tiger shrimp, Manila clams, cabbage, and wheat flour noodles in a steamy hot, uniquely delicious dashi-based broth.

Lee Klein
​The menu also boasts bento boxes and daily specials such as sustainable blue fin tuna from Nagasaki; salmon belly from Loch Duart, Scotland; and Striped Jack from Kyushu, Japan. Service was thoroughly professional, and we loved the lofty room looking out to the Oakland Bay Bridge. Lastly, an impressive list of sakes and wines, and Vignette Wine Country Sodas, which are non-alcoholic but sweetened with California varietal wine grapes -- available in Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Rosé.

Lunch at Piperade was likewise a warm and blissful affair on a brisk afternoon. Basque cuisine melds hearty French and Spanish flavors; Hirigoyen calls his take on it "West Coast Basque Cuisine." This means adherence to tradition but with a lighter touch -- and fresh California ingredients. Fine wines, attentive service, and rustic decor complete the package.

Warm sheep's milk and ham terrine.
​A buttery sauté of local mushrooms atop a tasty tart tantalized; a warm sheep's milk-and-ham terrine in sherry sauce was awe-inspiring -- crisp, creamy, sweet, salty, acidic... Main courses of duck confit with braised green lentils and lamb chops basquaise with fennel, roasted garlic, and Merguez sausage fueled us in fabulous fashion for the rest of the day.

Hearty fare for cool weather
Tomorrow: Downtown Napa's Recent Revival

Photos by DOK - Piperade mushroom tart
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