As COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease in San Francisco, there is hope on the horizon for restaurants and diners. This includes the news that Nisei Restaurant, the first venture of former California chef David Yoshimura, has found a permanent home in La Folie’s historic former home at 2316 Polk Street. The restaurant was forced to switch gears at the start of the pandemic, operating as a pop-up that served jewelry-like bento boxes from Mister Jiu’s Ho Ho general store. And while these boxes have been a popular and enduring item over the past year, Yoshimura says he’s ready to ditch the bento boxes in favor of the tasting menu he’s been planning for years.
“The context of what I’m doing isn’t too far removed from the Californios style,” Yoshimura says. “I intend to open a gastronomic concept of a tasting menu but with Japanese food.” Nisei refers to second-generation Japanese Americans who were not born in Japan, whose concept is the basis of the menu, highlighting the Japanese-American style of cooking that has become prevalent in America. “There is a culture of Japanese-Americans in California, this weird kind of food that you can’t find in Japan and is totally unique to us.”
The basis of the cuisine is based on Washoku, Japanese homemade soul food, Yoshimura says, but through the lens of California. “Dishes like curry and rice, chicken or beef teriyaki, katsudon and spam musube are good examples. [of the style]”, says Yoshimura. “Things that aren’t completely Japanese.” Diners can expect a 10-12 course menu starting around $145-160 when it opens, which could be as early as August 2021.
As for the space itself, Yoshimura is keeping it “in the family,” working with Carolyn Cantu (interior designer and wife of California chef Val Cantu) to redesign the interior into a “Zen-style” restaurant with lavish banquets and a white oak bar. “Roland [Passot] left the restaurant in great shape,” says Yoshimura. “So we’re really rethinking.”
Nisei Restaurant will also retain the format of the restaurant’s formal dining room and lounge area, giving Yoshimura the ability to present smaller bites with cocktails instead of the formal tasting menu experience. “It’ll be cool to have this look for people who can’t get into Nisei for a pre or post drink,” Yoshimura says. There will also be a small park to accommodate outdoor dining.
His other focus will be pairing local wines with Japanese cuisine, which Yoshimura (a certified sommelier) feels is often overlooked in favor of sake. “I think Japanese food can go wonderfully with wine,” he says. “Most restaurants only serve sake with Japanese food, but I want to serve Californian wines as well as the excellent sakes from the Bay Area.”
As the final plans come to fruition, Yoshimura launched a Kickstarter to fund the restaurant’s final redesign. Stay tuned for more.