Bushi-Tei, San Francisco

In the heart of Japan Town, amidst traditional eateries and authentic Asian markets is a small, modern restaurant that stands in contrast with the local heritage. Its all-glass façade provides passersby a full view into the 40-seat dining room, a space that blends elements of contemporary design with Japanese wooden planks dating back to 1863.

A communal table takes center stage surrounded by a handful of 2-tops covered in pristine white linen tablecloth. At the end of the room, a mezzanine gives those looking for more privacy a place to hide.

Despite the modern flair, the dining experience at Bushi-Tei is rooted in traditional Japanese fine dining with formal, attentive service and great attention to details. From the dining room design to the tableware, each element was carefully selected or originally designed by the 2 partners Tak Matsuba & Seiji 'Waka' Wakabayashi.

Chef Waka’s cuisine brings together disparate culinary cultures in beautiful synergy. Japanese fare meets French technique with appetizing concoctions but a somewhat anachronistic sense of inventiveness. Waka’s innovations seem to take more cues from a decade or so ago than from contemporary cuisine. A time before foams, airs and liquid spheres. A time when tuna tartare and molten chocolate cakes could be found in pretty much any restaurant menu.

The menu

The à la carte selection at Bushi-Tei includes 6 appetizers ($6 to $20) and 5 main courses ($28 to $35). Two prix fixe options are also available; curiously, prices are not printed on the menu. A 3-course omakase ($49) or the 5-course Waka’s omakase ($95) put diners in the hands of the talented chef.

The meal

The attention to details you see in the interior design is mirrored in Waka’s cuisine. The water, for example, is purified in-house and served with a pH of 8.5 to 9.5; a level above average which the restaurant guarantees to make for a more velvety and smoother drink. Meanwhile, all produce is washed in acidic water at pH 3.

The meal starts with a basket of brown rice bread and paper-thin crushed seaweed chips.

An amuse bouche of marinated scallops on crispy toast comes next.

One of Waka’s signature appetizers is the Miso-marinated wagyu beef, upland cress, apple, fennel, French blue cheese. A delicate concoction of crispy salad rolled on carpaccio-like slices of beef.

Big eye tuna tartare, tobiko, wasabi crème fraîche, coriander seed, herb oil. Presented in a neat tower layering its rich ingredients, this appetizer has a mild, fresh taste but lacks in originality of flavors.

Lobster and crab, chrysanthemum leaf, papaya, bacon, ginger cream, curry oil
. While I expected a lobster and crab salad, this dish is more of a green salad with lobster and crab. Although generously portioned, the amount of greens could be easily cut in half.

From the main courses, my favorite was the Kurobuta (Berkshire pork), coco blanc beans, bacon apple-ginger chutney. Called Kuronuta (black hog) in Japan, it is referred to as the Kobe beef of pork. Its finer marbling and shorter muscle fibers yield a much more tender and flavorful meat. In this dish, it’s complemented by flavorful, aromatic beans and a crispy, thin bacon strip.

Sonoma duck breast, baby mizuna, mascarpone mustard, dried chutney. A tasty dish albeit somewhat on the dry side.

Bushi-Tei offers a good selection of desserts–a welcoming French addition to the Japanese cuisine. Among them, Mocha parfait. Berry confiture. A semifredo-like dessert, creamy and rich.

Flourless chocolate soufflé cake. Roasted strawberry, organic milk ice cream
. Not very original but quite satisfying.

Apple dumpling. French vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce.
A more filling dessert, tasty and sweet.

Black sesame blancmange. Pineapple salsa, coconut milk reduction. A lighter option with French technique and Japanese sensibility.

In short

Bushi-Tei’s Modern, elegant atmosphere is a fresh addition to Japan Town’s traditional restaurant landscape. Waka’s progressive Japanese/French cuisine is worth trying, even if its inventiveness seems a bit stuck in time.

Bushi-Tei is at 1638 Post Street
Online reservations

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