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Saturday, July 09, 2005

Restaurant Review: Sushi Ran

It was several years ago that I first started hearing incredible things about Sausalito’s Sushi Ran.
The place was said to have amazingly fresh fish, inventive sushi rolls, and delicious non-sushi fare as well, and the lines to get a table were reportedly out the door.   Indeed, the reviews were so glowing that I made a mental note at the time to plan a dinner there at my earliest opportunity.
And yet, until just a few months ago, I never got around to doing so.   What a mistake.

In the ten weeks that have passed since my first visit to Sushi Ran, I have been drawn back six times.   And on each visit, I have enjoyed some wonderful food – be it a daily special, a newly-discovered menu item, or an already-established favorite.   It is little wonder, then, that the accolades continue to pour in.   Sushi Ran was named by the Chronicle as one of the Top 100 restaurants in the Bay Area in both 2004 and 2005, and it consistently places near the top of Zagat’s list of the Bay Area restaurants with the best food – right alongside such venerable names as the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton and La Folie, and just a single point behind The French Laundry and Fleur de Lys.

Sushi Ran is unique in that it effectively has two executive chefs, with Haruo Komatsu responsible for all sushi selections on the menu and Scott Whitman charged with all non-sushi dishes.   Both gentlemen are very talented.
One of my favorite starters is the Wagyu Beef Sushi (Taste: 9.0 / Presentation: 7.0) (Ratings Explained), which appears from time to time on the dinner specials menu.   Komatsu starts with a small, thin slice of Kobe-style filet that is cooked to
Sushi Ran: At A Glance
ChefsHaruo Komatsu
Scott Whitman
Address107 Caledonia St.
Sausalito, CA 94965
Restaurant Website
medium-rare perfection, and he then drapes it nigiri-style over a small bit of rice.   The meltingly tender meat yields an intensely rich taste, almost as though the flavor of an entire steak has been distilled down and concentrated into a single delicious bite.   A small amount of wasabi nestled between the beef and rice provides a nice contrast, and the two pieces that arrive in each order are visually appealing as well.

Komatsu’s other sushi offerings are also excellent.   Several regular menu items – including Marinated Sake Nigiri (T:7.5 / P:8.0), Unagi Nigiri (T:8.5 / P:7.5), and the Kamikaze Roll (T:7.5 / P:7.0) – seem to excel not so much due to their preparation (which is either minimal and/or relatively standard), but rather due to the high quality and freshness of the ingredients themselves.  The Asparagus Maki (T:8.0 / P:7.5), meanwhile, provides a nice change of pace from the tempura-battered version found at most other sushi restaurants.   Here, thick stalks of bright green asparagus are cooked just long enough not to lose their crunch or color, giving the finished rolls a nice look and a clean flavor of asparagus.   Indeed, a theme connecting the above items is that in each instance, the true essence of the primary ingredient comes through unfettered.
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But Komatsu is equally adept at forging disparate flavors into complex and clever combinations, and his sushi specials are where he really shines.   A Spicy Kani Maki special (T:9.5 / P:9.0) was fantastic, with delicate pieces of
Salmon Maki Special
crab played off of asparagus, cucumber and basil oil.   In a Hamachi Maki special (T:9.5 / P:9.0), Komatsu paired fresh Yellow Tail with, of all things, small bits of pear – topping each of the six pieces cut from the roll with a small dab of mustard.   The result was simply outstanding.   And a Salmon Maki special (T:7.5 / P:8.5) included extraordinarily fresh tomato salsa sitting atop a roll containing salmon and avocado – a Mexican take on sushi, of sorts.   There was, however, one sushi special that fell a bit short.   The ingredients in the Salmon Skin Maki (T:4.5 / P:8.0) included mild flavors such as lettuce, which did not seem to have enough heft to counteract or complement the strong impact of the salmon skin.
Nevertheless, all of the above rolls showcase Komatsu’s extraordinary creativity, and the presentations in each case were truly elaborate and impressive.   It’s a shame that these rolls are not on the regular menu.

Turning to the non-sushi side of things, Whitman has a number of tricks up his sleeve as well.   His best dish by far – one that I believe attains perfection in taste and should not be missed – is the Lemongrass Broiled Butterfish (T:10.0 / P:9.5).   Three small filets of fish are coated with a paste comprised of lemongrass, galanga, kaffir lime
A Perfect 10:
Lemongrass Broiled Butterfish
leaves, garlic, paprika, turmeric, oyster sauce and sugar, and broiled until perfectly cooked.   The three filets are then placed on three corresponding beds of baby green beans, which have been evenly spaced across the length of an oblong plate.   The presentation is enticing, and the flavor is spectacular.   The taste of the butterfish and lemongrass immediately hits the palate as does a pronounced sweetness, but the remaining ingredients quickly coalesce into a complex medley that evokes the spirit of a rich Thai curry.   The nicely cooked baby green beans add the perfect complement, both in terms of texture and taste.   Whatever you do, do not miss this dish!

Whitman also offers a Miso Glazed Black Cod (T:9.5 / P:9.0) that is outstanding, with the delicate filet punctuated by the sweet and smoky richness contributed by the miso.   The Vietnamese Shaking Beef (T:8.0 / P:6.5) is another excellent choice.   Tender pieces of filet mignon and slivers of onions are sautéed in a generous amount of flavorful sauce, and the combination is then served over a large leaf of lettuce.   One point of criticism here, however, is that the meat is presented on a flat plate with no spoon, making it virtually impossible to enjoy any of the accompanying sauce.   The Caramelized Shrimp (T:6.5 / P:6.5) is tasty, but it needs to be eaten with a substantial portion of white rice or else the caramel sauce can get too cloyingly overpowering. A dish from Whitman that misses the mark is the Seafood Trio (T:3.0 / P:6.0), which consists of ahi tartare, spicy prawn tempura, and smoked salmon on a single plate.   The tartare has a strange tanginess and too much lemon oil, the shrimp tempura has an average flavor but a soggy exterior, and the smoked salmon is reminiscent of a cream-cheese rollup one might find at a cocktail party.   This is definitely one item to skip.

Desserts are very good.   The Bananas Foster (T:9.0 / P:6.5) is fantastic, with banana slices sautéed in a decadent sauce of butter, rum, brown sugar, banana liqueur and cinnamon.   An interesting twist here is the use of ginger gelato
Bananas Foster
with toasted coconut in place of the more traditional vanilla ice cream, giving the dessert a decidedly Asian flair.   Another good option is the Chocolate Bombe (T:7.5 / P:8.5), a half-dome of chocolate ganache enrobed in a soft coating of dark chocolate and sitting on top of a crisp cookie.   The dessert is surrounded on the plate with a light milk chocolate sauce that has been sprinkled with chopped hazelnuts.

The service at Sushi Ran is somewhat mixed.   On the one hand, servers usually do a good job of keeping things moving along smoothly.   The food is delivered to the table at an excellent pace, and there is seldom a long wait time between the arrival of one ordered item and the next.   On the other hand, the staff is not always as informed as they should be about the wines offered by the glass or even certain items on the menu.   They also do not reliably inform diners of when a side of order of rice might be appropriate, such as with the Shaking Beef or Caramelized Shrimp.   Additionally, there are times when the regular server for the table may not check in frequently enough.   Overall, the service can best be described as competent but not outstanding.

Sushi Ran’s décor is both comfortable and unremarkable.   Light wood and large windows that let in ambient light create a certain airiness in the room, creating a casual feel.   And while there are certainly a few accents here and there that add a modern Asian touch, the overall feel of the dining area is one of relative austerity.   The sushi bar in the front portion of the dining room is great for seeing the amazing selection of fresh seafood and watching the sushi chefs at work.   But the seats are placed ridiculously close together, so waiting for a table is the better – and more comfortable – way to go.

In the final analysis, Sushi Ran is well-deserving of the high praise that it has received.   Indeed, my recent visits fully confirmed the accuracy of those reports that I first heard several years ago: the restaurant really does have fresh ingredients, innovative chefs, and a significant base of loyal customers.   Through this combination of factors, Sushi Ran has pushed its way toward the top – quite possibly earning the distinction of being the best sushi restaurant in the entire Bay Area.

Sushi Ran
Food Taste8.58.0

Food Presentation8.0
Number of Visits: 7
Ratings Explained


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haruo Komatsu is no longer executive chef.

October 26, 2006 5:57 PM  

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