Friday, October 13, 2006

nihon whiskey lounge

Dinner tonight was at the Nihon Whiskey Lounge, an Izakaya-style restaurant that opened last fall. Nihon has been well-reviewed and lingering on my “to try” list for some time, so I was happy when Stuart rounded up the guys and secured the prime Friday reservation.

Nihon is in a bi-level space on the corner of 14th and Folsom. Downstairs is the bar with its 150 whiskeys; upstairs is a mezzanine for dining and a larger room for private events and bottle service. It is small, dark, very stylish and modern but warm. We were seated at a low, round corner table in the mezzanine, and one drawback to Nihon is that it is loud. As a group of guys who were drinking, we able to overcome the ambient noise, but if you are looking for a quiet dining experience, the hard, reflective surfaces at Nihon are unlikely to provide it.

Nihon serves small plates and sushi. We tried most of the menu and the highlights were octopus with oil and jalapeño, the decadent kobe tataki, the tuna carpaccio and the sashimi. We ordered kanpachi, wahloo, toro and salmon, and the pieces were large and very fresh. The other items we tried were good but not exceptional. The dynamite oysters have a spectacular presentation, but the hot sauce and gratin overwhelm the oysters. The kobe stewed in soy sauce, konyaku and coke is very tasty, but kobe is overkill. Short ribs would be a fine replacement. And, the rolls we sampled had many competing flavors. In the 1974 roll, for example, the lemon fought with the asparagus and spicy scallop.

Nihon has much promise. If you order well you can have one of the best Japanese meals in the city. Think of it as a cozier, loungier version of Ozumo with a large whiskey list instead of Ozumo’s extensive sake offerings. If you don’t order so well, the food can be disappointing but the atmosphere and scotch selections still make Nihon a great choice for a fun night with friends. I’m looking forward to my next visit.

Nihon: 1779 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA (415) 552-4400