Sudachi

The way to cook, or not
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paulr@sfbg.com

Trends fade, except when they don't — and then you have hip. Sushi is hip food; its appeal to the cognoscenti is perennial. Tapas (a.k.a. small plates, little plates, or shareable plates) have been a trend for quite a number of years now and have assumed all sorts of ethnic guises while their claim to permanence has strengthened. At Sudachi, a new restaurant on Sutter Street at the edge of a still-sketchy run of Polk Street, the tapas appear in Asian guise: Eurasian fusion on a small scale. "Sudachi" turns out to be the name of a citrus fruit from the Far East; so, interestingly, is "yuzu" — which, capitalized, becomes the name of a Japanese-fusion restaurant in Cow Hollow. Do we bear witness to the beginnings of a trend?

Sudachi and Yuzu are similar in many ways, from food to interior design (lots of wood and splashes of green in each), but they are unlike in at least one important sense: their relation to their environs. Yuzu is a temple of young, well-to-do heterosexuals in a precinct of young, well-to-do heterosexuals. It is part of a euphonious whole. Sudachi, by contrast, is next door to a Yemeni mosque and just steps away from Polk Street, where the boy trade is diminished but not completely dried up. If its neighborhood is a neighborhood in transition, then signs are mixed as to what direction it might take.

But there's always a place at the table for graciousness, and Sudachi is rich in modern graces, beginning with the host, who greets you with a youthful smile when you step from the street into the vestibule. The fluttering curtains part, and you find yourself being led into the front dining room, rather airy and loftlike and connected — via a length of burnished-fir bar, complete with a pair of cheery barkeeps — to a second dining room in the rear. The high brick wall behind the bar is trimmed with strips of steel: mementos mori of sorts, reminders of what can happen to unreinforced masonry in earthquakes. (What can happen? Fall down, go boom.) The bar itself is trimmed with youngish, dot-commie-looking people, waiting for a table or the rest of their party or just idling. They appear to be slightly edgier than their Marina counterparts, though clad in the same hideous designer jeans.

Chef Ming Hwang's menu takes a step all seafood emporiums would do well to emulate: it tells us where much of the fish comes from. Not much of it comes from around here, unfortunately, and even an offering of albacore (which I love) labeled as local on the printed bill of fare turned out to be from Croatia. The specialty rolls, on the other hand, aren't burdened with this information, which is unfortunate but also makes them easier to order: one less factor to weigh. Spyder roll ($9.50) — with its characteristic superstructure of (in this case, soft-shell) crab tempura — and California roll ($7), with crab, avocado, and cucumber, were both excellent if routine. Because the crab in them is cooked, they can help mollify the squeamish without completely putting off purists and sophisticates.

Still, said sophisticates — if not purists — would probably be happier with something like the Death by Sushi roll ($12.50), a very California combination of tuna, shiso leaf, avocado, snap peas, and gobo, rolled in rice and covered with a translucent blanket of salmon slices, with a throw pillow of sweet black sesame sauce. I liked the spicy tuna roll ($6) too, but I always do. It's no-nonsense, a sushi equivalent to that Jack in the Box burger that's nothing but layers of meat and cheese, barely contained in an envelope of starch.

As for the rawphobes, Hwang has saved some of the best for them, and it's all cooked. One of the brightest stars of the tapas menu has to be the lamb lollipops ($16), a troika of frenched, broiled chops served with mint-edamame sauce, quartered new potatoes, and ribbons of pickled red onion.

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