A (Sustainable) Sushi Lover’s Dream: Tataki in San Francisco
After meeting Casson Trenor at Making WAVES in Boulder this year, I knew I had to try out his sustainable sushi restaurant, Tataki, in San Francisco. Originally opened in 2008, this small sushi restaurant has since opened two more San Francisco locations in Noe Valley and Glen Canyon Park. I decided to venture to the original location in Pacific Heights, and was delighted by the cozy and lively atmosphere. Tataki only seats 24, so there were plenty of people waiting for a seat, and strangers often sat side by side. We were fortunate enough to get a spot at the sushi bar, which was delightful as we were able to watch the sushi chefs create their masterpieces.
Founded by chefs Kin Lui and Raymond Ho and sustainability expert Casson Trenor, Tataki prides itself on using completely sustainable fish. Casson Trenor is the Senior Markets Campaigner of Greenpeace and the author of "Sustainable Sushi: A Guide to Saving the Oceans One Bite at a Time." He speaks about how the sushi industry used to be a completely unsustainable system, and how he became involved because he wanted people to be aware of how to choose fish responsibly and be aware of overfishing. He spearheads Greenpeace's efforts to hold restaurants accountable for their sustainability practices and educates the public about the fishery crisis through public engagements. He has also received several awards including "Hero of the Environment" from Time Magazine, and "Ocean Protection Hero" from Save our Shores. He believes that the only way for the sushi industry to continue is to incorporate sustainable practices. It is all about finding alternatives to overfished species, and to stop supporting chefs that sell those species that are in trouble. It is through the buyer's choices that changes are made, and by restaurants owners listening to their customers who ask for sustainable seafood. Trenor says there are over 10 sustainable sushi restaurants here in the US, and that they continue to support one another because they all want the same thing, to preserve the tradition of sushi. He is also developing another sustainable sushi restaurant in San Francisco called Ki.
We decided to start out our meal with some garlic edamame and what came out were no ordinary soybeans. They were covered in a delicious roasted garlic soy-sauce and were pan-fried, resulting in a truly savory and spicy treat. We also went with an appetizer of Baked Sanma, which was mackerel pike that was sauteed on a skewer with sea salt. The mackerel still had its skin on, resulting in a crispy little piece of fish that was still succulent on the inside. One of the specials was called Kurodai, which was seared black se bream with avocado and a jalapeno-ponzu sauce. Since I rarely have sea bream (a Mediterranean fish very closely related to red snapper), I was excited to try out this sashimi. Its taste was extremely similar to snapper, and the jalapeno sauce had exactly the right amount of spice. We also knew it was necessary to try at least one or two of their amazing specialty rolls, so we decided on the Pacific Sunrise, the 49er, and the Double-Double.
The Pacific Sunrise was composed of 4 varieties of fish: Arctic char, sea bream, albacore and snapper, which was then wrapped in thinly sliced cucumber and covered with a garlic ponzu sauce. This roll was excellent because with the lack of rice, you were truly able to taste the distinctness and quality of the fish. The 49er was an avocado roll which was topped with Arctic char, lemon and masago. Arctic char is one of my favorite fish (it's almost a cross between salmon and trout) but I've never had it raw before. This roll was light, fresh and zesty with the addition of lemon and the Arctic char works perfectly in sushi form. Our final roll was the Double-Double, a request of my husband since he loves tempura fried rolls. It was composed of tempura-fried spicy albacore roll which was sliced and covered with masago, green onions, sesame seeds and a spicy aioli. Although I'm not usually a fan of tempura, the batter was light and the spiciness complemented the albacore perfectly.
I had read about how Tataki had attempted to re-create unagi or unsustainable freshwater eels (a sushi-lover's favorite), that instead uses black cod as a replacement for the eel, which is then lightly blackened and served with a delicious rich mirin and soysauce sauce. You can get the recipe here. It was amazing how you didn't miss the eel at all. These creative alternatives to sushi favorites are how restaurants like Tataki are making sustainable, responsible and delicious choices in order to appease the most staunch sushi-lover. You will not miss the Bluefin or the eel, and every lover of sushi should get out there and try the Arctic char.