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[whitespace] The Young Man and the Sea

Swimming in seaweed, South of Market

By Michael Stabile

Yuppies. You gotta love 'em. I do. Sure, I remember hating "them" when I first arrived in San Francisco in the mid-'90s. They had all these fancy things and I had none. They had cars; I had the 22 Fillmore. But I also remember having a haughty vantage point from which to look down at them--they were afraid, timid creatures unwilling to leave five-star districts or their precious hilltops. And then the SUV was born and all the young dudes and dudettes were able to come down from their lofty heights in search of the darker areas of San Francisco, protected like protagonists in a late-period Tom Wolfe novel. And thank the Lord, 'cause without the Yuppie, San Franciscans would never have the complex map of sushi bars available in post-20th century.

For example, Sushigroove--once only accessible to the tony residents of Russian Hill--has opened a South of Market outpost where SUV parking is both easier than on the Hill and more welcome than in the wealth-hostile Mission. Both darker and harder to find than its northern relative, Sushigroove South has a distinct industrial flair--in fact, from the outside, it almost appears as if an amber fire is burning up someone's live/work loft. But if it's cold outside--as it almost always is in the wind tunnel that is 11th Street--it's always warm inside. Cordial, even--which in South of Market is a rare gem.

Fortunately, nothing has been lost in the restaurant's transfer to the Tropic of Folsom. If anything the success of the original Sushigroove has bred a self-assured innovation in its progeny, maintaining the most successful elements of the parent and coddling the more precocious elements of the child. It's a rare sushi establishment that warrants writing about--after all, there is usually only so much can one say about raw fish over rice. The meat needs be fresh, of course, and the rolls tight. Sushigroove South easily meets those two dictums, but takes the "edible art" so often proclaimed by Sapporo advertisements in lesser establishments further.

Even art, however edible, requires a swift (ginsu) knifed hand, a palatable recipe and a creative flourish. Sushigroove South meets (and surpasses in many cases) this criterion. RAW, the walled and T-shirted mantra of the bar, manifests itself most delightfully in a rich filet mignon nigiri and a cleansing salmon tartare served on crouton-sliced cucumbers. All the standard sashimi, nigiri and maki are available, but the sushi chef's emphasis on daily specials particularly sets Sushigroove South apart from its competitors.

Given the room allowed in South of Market, the restaurant is able to stock a wine and sake list which surpasses that of the original. The strong emphasis on cold unfiltered sake has always been a mainstay of both north and South. Served in double martini glasses and presented with an honorific reserve, the regal "cocktail" practically knights the recipient. Sir Elton John and Dame Elizabeth Taylor have got nothin' on us if they haven't been South.

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From the March 20, 2000 issue of the Metropolitan.

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