My cousin Kim and his wife Adrienne (proud Kiwis and new residents of the South Bay) were up in the city tonight to catch a show at the Fillmore. Gomez, an English band, apparently has a hit single called The Theme Song from Grey's Anatomy or something close to that. (Note: Kim was a fan way before they sold out.) Anyway, it wasn't my cup of espresso, but I was still happy to join for a pre-show dinner nearby. We decided on Bushi-Tei Bistro, one of my dad's new Japantown staples.
Bushi-Tei Bistro is a casual offshoot of the fancier Bushi-Tei 2 blocks away. Opened earlier this year, the bistro offers a taste of chef Seiji Wakabayashi's French-Japanese-Californian fusion style in a cheaper, more accessible package. The main Bushi-Tei has received some acclaim, including 3 stars and a Rising Star Chef award for Chef Waka from the Chronicle. The bistro has gotten a less enthusiastic welcome (at least based on some mediocre Yelp reviews, and the relatively empty dining room). Still, I find it to be a reliable Japantown option that offers legitimate cooking at a pretty low price.
The menu is split into some appetizers, soups, salads, pastas, and entrees (with pictures!). You enter from just inside the mall, near Juban and Suzu. I guess the location is best described as "under" Over the Bridge (the restaurant). As this was a family affair, we naturally decided to share everything.
First up was this crab salad. The chrysanthemum leaf is popular in HK cuisine, but is basically always served cooked. Here, it lends a refreshing, slightly herbal tone. The amount of crab meat was generous.
Here, crisp strings of cucumber are wrapped in cured salmon. The fish has a light flavor with a very pleasant, smooth texture.
I swear, some things you will only find in San Francisco. I've never seen tomatillos paired with anything Asian at all, and it's used quite effectively here in place of a typical gyoza sauce. The flavor isn't too far off from the green tomatillo salsa you'd find in your local tacqueria, and the combination with gyoza is an interesting twist.
Probably the best photo of the bunch, but the least succesful dish. While the oysters were nicely crisp, they were slightly dry on the inside. I don't recall any significant flavor contribution from the corn relish or the curry, and I would have had no idea that coconut was even involved.
This one is a little tough to peg. I'd say it's best described as a cross between a Thai fish cake (tod mun) and a typical Western crab cake. The result is pretty tasty - it has the texture of tod mun with a shrimpy, buttery flavor.
No fusion involved here, but Bushi-Tei Bistro turns out some pretty good pastas. This capellini pomodoro has perfectly al dente noodles, a nice tomato flavor, and zero sogginess.
A tomato-less twist on your typical bolognese, this has Jap-Ital written all over it. Moist, flavorful ground chicken complements the fettuccine nicely. Kim says he liked this 15 times more than the other pasta. (To be fair, the rest of us thought both were good and pretty incomparable.)
This one was a bit of a letdown. These "scallop scallops" were well-cooked and tender, but nothing spectacular. The kiwi vinaigrette gave it a bit of tang which I did not enjoy much. I've realized I'm not much of a kiwi fan in general (the fruit, not the people).
Bushi-Tei is very strong with pork items, and this tonkatsu is a perfect example. The meat is moist and very tender, and has just the right amount of fat. At the same time, the breading is fairly light and grease-free. They also have a sauteed pork loin dish that is very good.
Not pictured are a pair of desserts that were better than expected - a substantial, not-too-sweet cheesecake creatively paired with some sorbet and chantilly cream, and a nice crisp apple tart.
Bushi-Tei is also a great lunch option, as they offer a bunch of good rice and noodle dishes, including a great katsu-don and supposedly pretty good ramen. It is definitely on my short list of places to grab a bite if I need something in Japantown. Hopefully, business will pick up - the place has a decent number of seats, and I've never seen it more than 30% full. The food is solid, and let's be honest... the options in Japantown are pretty limited if you're not throwing down for Ino, Kappa, or Kiss.