Union Street’s stretch of eateries is expanding its repertoire with the addition of Kaiyo, opening with Peruvian and Japanese flavors and splashy interiors this week. It’s the passion project of seasoned restaurateur John Park — also a co-owner of cocktail powerhouses Whitechapel and Novela — designed to bring a spark of nightlife to a neighborhood known for its brunches, lunches, and sports bars.
Park says the project, which he’s been working on for years, is the result of an explosion of quality Japanese food in San Francisco, paired with a robust Peruvian food scene. Though less common in the city, the style of cuisine isn’t new: Called Nikkei, it’s the result of the Japanese diaspora’s adaptation of their cuisine using ingredients from Peru, served izakaya-style. Nobu, the international chain from chef Nobu Matsuhisa, is a well-known example of the cuisine, making signature dishes like hamachi with jalapeño popular around the globe.
San Francisco’s closes approximation is chef Gaston Acurio’s La Mar, which focuses on Peruvian seafood dishes. Still, says Park, “When I traveled around the world I found these amazing nikkei restaurants, but I didn’t see something quite like that here.”
At Kaiyo, chef Michelle Matthews (Whitechapel, 15 Romolo) is leading the kitchen, with a menu of Japanese dishes heavily influenced by Peru, but with California ingredients woven throughout. For example, Hokkaido scallop dish incorporates leche de tigre (a classic marinade used in Peruvian ceviche) with passionfruit and sweet potato purees. The menu is composed of crudos with both ceviches and tiraditos (very similar to ceviche, but with sashimi), oysters, nigiri sushi and rolls, and an izakaya section of fried and hot items. There’s also a large format selection for four to six people, and a section of anticuchos, Peruvian street snacks like beef heart skewers.
Beverages will explore the Peruvian-Japanese diaspora, combining Peru’s classic spirit pisco in an array of creative cocktails. Bar manager Debora Fernandez and consultant Anthony Parks (general manager at Whitechapel) worked to translate the style of cuisine into a liquid format, taking care to strongly represent pisco beyond the classic pisco sour.
“We’re using ingredients like corn, salted plum, mandarin, yuzu and matcha and root beer extract, heirloom tomatoes,” says Fernandez. “Things we felt weren’t used commonly in cocktails”
That creativity extends to the names of the cocktails, inspired by Fernadez’s childhood in Peru and named after anime characters. “As a kid in Peru I grew up with anime before I grew up with more popular contemporary cartoons in the US,” Fernandez said. ”These are all an ode to that. In hindsight, realizing that I’ve always grown up around nikkei without realizing it until now.” The result: the Cowboy Bepop, with pisco, maize, honey, angostura and lime, the “ghost in the shell” with vodka, tomato fino sherry, elderflower, verjus blanc and lemongrass oil, and a take on a Toki highball called Kill Bill Volume 1. Sake master Stuart Morris contributed a list of sakes as well.
The 60-seat restaurant includes a covered patio (with seating for 14), plus bar and table seating in the dining room. In the spirit of keeping things casual, they won’t be taking reservations, but Park says they’ll soon implement the Nowait function from Yelp, which allows patrons to digitally add themselves to a waitlist before arriving.
A 35-foot moss wall, handwoven pendants reminiscent of Japanese lanterns, leopard wallpaper, and large canvas paintings by Miss M contribute of the adventurous atmosphere, a design collaboration between Park and designer Hannah Collins (Barzotto, Media Noche).
“We just want people to feel like they’re going on an adventure,” says Park. For now, it’s dinner only, but keep an eye out for brunch to hit the ground running the next couple months.
When it opens on September 13, hours will be Sunday-Wednesday from 4 p.m. - 12 p.m., and Thursday-Saturday: 4 p.m. - 2 a.m.