The Omakase Restaurant Group is almost ready to fire up the Japanese binchotan charcoal grill at Niku Steakhouse (61 Division Street), the last and largest in the group’s trio of businesses to open in the One Henry Adams building.
Next door, the Butcher Shop by Niku Steakhouse is already aging steaks and serving customers; another door down, fast casual Udon Time is offering noodles and tempura at its counter. Niku Steakhouse, the final installment, will open in early February to showcase all things wagyu, from A5 Kobe beef to flights of wagyu jerky.
“When I started cooking wagyu, it changed everything I knew about beef,” says executive chef Steve Brown. He began importing the famously fat-marbled Japanese beef at his wagyu-focused supper club, Cosecha SD, in San Diego.
From an open, sunken kitchen, Brown will grill 40-day aged prime ribeye ($65) and show-stopping Imperial wagyu tomahawk steaks ($180) over binchotan coals (occasionally adding oak for flavor). Meanwhile, he’ll interact at eye level with 18 diners at the chef’s counter, inspired by Japanese kappo-style dining.
“It’s the biggest and coolest chef’s counter I’ve ever seen,” Brown says.
The 60-seat steakhouse was designed by Brent McDonald with the help of Omakase Group co-founder Kash Feng and Aya Jessani (she also did Omakase, the restaurant group’s Michelin-starred sushi destination). Diners enter Niku Steakhouse through a front bar area, with windows into the butcher shop on the left and a towering wall of brown spirits to the right. Frequent fliers at the bar can lease their own liquor locker, a way to stash high-end spirits and show off for friends.
Bar director Julien Bertrand designed Niku’s cocktails, like a “Hojicha Mon Amour” ($16) with Japanese whiskey, hojicha tea, cascara, and his own yuzu shortbread. Each plays off Japanese influences and is served in a custom glass — that one in a mug from Issa Pottery.
Beyond the bar is the main dining room, with the chef’s counter to the left and a wall of wine to the right (behind the bottles: a private dining room for 14). Advanced sommelier Brian Kulich (Charlie Palmer Steak Napa, The Restaurant at Meadowood) designed the wine program with a focus on the West Coast and France.
“In most traditional steakhouses, pairings can be pretty linear,” says Kulich. “But in dealing with real A5 [wagyu], that really stretches the imagination.”
“It’s not like, ‘here’s your Napa 2015 cabernet’ — you might even want a rich chardonnay, a rich sake, a pinot with a little more body, a fun Grenache...”
For variety, Kulich is offering a whopping 100 wines by the glass, made possible by a Coravin wine system, which pours from a bottle without removing its cork, thereby preserving the wine’s character after its been poured.
At Niku, “We’re trying to take what’s great about a steakhouse, and what’s great about a Michelin level restaurant, and combine the two,” says Brown.
That’s just as well in San Francisco, where high-flying diners trend more frequently towards a Michelin-starred sushi place than traditional steakhouses.
For Brown, the model means paying as much attention to sourcing seasonal vegetables as quality beef. Produce from Kicking Bull Farms, supplier to stars like Dominique Crenn, will enjoy pride of place, hanging above the grill and roasting at various heights.
“Nobody expects that coming to a steakhouse,” says Brown.
Humble cabbage gets royal treatment: It’s vacuum sealed and fermented with koji for 24 hours, then fried, with fermented hot sauce and preserved Meyer lemon placed between each of its leaves. Finally, it’s served on anchovy aioli and topped with crispy fried beef threads. Potatoes, meanwhile, get a blast of liquid nitrogen before they’re fried, freezing their exterior for an extra crisp.
Soon after opening, Niku Steakhouse will offer an optional tasting menu, but initially, all items will be served a la carte. Wagyu beef will always be the through line: Every diner’s first bite is a bread course of homemade brioche over miso wagyu butter, “Just to get your mouth watering.”
It should stay that way through the end of the meal: Dessert options include a brownie with caramelized wagyu fat, spicy chocolate ganache with wagyu fat caramel, grilled pineapple bubbles, and miso ice cream “dippin’ dots.”
Omakase Group founders Jackson Yu and Kash Feng have been planning their new steakhouse since 2017. But in another sense, Niku Steakhouse was orchestrated by the Japanese government.
The whole team — Brown, Yu, master butcher Guy Crims and head butcher Jared Montarbo — all met in 2017 on an exclusive trip of Japan organized by the Japanese Wagyu Beef Committee. They bonded over beef, then went on to get commemorative A5 tattoos and join forces.
With Crims’ butcher shop next door, “We have the whole package,” says Brown. “It provides for retail, fast casual, and fine dining [restaurants]…. We’re utilizing everything here, which makes it economical, and the guest gets the best experience of product. We’re able to purchase things a normal, standalone restaurant could not.”
The Japanese beef industry is probably happy with the arrangement, too. Last year, Crims secured the largest retail order of Japanese A5 Kobe and Wagyu Beef in the Western hemisphere for the operation.
Niku Steakhouse will open at 61 Division Street in early February, with hours for dinner 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. and reservations at Resy.com