The Portland-based sustainable sushi empire, Bamboo Sushi, will bring its brand of Monterey Seafood Watch–approved nigiri and bluefin tuna–free sushi rolls to the San Francisco waterfront this coming spring, opening a 4,000-square-foot restaurant on the Pier 3 waterfront — the former Plant Cafe Organic/Seaside space, just a few doors down from the Ferry Building.
The original Portland Bamboo’s claim to fame is that it professes to be the “world’s first certified sustainable sushi restaurant” — a premise that local sushi connoisseurs might take some issue with, since San Francisco’s own Tataki also claims to be the world’s first fully sustainable sushi restaurant, offering customers “sushi without guilt.” Both restaurants opened in 2008; in fact, Tataki appears to have opened several months earlier.
The distinction, it seems, lies in the element of certification: The Marine Stewardship Council recognized Bamboo for its sustainability efforts in 2008. In any case, Bamboo and Tataki, along with Miya’s across the country in Connecticut (which makes the same first-sustainable-sushi-restaurant claim), are widely seen as the major pioneers of the sustainable sushi movement. First or not, the two restaurants’ presence in San Francisco should make the city a focal point for important conversations taking place in the sushi world — especially as overfished species such as bluefin tuna continue to be critically endangered.
Apart from its much-touted sustainable sourcing and low carbon footprint, Bamboo’s restaurants offer diners a range of sushi experiences — everything from omakase (which ranges from $49 to $109 in Portland) to tempura-stuffed and aioli-topped rolls to izakaya-style small plates. The San Francisco location will have a full bar featuring Japanese whiskies and sakes as well as an emphasis on local beers and wines.
Bamboo Sushi first teased its Bay Area expansion plans earlier this year, announcing that it would be opening locations in San Ramon and San Francisco — but the restaurant chain, part of founder Kristofor Lofgren’s Sustainable Restaurant Group, has only now announced the specific SF site and opening date. Bamboo appears to be in major expansion mode now, with the San Ramon outlet opening later this year, a San Jose location in the works, and a Seattle restaurant due to open this week.
Meanwhile, Lofgren told the San Francisco Business Times that he doesn’t actually expect the San Francisco location to be particularly profitable due to the expensive waterfront location and the general challenges restaurants are facing in trying to do business in the city.
“We aren’t planning on being super profitable. This is more about mission alignment than profitability,” Lofgren said, citing the San Francisco food scene’s reputation for innovation and sustainability. “If it was just for the pure economic return, no, we wouldn’t be coming to San Francisco.”