As COVID-19 restrictions begin to loosen in San Francisco, there is hope on the horizon for restaurants and for diners. That includes the news that Restaurant Nisei, the debut project from former Californios chef de cuisine David Yoshimura, has found a permanent home in the storied former home of La Folie at 2316 Polk Street. The restaurant was forced to change gears as the pandemic began, operating as a pop-up that served jewel-like bento boxes from Mister Jiu’s Ho Ho General Store. And though these boxes have been a popular, sustaining item over the past year, Yoshimura says he’s ready to leave bento boxes behind in favor of the tasting menu he’s been planning for years.
“The background of what I’m doing is not too far off from Californios’ style,” says Yoshimura. “I intend to open a tasting menu fine dining concept but with Japanese food.” Nisei refers to second-generation Japanese Americans not born in Japan, the concept of which is the basis for menu, bringing forward the Japanese-American style of food that’s become prevalent in America. “There’s a culture of Japanese-Americans in California, this kind of weird cuisine that’s not found in Japan and is totally unique to us.”
The base of the cuisine is founded on Washoku, the home-cooked soul food of Japan, says Yoshimura, but through the lens of California. “Dishes like curry and rice, teriyaki chicken or beef, katsudon, and spam musube are good examples [of the style],” Yoshimura says. “Things that aren’t completely Japanese.” Diners can expect a 10- to 12-course menu starting around $145-160 when it opens, which could be as early as August 2021.
As for the space itself, Yoshimura is keeping it “in the family,” working with Carolyn Cantu (interior designer and wife of Californios chef Val Cantu) to redesign the interior into a “Zen-style” restaurant with plush banquets and a white oak bar. “Roland [Passot] left the restaurant in great condition,” says Yoshimura. “So we’re really just redesigning.”
Restaurant Nisei will keep the format of the formal restaurant dining room and a lounge area, too, giving Yoshimura the opportunity to present smaller bites with cocktails in lieu of the formal tasting menu experience. “It’ll be cool to have that aspect for people who can’t get into Nisei to enjoy drinks before or after,” says Yoshimura. There will also be a parklet to accommodate outdoor dining, as well.
His other focus will be pairing local wines with Japanese food, something Yoshimura (a certified sommelier) feels is often neglected in favor of sake. “I think that Japanese food can be paired beautifully with wine,” he says. “Most restaurants are just serving sake with Japanese food, but I want to serve California wines as well as the great sakes coming out of the Bay Area.”
As the final plans come together, Yoshimura has launched a Kickstarter to fund the final redesign of the restaurant. Stay tuned for more.