Known for its approachable omakase and tight menu of rolls and small plates, Ichi Sushi went dark when the pandemic hit and announced its permanent closure in June 2020. But one year later, there’s good news for the Bernal Heights neighborhood: the space has a new tenant who plans to continue the legacy of quality sushi at 3369 Mission Street. Chef and owner Erik Aplin expects to open Chīsai Sushi Club in September, reviving the 500-square-foot restaurant with an infusion of handrolls and sake. It’ll be a sort of homecoming for Aplin, who worked with Ichi Sushi owner Tim Archuleta as chef de cuisine until 2015, in addition to having spent time at standout SF sushi restaurants Akiko’s and Robin.
With only eight seats at the bar and 14 throughout the dining room, Chīsai will be intimate but also approachable, Aplin hopes. He was drawn back to the space in part because of its small footprint and for the fact that “as a chef you can have a convo with anyone in the restaurant from behind the sushi bar,” he says. “That’s part of the reason I wanted to call it a sushi ‘club.’ When you’re here you really feel like you’re part of the club — and the admission price is just showing up and being a nice person, so it’s a very inclusive club.” Adding to the air of nostalgia will be the fact that Ichi Sushi customers may recognize some Chīsai staff from “different eras,” Aplin teased.
To start, Chīsai will open for dinner and focus on two levels of set menus. Aplin says he’s aiming to hit “more accessible” price points and will incorporate temaki, or handrolls, into the omakase experience. Expect vegetarian options and, eventually, a la carte. Aplin, who helped open Masaharu Morimoto’s Morimoto Napa and worked at Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s Matsuhisa Vail, says his sushi is rooted in his traditional training, but he looks to seasonal flavors and diverse cuisines for inspiration. And since this is northern California, the region’s abundance of fresh ingredients will appear on the menu.
Born and raised in Palo Alto, Aplin has been making sushi for more than a decade — ever since he was an undergrad at UC Boulder, started bussing tables at a local restaurant, and became fixated on working his way behind the sushi bar. It was at Ichi, however, that he was first exposed to the showmanship of omakase. “It was really fun working with Tim [Archuleta], and he was really at the forefront of this kind of omakase boom that was happening in SF. I felt really fortunate to be part of that and see that there was this whole other component of this sushi world that I hadn’t even seen,” Aplin says. “Now’s my chance to have a go at it.”