It seems these days San Francisco is more sake-soaked than ever with the fermented Japanese beverage popping up on trendy restaurant menus and infiltrating beverage pairings at some of the city’s finest restaurants. Now, there’s an itty-bitty new bar dedicated to the drink and backed by the deep knowledge of a certified sake sommelier. Chika & Sake, a bar and restaurant, opens today, Thursday, November 10 at 1700 Laguna Street, about two blocks away from the Japan Center Malls. On top of a rotating list of nearly three dozen sakes available by the glass, carafe, and bottle, there’s also a menu of Japanese small plates ranging from sauteed mushrooms in soy to plates of sashimi.
Before helping to open Chika & Sake with owner Lena Turner, Chika Ohata worked for a number of years at True Sake, the Hayes Valley shop that’s been bringing a broad range of sakes to the Bay Area since 2002. She hopes the bar will create a place for drinkers to expand their knowledge of the beverage in a setting that’s both casual and fun. “I have so much love and joy about sake and food in general,” she says. “I want to share that with people and make a kind of cozy special place.”
Ohata says the sake list will include between 15 and 20 selections, which will be offered by the glass or carafe for those who want to explore, or by the bottle. The glasses will be intentionally small as is commonplace in Japan, she adds, to encourage guests to try a number of different selections. “A lot of our glass options are pretty small, so you don't have to pay a bunch of money for one glass of sake that you’ve never tasted,” she says. She plans to rotate in seasonal and premium sakes, including unpasteurized varieties that need to be consumed within about 6 months of being bottled.
On any given night there will be at least one or two sake sommeliers on staff, including Ohata herself, to help guide drinkers through the options. She’s also working on finalizing some sake-tasting flights with specific themes; there’s a Terroir of Sake tasting in the works, which will provide a taste of sakes from three different regions. “You can take an imaginary trip to Japan by tasting one from each region,” Ohata says.
Ohata describes the food as koryori, or “Japanese home cooking style tapas.” So guests can start their meal with cold dishes such as kyuri sunomono, or Japanese cucumber salad, and tempura nori chips. She’s particularly excited to have iburigakko, a smoked pickled radish dish from the Akita Prefecture in northwestern Japan, on the menu, as well as to be serving it with cream cheese, which she says is the trend in Japan right now. Larger plates include sashimi; soy-cured bluefin tuna with yams; and Japanese-style ceviche, a nontraditional plate made with tuna, cucumber, avocado, and cilantro. Warm plates range from delicate grilled white fish in mushroom dashi to slow-cooked pork belly with a soy-cured egg. To wrap up the meal, Ohata offers tai chazuke — “soupy tea rice,” she calls it.
The small space offers just six bar seats and two tables but Ohata says they hope to use it to transport diners to Japan in the 1970s and 80s. The decor is “city pop-inspired,” she says, with lanterns and other touches to make the space feel warm as opposed to crisp and modern.
Starting Thursday, November 10, Chika & Sake (1700 Laguna Street in San Francisco) will be open from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Reservations can be made on OpenTable.
Correction: November 10, 2022, 1:05 p.m. This article was corrected to show Chika & Sake is owned by Lena Turner.