A high-profile local Japanese chef just took over the kitchen at a familiar FiDi favorite — just days after news broke that plans for his massive eponymous restaurant fell through. Chef Shotaro “Sho” Kamio, formerly of Berkeley’s Iyasare and Oakland’s now-closed Ozumo, is the new consulting chef at Michael Mina’s Pabu Izakaya. The announcement comes less than a week after the news that SHŌ Restaurant, an ambitious NFT membership-driven restaurant meant to sit atop Salesforce Park, will not open after all.
Sho said in a press release working with Mina at Pabu was more than an opportunity to start a new culinary chapter — it’s a homecoming of sorts, as he was close with Pabu co-founder and pioneering Bay Area sushi chef Ken Tominaga, who passed away last year. “Ken was one of my first friends since moving to the Bay Area,” Sho wrote in an emailed statement to Eater SF. “Our families were close, we talked once a week. He was like a brother.”
Kamio, who cut his teeth in Tokyo sushi apprenticeships after growing up in Sendai, became a San Francisco name in 2001. That’s when he was helming Ozumo, a position he held from 2000 to 2005. It’s also when the San Francisco Chronicle voted him a Rising Star Chef and then-critic Michael Bauer awarded Ozumo three stars. He gained similar acclaim for his work at Sacramento’s Kozen, then again at Oakland’s Yoshi’s. In 2013 Kamio opened Iyasare, which garnered a Michelin Bib Gourmand accolade and landed the chef an invite to cook dinner at the James Beard House in New York.
Pabu is already serving Kamio’s new fall menu. The chef is debuting a host of hand rolls, bincho grilled-steak and seafood, and seasonal dishes including corn and okra tempura. The role came together for Kamio over Labor Day Weekend — Pabu was closed for a few days the week before — a spokesperson tells Eater SF.
Known for A5 wagyu and fish flown in from Japan’s world-class Toyosu Market, Pabu’s menu continues to offer eight handrolls, none more expensive than $12. There are also heftier dishes, including teriyaki-glazed smoked Jidori chicken and saikyo miso-marinated black cod. The Japanese savory pancake okonomiyaki is a star on the new menu, too, with a shrimp and pork belly rendition for $28. Zanier dishes such as chicken karaage nuggets and smoked bacon mochi “hand roll” bring a bit of life to the restaurant’s new chapter.
Keita Tominaga, chef Tominaga’s son, took over the Pabu kitchen after his father’s passing last summer. With Kamio now in place, Tominaga will shift his focus to the Tominaga family restaurant Hana in Sonoma County’s Rohnert Park. Sake from certified sake master and brewer Stuart Morris remains central at PABU, and a new drinks menu from Natalie Lichtman is in the works, too, though details on what follows the yokai-centric cocktail menu remain scarce.
For Mina, Pabu was due for a breath of fresh air and Sho was an easy pick. “I’ve admired his culinary journey for nearly two decades,” Mina said in a press release. “He’s also brought a Michelin-starred sushi chef and other incredibly talented team members to join us in the kitchen. To be able to do this with one of Ken’s longtime friends is truly a blessing.”