Omakase at San Francisco’s inventive new Robin reframes Northern California’s bounty
The uni is presented like a jewel: Taken from the waters just up the coast off Mendocino, the urchin’s brilliant orange petals lay inside its spiky purple shell, adorned with a scoop of sushi rice, a touch of wasabi grown in Half Moon Bay and a glistening orb of caviar from Sacramento. On the side there are crisp sheets of nori, chef Adam Tortosa explains, “so you can make little uni tacos.”
The dish, perhaps more than any other on the menu at Robin, Tortosa’s new sushi bar in San Francisco, shows what happens when a creative California chef transplants the culinary essence of Japan to his native state. “We’re not trying to copy Japan,” he says. “We’re re-creating the thought process—the way they approach food. If Japan was in Northern California, how would they do sushi?”
Turning a traditional uni nigiri into a gorgeously free-form “taco” is just the start. Robin’s sushi counter is partially made of slate, instead of the typical wood, and the entire room was built with artistic touches like a rippling tile mosaic behind the counter and moody gray walls overlaid with a dripping rose-gold finish. Instead of just beer and sake, the drinks list includes cool California producers such as Tatomer and Wind Gap Wines along with a few prestige international bottles.
Tortosa constructs each diner’s own omakase menu after a conversation about what the individual likes to eat. The roughly 10 courses ($79 to $179) might include inventive sushi such as one with Mount Lassen trout, Half Moon Bay wasabi and a slice of ripe yellow peach, or his version of cold sesame noodles made with fresh ramen, roasted sesame, shaved green onions, fresh ginger and shaved truffles. And if you happen to like uni, you’re in luck: He keeps a variety on hand—from Hokkaido, Santa Barbara, Fort Bragg, Mendocino, Baja California and Chile—each with its own distinct flavor.
For nearly a decade before opening Robin, Tortosa worked for the rigorous sushi master Katsuya Uechi in his Katsuya restaurants in Los Angeles. After hours, he began to experiment with adding a California twist to the menu. At Robin, he shows us what that freedom tastes like. 620 Gough St., S.F., 415-548-2429; robinsanfrancisco.com.
Written by MICHALENE BUSICO.
Photography by ALBERT LAW.