We were fortunate to be able to join the happy crowd at the PABU preview dinner. PABU is the new restaurant to be opened in June at 101 California St by Chefs Michael Mina and Ken Tominaga. The menu was a 7 course Kaiseki style dinner, with the 7th course being three delicious desserts. For the sake of brevity, this review will just cover the highlights.
The Shinjo-wan soup, clear soup with a dumpling of shrimp and scallop, had great flavor and taste. The skin of the dumpling was light and thin, still managed to hold the dumpling together well. Kaisen Shabu Shabu was presented in a very special preparation with excellent ingredients. The hot sake kombu broth was poured in a rice paper bowl, set over a low warming flame. The broth, added tableside, contained vegetables, mushrooms and thin rice noodle. The seafood (to be cooked in the broth) included thinly sliced fresh scallop, sashimi quality hamachi, and a leg of fresh snow crab. Great ingredients and presentation, flavorful broth, and an excellent sesame ponzu sauce resulted in a great course. Another highlight of this dinner was Ken's chirashi: sashimi (including excellent fatty tuna) over seasoned rice with vegetables and amazing soy marinated baby shitake mushrooms. The second sashimi course, Chef's sashimi, included Aji, ahi tuna, and Japanese bream placed on shiso leaves and served over crushed ice. Aji was one of the best we ever had. However, we did not appreciate the presentation over crushed ice: while it kept the fish fresh and cold, the ice melt interfered with the side salad.
The three course dessert included palate cleansing of grapefruit shaved ice or a yuzu pana-cotta (perfect texture), followed by a sorbet or a lemon ice cream with a matcha green tea crisp and delicious gelee, and finally great house mochi. I was impressed by the attention to dietary restrictions, ice-cream was replaced by sorbet when necessary and actually all three dessert courses came dairy free upon request.
The price of the dinner before drinks and tax/tip was $130/pp, a very good deal for San Francisco multi-course dinners. Quality of ingredients was outstanding, service was excellent despite the fact that finding out the ingredients in a particular course was sometimes challenging.
Was this a traditional Kaiseki dinner? The only component we felt was missing (when compared for example with the great Kyoto restaurants) were typical Japanese vegetables (burdock, lotus root, giant soy etc) and pickles. Pabu is defined as an izakaya and sushi restaurant, will have to see if Kaiseki dinners will be available.
Look forward to dinner in June at Pabu at the new location. Thanks to Chefs Michael and Ken for having us for dinner. Congratulations and good luck with PABU.
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