Michael Black, with a rock and roll aura that exudes a matter of fact attitude, and perhaps a past that consist of leather jackets, motorcycles and tattoos, certainly does not fit the typical stereotype of a sushi chef or one to concoct traditional izakaya plates. Plus, he is only half Japanese, usually not enough in the eyes of sushi traditionalists.
Sebo, opened in March 2006, will be five years by March 2011 have generated quite a buzz in San Francisco; from having been on the Michelin 2010 and 2011 list, high reviews in the SF Magazine article, to being featured in Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation, Black remains humble and ambitious to expand his hopes for Sebo.
Fortunately for me (certainly a bonus that I went with someone who is a close buddy of Black’s), we were seated at the bar counter only two feet away from Black, along with the chefs from NOPA and Delfina - it was almost like I was in a private clubhouse of folks in the culinary industry. Being able to watch and chat with Black was such a treat. Each time Black presented a dish, he walked us through what we were having; the type of fish, use of base, and method of cooking technique. In the mist of jotting notes and taking pictures to document my experience at Sebo, it dawned on me why this omakase experience felt different and special – 80% of the dishes we had were traditional Edomae-style small plates that he had growing up in Japan that can’t be found on the menu. It felt like I had a taste and glimpse of his childhood… incredibly intimate and personal.
He started us with a starter plate of Shima Aji, striped jack fish, butterfish, and fluke fish – all flown in from Japan butchered in front of us. Of course, fresh wasabi in tow.
Tsubugai: cucumber with sea snail. This was absolutely delightful. The sea snail somewhat reminiscent of geoduck in texture and taste. Sweet and refreshing.
Squid and eggplant in soy and vinegar base – my least favorite dish of the night. It was good, though it was on the salty side. It lacked balance in flavor and contrast in texture.
Tsumire-Jiru: fish ball, fish cake, fish paste, vegetable stew and broth. This dish reminds me the comfort of home cooked meal. Hearty, warm, soothing and pleasant. Perfect on a cold winter night.
Uni (from left to right): Mendocino, Maine, and Hokkaido
Mendocino Uni – mild and sweet Solid in texture compared to the other two.
Maine Uni – Creamy, buttery, and smoky in flavor with slight moldy cheese essence.
Hokkaido – Intensely rich
Combeu Maki (not sure if this is spelled correctly) – Rolled up pork wrapped in kelp simmered. One of Black’s most traditional dish. This was a lovely dish. The different components and textures ranged from soft and slick to a bit of crunch and chewiness that kept this dish from tasting dull.
Ended our 3.5 hour meal with fried fish scale. Typically used as garnish but we ate it as finger food. Uber buttery and crunchy!
DECOR: Loved the decor of this place. Simple, stylish, modern with Japanese touches, and chic without losing it’s casual vibe.
OPEN KITCHEN: Consist of only two chefs that run the kitchen.
SEATING: 6 bar counter seats facing the open kitchen. 6-8 tables with lots of space and flexibility.
MENU: Per my chat with Black, their menu changes every day. 95% of their fish are shipped from Japan daily. Definitely not your typical line up of salmon, imitation crab, yellowtail, and fusion rolls., think exotic selections that even hardcore sushi fans don’t find recognizable.
TIP: Get a seat at the counter, trust in Michael and just sit back and let him take care of you – its the way to go.
After 3.5 hours of dining and getting to know the chef, learning about him and his past experiences, he opened up and explain what is most important and what drives him – his passion for food and cooking. This guy is amazing… here’s what he said:
“Food is part survival, but if you bring it to a level of art, it is very intimate. That glimpse of reaction when you taste my food is the best reward of my job and that is what I strive for.”
Black’s ardent passion for food is unmistakable.