The top openings of March are: Joes of Westlake (soft opened at the end of February I will visit soon), Indian Paradox, Pagan Idol (more on one of the most fun new bars in SF here), Waxmans. Here are my top pick and why they stand out.
Though opening in February, Ju-Ni (which means 12) has been quite tough to get into with a mere 12 seats, omakase only ($90 per person for 12 courses) and just two seatings a night (6 and 8:30 pm). I finally found time to make it in (you need to plan weeks, even a couple months, ahead with reservations), and its yet another pristine, intimate sushi experience that continues to confirm the next-level sushi revival I wrote about last year at Food Republic.
THE WHY: Co-owner/general manager Tan Truong and partner/executive chef Geoffrey Lee (formerly of Sushi Ran and Akiko’s) serve changing nigiri and sashimi offerings, graciously explaining each course. As with Ijji just down the street, which I featured as the top opening last month, I am transported to Japan with nigiri-only focus and purity but Ju-Ni has a decidedly SF slant with sustainable tuna as well as fish flown in from Tsukiji Fish Market, murals and spacious bar design by local artisans and a unique, three-bars-in-one set-up that gives each set of four people their own sushi chef. Chefs are engaged and interact with diners, explaining fish and ingredients.
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DRINK RECOMMENDS: There are only two wines on offer (one white, one red) and a few Japanese beers, but its all about the sake, selected by Gary Danko sommelier Justin Chin, served in wine glasses and by the bottle, ranging from crisp and dry to earthy and full-bodied.
INDIAN PARADOX, SF
Cozy newcomer on Divis, Indian Paradox serves Indian street food and wine pairings from friendly owner Kavitha Raghavan, a certified sommelier offering comforting, flavor-packed dishes with chef Brenden Darby, whose claim to fame was a four-month stint at Noma in Copenhagen. Raghavan and staff are welcoming and rousing Indian music keeps the tiny, 20-seat space festive.
DISH RECOMMENDS: Dabeli ($15), an Indian potato burger from Indias Kutch region, is a dish Ive loved elsewhere (DOSA does a beautiful version, the vada pav vegetarian slider), soft and nearly dissolving with a potato patty and a tender bun. Here, it is laden with tamarind date chutney, spicy peanuts, sev (crunchy Indian chickpea noodles) ands sweet pomegranate, a study in textures. One of my favorite Indian dishes of all time, bhel puri ($12), is served here in a cone, Bombay street food-style, scooped out with a spoon. Crispy crackers and puffed rice are dotted by jaggery (a concentrated cane sugar) and mint chutneys, tomatoes, potatoes and mango. Unlike some toned-down versions Ive had, I taste Indian lime pickles (nimbu ka achaar) subtly woven in, adding a welcome, fermented funk.
DRINK RECOMMENDS: The menu lists wine pairings for each dish and Raghavan is happy to make additional recommends. A round but thankfully still dry 2014 Gaia Agiorgitiko Rose ($11 a glass/$35) paired well with most dishes, from bhel puri to sundal, a traditional chickpea appetizer.