Even in San Francisco, it’s unusual to find a sushi restaurant that has a plethora of vegetarian options. However, there is one notable exception – Tataki South – in Noe Valley. An indistinct storefront at the corner of Church and Day houses this second outpost, where it is surrounded by the likes of Pomelo, Toast, and La Ciccia. It would be a mistake if you passed by without giving Tataki South a glance.
Not only do the owners pride themselves on serving sustainable fish, they have an exceptional selection of vegetarian starters, robatas, and rolls. We visited on a Sunday evening, just as happy hour was ending. Yes, that’s right happy hour is everyday from 5 to 7pm during which time select starters and drinks are served at a reduced price. The wait staff was attentive and seated us within minutes of arrival at a corner table overlooking Church St.
The décor is a combination of dark woods, zen water features, and bamboo plants. A sushi bar allows patrons to watch the precision work of the chefs. Vegetarian options are noted separately on the menu, which made it easier for us. We opted for three rolls (mixed veggie, spicy tofuna, reggae) and one robata (vegan chicken). The dishes, beautifully plated, came out one by one (cold to hot) by design and like clockwork.
Mixed Veggie Rolls – asparagus, avocado, carrot, spinach, radish, and sprouts. A total of six pieces were delicately placed on an abstract white plate. A burst of fresh flavor was in each bite. It was as if the vegetables were cut from the garden that afternoon. The creaminess of the avocado and crispness of the asparagus certainly came through more than the other veggies. I felt that the sprouts were merely an add-on and didn’t need to be part of the rolls. However, I was surprised by the portion size for only $6. Verdict - I would order this a staple dish each time.
Spicy Tofuna – spicy bean curd and cucumber (served inside out). The rice was perfectly cooked; the bean curd was melt in your mouth tender with a wonder kick of Asian spices; the fresh cucumber strips perfectly balanced the starch and protein. Hands down the best plate of the evening – the unique texture of the tofuna paired with the crispness of the cucumber just worked. However, I have to admit that these bit-sized rolls tasted much better than they looked. That aside at $7.50 for a total of 8 pieces, it’s great value. Verdict – I will order this again (and again).
Raggae – asparagus, cucumber, avocado, tomato, pumpkin. The plating was work of art with the rolls lined up along a slender curved white plate. Fresh pumpkin strips were scattered over each roll. Spicy tomato and rich avocado mousses were placed adjacent to the rolls – allowing Sheila and I to dictate the level of heat and cool per bite. This was an interesting combination as the asparagus was fried (served warm) and the cucumber and tomatoes were fresh. To be honest the only thing I could taste was the asparagus, tomato spread and avocado spread. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the flavor combination. At $12 for 8 pieces, this one of the more expensive veggie dish. Verdict – I may order this again depending on whether I’m feeling adventurous.
Vegan Chicken Robata – mock chicken cubes grilled slow cooked over wood charcoals and then served on skewers. When the dish arrived, Sheila and I were a bit surprised at the size – we were expecting bite-size pieces. Instead the vegan chicken pieces were the size of large orange wedges. This made them extremely dense and a bit heavy to eat. The outside had wonderful grill marks and was infused with both wood charcoal and Asian spice-rub flavors. Towards the middle, the vegan chicken was chewy and stringy. Not my favorite consistency but none less pretty tasty. At $5.50, a relatively inexpensive dish if you’re looking for something hearty. Verdict – I would try one of their other robatas for the sake of curiosity.
Overall, Tataki South is a great option for San Francisco’s Indian summer months when cool, fresh dishes are much more appealing than warm, stuffy dishes. That’s why we chose to try it last week when SF experienced a shorts and t-shirt day. Both Sheila and I will return and try a whole new set of vegetarian dishes, because we can at this place. That is one of the appeals, along with a real laid back atmosphere, light fresh dishes, and interesting flavor combinations that just seems to work.