In the Potrero Hill area of San Francisco, there stands a small Japanese restaurant called “Live Sushi”. It’s not a particularly noticeable place, and chances are likely that only the neighborhood folks have tried this place over the years — at least as a regular.
But first, let’s throw back to a little history about me, first. Having spent a few of my formative years as a youngster in Tokyo, my tastebuds have been refined and perfected to the taste of sashimi and sushi. There’s no other food that I feel I know better than sushi–that’s how confident I am that this palate understands sushi. I love meat, but my palate doesn’t recognize meat the way my palate recognizes fresh and raw fish. This is not to imply that there are not “sushi rolls” out there that I like; this is merely to say that I just wouldn’t call that sushi. I’m also not a traditionalist — I like any kind of raw fish so long as it is as fresh as can be, and combined with the perfect nigiri rice combination.
Having said that – let’s move on.
The Main Appeal at Live Sushi
I happened to come to Live Sushi for the first time one evening for a get-together with friends. It wasn’t my call where we went, and since the original friend already decided on this place, it was up to me to get down to Potrero Hill after another meeting in the Financial District. I expected nothing, as I’ve learned over the years that “great sushi” is not something that is readily available in San Francisco.
So I will say off the bat that Live Sushi offers mediocre sushi. The fish is fresh enough, for the most part; the rice has no character, and is far from what I want from nigiri rice.
But amidst all the sake and nigiri we were ordering, we noticed something on the board called “Chef’s Special Oysters” at Live Sushi. Now oysters, I love. If it’s fresh, I will generally down that sucker without a second thought. We immediately ordered a dozen.
As you can tell from the photos, the presentation is simply beautiful. If this display doesn’t make you instantly happy — check for a pulse!
A live oyster is shucked and an Uni is kindly laid upon the oyster. An ample spoonful of Ikura is placed next to that, and finally – a quail is egg is cracked over the masterpiece. With a small drizzle of ponzu-like sauce and thin slivers of green onions, the Chef’s Special Oyster is special, indeed.
That night, we ate two dozen of these amongst three people. My friend bought dinner so I never saw the bill.
The next time, I brought seven people here and we slurped down six dozen of these. When the bill peaked at $600, I realized how much these beauties cost — a whopping $4 for ONE. (I had not seen the first bill.)
Once the shock wore off, I decided it wasn’t as ridiculous as it felt given how much of it we ate. Each oyster has two of the priciest seafood items in it: ikura and uni, not to mention the oyster. One order of either can be over five dollars so combining all this w/ the oyster can easily be accepted at $4. In fact, one might even say it’s slightly cheap. But damned if you can stop at two….you keep wanting this and before you know it, part of your mortgage payment is inside your belly.
I have tried other items at Live Sushi. I’ve had their sushi, and as I’ve said — it’s mediocre. You will never hear me suggest you go to Live Sushi for sushi. I have had their rolls; they are good, but nothing special. There are plenty of good “sushi roll” locations in the city. While their rice lacks – their fish is fresh, and therefore, their sashimi is good. Not excellent, but good.
The selection of sashimi at Live Sushi is not vast. When they have Toro, it’s good but not the freshest I have ever had.
But elsewhere, you do not find the “Chef’s Special Oyster”.
So, for a little celebration that Mr. K and I had a couple of months ago, he made one of my wishes come true.
I’ve always thought that it’d be great to do a run around the city, dining at many restaurants, but having only the very best thing there and moving on for the next course. We chose six locations for that evening, and Live Sushi had the honor of being first on that list. It goes without saying that we went there for only these oysters. We shared a bottle of sake and these oysters – and moved onto the next restaurant for course number two.
Live Sushi is located at 2001 17th Street in San Francisco (Potrero Hill). Service is always just “okay” here; nothing special, nothing bad. Though their hours are listed as being opened until 10:30 on weekdays and 11 PM on Friday and Saturday, I find that I’ve always had a problem making a reservation for seating past 8:30PM or the latest, 9 PM — perhaps because the waitstaff wants to go home. Parking can be difficult in this neighborhood during dinnertime, though the few times I have gone here, I’ve gotten really lucky.
Remember: Chef’s Special Oysters. But if you can eat as much of these as I can, I’d make sure you take the Platinum Card with you.
Food: 9.5/10 for the oysters; 5/10 for everything else
Addictive Factor: 8.5/10
Overall Rating: 6/10 (except 9.5/10 for the oysters)
Grace Keh is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to San Francisco" and the critic, editor and photographer behind San Francisco Food. In her regular day job, she consults for corporate clients in marketing and event strategy. Once the sun sets, she's on the hunt for great food in what she considers to be one of the world's greatest cities, San Francisco.