As a local in San Francisco, one doesn’t typically expect great food in the “Marina” area of SF. This area is known for the preppy, pretentious crowds, typically known as “yuppies” – and they are not necessarily known for their outstanding taste in food.
So when I first heard about Zushi Puzzle, I expected nothing. Two years ago, I visited for the first time and basically received nothing, too. It was wholly underwhelming. It took some convincing, but I was persuaded to try it once more for “Omakase” in August of 2009. To put it simply, “omakase” is Japanese for “Chef’s Choice” – meaning you leave it to the chef’s discretion to serve you whatever he deems freshest and best in his selection that evening. This is the best way to try a new sushi restaurant, and since my opinion of Zushi Puzzle was formed on just regular table seating, I decided, hesitantly, to try it again.
First off, let me state for the record that not ONE SINGLE SUSHI RESTAURANT in San Francisco (or possibly anywhere on this continent) carries a larger selection of fresh fish in one restaurant. Roger is the owner and sushi chef, and he is well aware of this fact. He treats his customers well, and takes pride in offering some of the most unique fish available from the ocean, including pencil fish, and other varieties this mouth has never had the pleasure of devouring prior to Zushi Puzzle. In fact, some of the fish he offers looks like fish you’d never eat for sushi – yet once you place it in your mouth, you can’t help but wonder why nobody else offers this particular fish. In addition to fresh sashimi/sushi – Roger also imports some unusual catches straight from Japan, including quite a few varieties of crabs and oysters, live uni served atop its own shell, and often, he will bring out a 400+ lb of Tuna carcass from which he scrapes out the cheek meat to lightly grill it on a skewer, and serve it to you daring you not to like what he refers to as “Ocean Beef”. Filet Mignon, step aside, you have NOTHING on this fish – nothing!
Where else in San Francisco will you find Kobe Beef Nigiri but Zushi Puzzle? It’s as fabulous as you might imagine it to be but there’s something even better. I know a secret not all people do, and that’s that Roger will skim the fat off the Kobe he receives, condense and reduce it to a big cold blob ahead of time, and the magic he can work with this fat melted atop nigiri rice and a dab of foie gras with a sprinkle of green onions and sesame seeds simply borders on insanity. Never again will you have rice that tastes this sinful and delicious.
Roger’s love of food is obvious. Oftentimes through the evening, he will be so excited to serve you a fresh fish of some kind that he just got that as he slices it, he will pop one into his own mouth to enjoy, too. This passion also extends to his love of cooking and creating masterpieces that are intended to wow the recipients – and his reach extends far beyond sushi. In fact, he’s told me on various occasions to try his lamb chops, cooked oysters and 5 different servings of crab including a crab risotto on my next visit. Unfortunately, I cannot overcome my addiction to his sushi, and have yet to do so, but I believe him. He’s a culinary master, and his commitment and love for food shines through in the taste of his cooking.
Of the sushi I have had at Zushi Puzzle – a few stand out as the best I have ever had and I am resigned to the fact that it will perhaps never be beat. His Albacore Tuna Nigiri, and Albacore Toro Nigiri compares to NONE. The fresh Ikura that is served here is good enough to make me want to swim in the bowl in which he stores it. Zushi Puzzle usually carries anywhere from 6-8 varieties for salmon – and you have to try them all. Coho and the Irish Salmon are notables. The aforementioned “Ocean Beef” is second to none, and you must try this while at Zushi Puzzle. Zushi Puzzle is famous for its butterfish, but due to all his other unique fish being so spectacular, I find it rather bland compared to the good stuff Roger can give you if you leave it at his discretion.
The decor at Zushi Puzzle is nothing fancy. In fact, it’s simply rather cozy. It most definitely doesn’t look like the kind of place in which you will be served the best fish you’ve ever had, but mark my words, you will. Service will vary as I have encountered two ladies here who leave a bit to be desired and two men who exemplify “perfect service”. Then there’s Roger – who is always impressive and never been anything but superb to all of his customers when I have been there.
I have another favorite sushi restaurant in San Francisco, and it’s a daily toss-up between that place and Zushi Puzzle. I find that I end up at Zushi Puzzle at least twice as often as I do at the other place, though, merely for the amazing selection of fish and even sake.
Speaking of Sake – ask for Roger’s input on this and don’t ask for the price – just drink what he suggests and you will reach a new peak in Sake, starting with the “Antique” sake he offers.
Overall, Zushi Puzzle is on the more expensive end of sushi and sake, and what is offered to you is reflected in the price. Nowhere will you experience fish and sake like you can sitting at Roger’s bar – and whatever price it ends up being, I am confident you will walk away thinking every cent was worth it.
Zushi Puzzle is located at 1910 Lombard St. in San Francisco, and is opened every evening except Sunday. I cannot recommend this place strongly enough – and if you do go, let him know Grace sent you. Last week, he proclaimed he had NEVER seen a girl eat more sushi than me, and while I am not certain that is a title I am proud of, what can I say – his sushi is worth the extra weight.
Service: 9/10 Ambiance: 6/10 Food: 10/10 Addictive Factor: 10/10 Overall Rating: 9.33/10