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From Heritage to Homage San Francisco Looks East for Inspiration

Housed in the luxuriously modern St. Regis Hotel, Ame is the refined sister restaurant to Terra - a wine country jewel established by the husband-and-wife team of Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani in 1988. 

Sone and Doumani had long perfected the cuisine and service at their landmark Napa Valley restaurant before they made the decision to migrate their success to the heart of downtown San Francisco.   With the hands-on style that is Doumani’s signature on the floor and in managing the pastry department and the original cuisine that Sone creates, the two are a culinary duet with every note in harmony. 

Chef Hiro Sone’s highly personal style of cooking is expressed through his Japanese heritage; French and Italian training and world travels almost defies being labeled. Though, if it has to be done, “seasonal New American with an emphasis on seafood” is probably a close as anyone is going to get.   

While Terra’s signature dishes like broiled sake-marinated black cod appear on Ame’s menu, Sone attributes the differences in the two menus to the wider availability of ingredients and access to a greater number of suppliers within the city.  He points to Crabonara, a play on the classic Italian carbonara, as a dish that can only be created in San Francisco.  Where else could you source enough Dungeness crab fat for a popular menu item? 

Ame’s Sommelier and Wine Director Anani Lawson oversees a 300-bottle wine list that focuses on small producers from France, Germany, Austria, Italy and the United States.  Lawson, whose last position was head sommelier at The French Laundry, first worked at Terra in 1995 and rejoined the duo to open Ame.  In an interesting twist on service, sake at Ame is treated like wine and served in stemware.  Conventional, no, memorable, yes!

Ame has already cleared the way for a personalized culinary experience unlike any the city has to offer. There’s something to be said for having already cultivated a far-reaching clientele and garnered the industry’s highest accolades.

 

Medicine, the New Shojin Eatstation

The introduction of a new cuisine to the Bay Area always gets the attention of the restaurant industry but it’s not every day when a culinary style that has flourished since the sixth century arrives on our doorstep.

Such is the case of Medicine: New-Shojin Eatstation, a restaurant whose journey began in Telluride, Colorado as a partnership between restaurateur William Petty’s dining experiences in Kyoto, Japan and the fine dining industry experiences of  Skye Thompson.  They deemed San Francisco the place to debut Shojin cuisine and opened Medicine in August 2005.

 

The term shojin means progress of the spirit and Shojin cuisine, considered the original diet of the island of Japan, is vegetarian temple food that has been prepared often as part of a meditation practice and eaten by Zen Buddhist monks and nuns for 14 centuries.  Not until recently has it emerged from behind the temple walls.  Skye Thompson is not aware of another Shojin restaurant in the Western United States and has only seen one operating in Tokyo though they can be found on temple grounds in Kyoto’s Gion District.

Shojin cuisine is the ancestor of kaiseki, a more familiar Japanese cuisine that is not vegetarian.  Kaiseki’s progression of tiny dishes that capture the peak of seasonality made its first appearance on the Bay Area dining scene in the early 90’s. With the arrival of Medicine’s Ryuta Sakamoto, a fourth-generation Kyoto chef who grew up in his family’s renowned 16-seat kaiseki restaurant - Kappo Sakamoto - the introduction of shojin strikes a similar chord.

The Zen belief that food should be prepared with love and  ingested for health is the premise for Medicine.  To that effect, Sakamoto’s cuisine keeps traditional shojin guidelines in mind: it uses no animal products or aromatic members of the lily family – scallions, leeks, onions, shallots or garlic. Medicine’s mostly organic menu uses seasonal vegetables, a wide variety of artisan soy products like yuba or soy milk skin, miso, seaweed and traditional grains to create simmering bowls of udon (rice) and soba (buckwheat) noodles, tempura-fried vegetables and steaming nine-grain rice that has a distinct purple hue. 

Beverages at Medicine are treated with no less care.  Sake expert Beau Timken of True Sake developed the restaurant’s premium sake list; sakes are served cold and perfectly complement the subtle cuisine.  Chef Sakamoto’s comments make each entry memorable, he refers to Urakasumi junmai as the “jolly monk.” The succinct wine list is served by the glass and hails from Organic Vintners with selections from Chile, Argentina, Australia and Mendocino.  Ultra premium teas selected by Sakamoto include shade-grown gyokuro-cha and matcha, the ground leaves used in tea ceremonies. 

Cuisine aside, almost every aspect of the dining room and service at Medicine contribute to the uniqueness of the operation.  From communal seating on benches at long mahogany tables and the inclusive service charge in lieu of tipping to the staff uniforms emblazoned with Sanskrit calligraphy that proclaims loving kindness, there is reason to believe that a meal at Medicine is truly food for the soul.

 

Nihon Whisky Lounge – Dram & Edge

Corners are growing considerably more comfortable all over San Francisco, and our first

official whiskey lounge would be no exception.  Brothers Musa and Khaled Dajani of the Dajani Group have transformed a nondescript corner at Folsom and 14th   streets into Nihon, a two-story lounge and restaurant that houses a comprehensive collection of whisky  - 130 bottles or thereabouts of single malt scotch with a nod to American, Japanese and  Irish pours.

 

The Dajani brothers have come a long way since they opened their first operation, Café Abbir, a corner coffee house in 1994.  With the addition of a discreet Champagne and soju bar, 821, and a raw bar, Tsunami, last year, the brothers now have four San Francisco operations and each concept is more finely tuned than the last.  Nihon is distinguished by beautifully-crafted walnut cabinetry (the Dajani Group handles their own construction) walnut table tops and ergonomically designed chairs and banquettes designed to achieve maximum comfort from the moment you are seated.

The emergence of the bottle rooms on the lounge scene is now tangible with even the most concise locations dedicating space to house both bottles and their owners.  At Nihon, a cozy corner room on the second floor guarantees a seat for those who prefer the service and intimacy of bottle service.

Nihon’s menu is Japanese with robata or grilled items taking center stage and moderate in price.  Musa Dajani, a Duncan man himself, explained that after considerable research, they determined Japanese cuisine was the best fit for whisky appreciation.  Given the considerable range of prices among the elite single malts, the list proffers close to ten labels that exceed $500 a bottle and a 21-year Glenmorangie that tops the list at $1,000, the majority our accessible with Nihon’s 2 oz-pours ranging from $8 to $45. 

 

Photo:Sone/Doumani:

Husband-and-wife team Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani at their urban location Ame.

 

Crunchy Salad: 

Medicine’s Crunchy Salad of organic seasonal vegetables and sweetened walnut.

 

Skye Thompson: Medicine Man

Co-owner Skye Thompson wears the Sanskirt maitri – loving kindness.

 

Nihon:

Nihon General Manager Janet Chung, 23, and Musa Dajani of the Dajani Group.