Restaurant ANZU: The Fun of Fusion Dining
By Monique Burns
Like any great city, San Francisco has its fair share of fine-dining establishments. A major port, the West Coast version of Ellis Island, it’s especially well-endowed in ethnic eateries. Beyond Asian offerings in Chinatown, Japantown and elsewhere, and ubiquitous Mexican fare, you’ll find top international tables like La Mar Cebicheria for Peruvian specialties, 1601 Bar & Kitchen for Sri Lankan fare, and Piperade, Chef Gerald Hirigoyen’s Basque outpost—to name only a few.
So, why would anyone choose to dine on ethnic cuisine in a hotel?
The short answer is: They wouldn’t. Unless, of course, it’s Restaurant ANZU in downtown’s Hotel Nikko San Francisco. (Read Monique Burns’ complete review of Hotel Nikko San Francisco here) A superb restaurant in its own right, ANZU uses only the finest local products in its offerings, billed as California Cuisine inspired by Asia and other corners of the world. From California and the West come free-range Petaluma chicken, lamb from Sonoma County and heavily marbled Japanese-style Kobe beef from Oregon-grown Wagyu cattle. Herbs are plucked from Hotel Nikko’s own kitchen garden. The only exception to the restaurant’s home-grown ethos is fish. For ANZU chefs— especially its ultra finicky sushi chefs—nothing less will do than fish flown in daily from Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market, the world’s largest wholesale seafood market.
Prices at ANZU are remarkably moderate given the foodstuffs’ provenance, the care with which it’s prepared, and the swanky dining room, with its black walls, black chandeliers, and black-and-white tables and chairs, accented by an orchid-emblazoned carpet and hints of green. You can sample both American and Japanese breakfast buffets for $24; à la carte dishes range from $10-$15. At lunch, sandwiches cost $14-$16; the prix-fixe “Express Lunch,” with soup or starter, entrée and dessert, is only $18.95, and a complete à la carte lunch is roughly $30. A full-course dinner, without drinks, costs about $50-$60.
ANZU is tailor-made for adventurous eaters, especially globe-trotters whose palates have grown accustomed to fine fare with foreign accents. But conservative diners will also find satisfying dishes. At breakfast and weekend brunch, there’s a create-your-own omelet station, an extensive American buffet, with familiar selections like scrambled eggs, pancakes, applewood-smoked bacon, and bagels, and a Japanese buffet with miso soup, broiled salted salmon and Japanese fish cakes. Stay in your own comfort zone or mix-and-match dishes for a Japanese-American breakfast.
Wander into à la carte territory, and familiar breakfast dishes morph into remarkable palate-pleasing fusions like Anzu Eggs Benedict, with sushi rice cakes wrapped in Serrano ham and wasabi-infused Hollandaise sauce, and Fried Chicken Waffle with mustard greens, homemade pickled vegetables and aioli flavored with katsu, a Japanese soy sauce with applesauce, onions, tomato paste and carrots. For the Healthy is a protein-and-vegetable-rich wake-up call of scrambled eggs, diced tofu, ginger and green onion, topped with peppery Thai sriracha sauce.
Expect similar creativity at lunch. For starters, Cioppino, San Francisco’s signature seafood stew introduced by 19th-century Italian fishermen, gets an Asian update with tiger prawns, lemongrass and kaffir lime. Farallon Snow Crab Soba Noodle Salad combines Peruvian-inflected scallop ceviche with buckwheat noodles and wasabi vinaigrette. Braised Pork Belly is served with pomegranate vinaigrette and plantains. The Anzu Burger, made with Wagyu beef, is topped with homemade Asian-style pickled vegetables, while the grilled Thai BBQ Chicken Sandwich arrives on an Italian-style focaccia bun. Felicitous fusions continue with main dishes like Braised Prime Short Ribs with eringi mushrooms, celery-root puree and Brussels sprouts, and Herb de Provence Pappardelle with kale, maitake mushrooms, and manchego sheep’s cheese, originally from Spain’s La Mancha region.
Perusing the menu, you can’t help but think that some combinations sound like recipes for disaster. How could anyone marry such diverse ingredients and actually make those mixed marriages work? Chalk it up to a combination of imagination tempered by experience and know-how. Executive Chef Philippe Striffeler, also ANZU’s Food & Beverage Manager, trained under some of Europe’s top chefs, including Jean Troisgros who founded the Troisgros restaurant outside Roanne, France, and Roger Vergé of Le Moulin de Mougins on the Riviera. In 2009, as American team captain at the 2009 Taipei World Culinary Cup, Striffeler won a Silver Medal. With culinary chops like those, it’s no wonder Chef Striffeler has both a sure knowledge of classic technique and a deep understanding of various foodstuffs.
As for his familiarity with foreign cuisines, Swiss-born Striffeler has worked for or opened restaurants in Amsterdam, Hanoi and Osaka, and has traveled extensively through Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Striffeler, Executive Sous Chef Thuy Tran (who hails from Vietnam) and the rest of ANZU’s culinary dream team form a kind of miniature United Nations. Their multicultural backgrounds, along with extensive training, give them an intuitive understanding of the world’s foods and a deft touch when combining them.
Dinner, of course, is the main event. Unwind with one of the restaurant’s many craft cocktails, perhaps The Ichigo, with Ketel One vodka, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, Chartreuse and strawberries. Or Sake 75, a concoction of gin, lemon juice and Hana Hou Hou Shu sparkling sake. Pair your cocktail with a starter from the restaurant’s Sushi and Raw Bar. Besides excellent sushi and sashimi, there are specialty rolls, and appetizers like spicy salmon tartar on a rice cracker with pineapple, flying-fish roe and unagi sauce. If you’d prefer a hot appetizer, order The Rock, the restaurant’s dramatic signature dish. Cook thin slices of beef fillet on a heated river rock, then dip them into any of three piquant sauces: spicy ketchup made from Korean chili paste, garlicky cilantro pesto, and honeyed wasabi mustard.
Main courses will satisfy diners of all ilks. Among meat dishes are lamb loin with purple cauliflower puree, roast chicken made with free-range organic chicken from Mary’s Chicken, a local supplier, and Duck Breast “Tagine” cooked in a Moroccan-style pyramidal clay pot with orange peel, kumquats, preserved plums, lemongrass, raisins and almonds. Fish entrees include Misoyaki Black Cod with purple potato confit and ginger-truffle dashi sauce, and Macadamia Nut Crusted King Salmon with Balinese black rice, wasabi and beurre blanc. Vegetarians will enjoy Forbidden Rice Pilaf, made with purple or black rice once served only to Japanese emperors, while vegans dig into the Clay Pot Tofu with red quinoa and spring vegetables.
With such highly flavored dishes, you might be tempted to drink your way through the craft-cocktail menu while dining. But then you’d miss out on ANZU’s extensive list of wines, beers and sakes. At last count, the restaurant had 25 sakes, including still and sparkling. Try Eiko Fuji Ban Ryu, a versatile sake whose name translates to “Ten Thousand Ways.” Kuro-Bin, or “Black Bottle,” has aromas of cashew nougat and jicama. Yuki No Bosha, which means “Cabin in the Snow,” is redolent of peaches and strawberries.
You’ll also find at least two dozen wines from France, New Zealand and Argentina as well as Washington State and California Wine Country. Beers run the gamut from Europe’s Heineken and Stella Artois to Japanese Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo. For domestic brews, choose San Francisco Anchor’s Steam Draft or Lagunitas IPA Draft from nearby Petaluma. The hotel’s private-label ANZU BRU pale ale, which debuted in 2014, has hints of kaffir lime and ginger. It’s made by Working Man Brewing Company, a microbrewery in nearby Livermore, California.
By the time you get to dessert, you might be ready for something that sounds a little closer to home, like Valrhona Chocolate Bread Pudding, with triple espresso gelato and Bailey’s crème Anglaise, or The Fog, a dark chocolate cake with banana cream and butterscotch sauce.
But if your tastebuds are so stimulated by your gastronomic trip around the world that they’re inwardly daring the chefs to bring…it…on, choose Apple & Apricot Crisp with Sapporo beer-infused ice cream and vanilla Chantilly cream sauce. Or White Chocolate Green Tea Cannoli with blueberry ganache, spun sugar, and a dash of fleur de sel, a traditional French sea salt now also produced off the Oregon coast. Have sake or wine, or a cup of coffee or tea, perhaps a Numi Organic Tea like Jasmine or Moroccan Mint.
So endeth your evening at Hotel Nikko San Francisco. Or maybe not. One benefit to dining in a full-service luxury hotel is that, afterward, you can enjoy a nightcap in the hotel bar and maybe some entertainment. Take your last bite at ANZU, then take in the show downstairs at Feinstein’s at the Nikko, the hotel’s posh little nightclub showcasing America’s top soul, jazz, rhythm-and-blues and Broadway acts, and serving light fare from ANZU and a full drink menu. After the Friday or Saturday-night show, repair to the Kanpai Lounge next-door for “Sake & Sound,” an evening of drink specials and DJ music. Who said dining in a hotel wasn’t fun?
IF YOU GO
Restaurant ANZU. Hotel Nikko San Francisco, 222 Mason St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-394-1100; www.restaurantanzu.com. For tickets to Feinstein’s at the Nikko, call toll-free 855-636-4556 or 855-MF-NIKKO, or log on to www.feinsteinssf.com.