First Taste: At Sushi Nagai, true minimalism allows the fish to star

Lean and delicious, a piece of tuna is sliced in a rectangular form to deliver the best flavor, then paired with a layer of crisp nori seaweed. (Sarah Chorey)

By Sarah Chorey

Whether you've actually traveled to Japan or are just obsessed with sushi, you're likely familiar with omakase, those multi-course meals prepared at the discretion of the chef, made with the freshest fish, and oftentimes reaching 14 or 15 courses, with round after round of fresh nigiri artfully prepared so that each bite requires no adjustment.

Read between the lines: no extra wasabi, soy sauce, or Japanese mayo allowed; the sushi chef has the flavors queued up just so.

There are a handful of omakase restaurants like this sprinkled throughout San Francisco; Sushi Nagai is the latest to join the coterie.

The tidy awning and glass entrance to Sushi Nagai mimic the high-end retailers in nearby Union Square.
The tidy awning and glass entrance to Sushi Nagai mimic the high-end retailers in nearby Union Square. (Sarah Chorey)

Blocks from Union Square and this city's most upscale shopping, Sushi Nagai's design mimics that of a luxury goods store: A crisp yellow awning shades the clean glass storefront that offers barely a glimpse of what's happening within; inside, a curvaceous, elevated platform, painted bright white, seats 20 or so with views to the sushi masters doing their expert slicing in the center.

With only bar seating on an elevated platform, every diner has a front row view to the sushi chefs working their magic centerstage.
With only bar seating on an elevated platform, every diner has a front row view to the sushi chefs working their magic centerstage. (Sarah Chorey)

While the wine glasses are being filled, you'll note the respectful, quiet silence of the dining room where's there's no background music at all—just the hush conceived to inspire awe for the magic of sushi being crafted with care. Settle in, you're going to be here a while.

The fish offering will change based on what's available and fresh at Tokyo's Toyosu fish; we were lucky to get a bite of this rich, wild red snapper.
The fish offering will change based on what's available and fresh at Tokyo's Toyosu fish; we were lucky to get a bite of this rich, wild red snapper. (Sarah Chorey)

Head chef Tomonori Nagai (Morimoto, Shinji by Kanasaka) will be your guide for the night, leading you through a collection of morsels that comes with a luxury price tag—expect to throw down northwards of $200 per person.

More melt-in-your-mouth goodness comes with a round of sea urchin nigiri—smooth, rich, and buttery.
More melt-in-your-mouth goodness comes with a round of sea urchin nigiri—smooth, rich, and buttery. (Sarah Chorey)

But the ingredients, of course, are top notch, flown in from Tokyo's famed Toyosu fish market, and the omakase is meticulously prepared in the Edomae style, meaning the fish is preserved with soy sauce, broth, or salt and vinegar for a few days before it is served, just as it was centuries ago in the days before refrigeration.

A portion of Japanese sardine is placed over a nugget of sushi rice.
A portion of Japanese sardine is placed over a nugget of sushi rice. (Sarah Chorey)

At the end of your meal, the chef will ask if you'd like another piece of anything he has prepared, so take note of your favorites (and do note the additional price for additional bites).

You've never had a sushi restaurant egg omelet like these. At Sushi Nagai, the tamago is light and silken, almost with the texture of a delicate bread. We asked for details about the preparation, but it's a secret too good for them to share.
You've never had a sushi restaurant egg omelet like these. At Sushi Nagai, the tamago is light and silken, almost with the texture of a delicate bread. We asked for details about the preparation, but it's a secret too good for them to share. (Sarah Chorey)

Sushi Nagai
125 Ellis St.
San Francisco

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This article originally appeared on 7x7 Bay Area.

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