SF’s Gozu is an ode to Japanese Wagyu… Without steak
Wagyu is incredibly vers4vers
Imagine: soba noodles teeming with wagyu foam. Brown butter chawanmushi (savory Japanese cream) layered in grease-washed wagyu dashi. Or freshly baked wagyu fat savory chocolate chip cookies.
I am in and I guess you are too (unless you don’t eat beef – and if you eat a minimum of it, this is the place to do it thanks to the quality and minimalism). These are just some of the glories I’ve eaten at Gozu in SoMa by chef Marc Zimmerman and entrepreneur Benjamin Jorgensen since it opened November 2019. Every year I return to the singular chef’s counter surrounding a large binchotan grill with a front row view of the events. This makes up the entirety of the main restaurant, with options for a fireside tasting menu or a whiskey lounge menu paired with a collection of over 180 whiskies.
Although centered on wagyu beef, it is not a steakhouse. Each course contains wagyu in an unexpected form. Yes, it’s a sustainable meal, using all parts, from melted fat to bone. Gozu is an ode to the ultimate marbled steak with barely a steak on the menu. Don’t get me wrong: I love the luxury of an A5 wagyu cut, so mottled it can border on white. I’ve been lucky enough to have A5 and lower grades of wagyu literally hundreds of times, from different parts of Japan in varying degrees of marbling, like at Alexander’s Steakhouse.
In Gozu, the marrow and bones, shavings and chunks of wagyu play with seafood, shine in sauces and mousses, or less common cuts and pieces are grilled on a skewer over binchotan, with products grown in Japan and California. Currently they are sourcing snow beef from Uenae Castle in Hokkaido, where only six animals are harvested at a time.
I have dined at Gozu several times since 2019, including their delicious Gozu Chan robatayaki and highball garden are “pivoting” during the peak of the pandemic in 2020, with their hospital-grade UV irradiation (via UV Guardian) installed the same year, improving indoor dining safety.
Every visit to Zimmerman’s food has been a win, with textured, Japan-worthy dishes that are both traditional and forward-thinking. In 2021, they hired a sommelier Jordan Abraham (formerly of Atelier Crenn, Mourad, Cotogna/Quince), refining their wine, sake and whisk(e)y pairings.
On a recent return in July, we settled in for their latest tasting menu, having learned that in early 2023 they are opening Yokai, a Japanese-inspired hi-fi bar and restaurant. There, they’ll also employ the binchotan charcoal grill element with a meat and seafood-centric menu from former Alexander’s Steakhouse alum Jessie Lugo as head chef under Zimmerman. I’m glad they have vintage McIntosh amps and a deep vinyl collection (both of which I have at home and enjoy at the special The fantastic in Hayes Valley), accompanied by Japanese whiskeys, cocktails, brandies and gins.
Sip Champagne Henriot Brut Sovereign to start, a trio of canapés offered atypical delicacies such as Japanese turtle and wagyu tongue in a sphere of aspic (yes, please!), or a pan-fried spring roll topped with smoked oil beef tartare and chive mascarpone.
Starting with “soba caviar”, this is not a soba buckwheat noodle dish, but an inspired dish. Silken tofu is blended with buckwheat, wasabi and aromatic shiso flowers in a wagyu shoyu (soya) mousse, topped with Kaluga caviar. The wagyu is surprising, coming out of a dish that first evokes tofu and caviar.
My husband (Dan, “The Renaissance Man”) and I opted for a wine/sake pairing and a whisk(e)y pairing for contrast. In the opening courses, Abraham brought out whiskeys like Ichiro’s Malt & Grain Whiskey (with its kernel and tropical fruit, barley malt and black pepper notes) and tangy, crisp Kamoshibito Kuheiji Junmai Daiginjo “Water Of Desire” Sake. Then it was the creamy-acid hit of 2017 Meroi Friuli Colli Orientali Sauvignon Blanc from Italy’s beloved Friuli region, and floral, elegant Mars Asagi Madara 8 Year Old 2020 Limited Edition Blended Japanese Whiskey.
Delighting in these yin-yang accords, a course of Dungeness crab is paired with exquisite white asparagus from France’s Loire Valley and a salad of bitter greens. Teeming with lovage lettuce mousse and buttermilk vinaigrette, pickled mustard seeds and beef garum add savory, swoon-worthy layers to the vegetable dish of the sea.
English peas in brown butter chawanmushi (Japanese salted cream) offer a different take on previous versions of Zimmerman’s standout chawanmushi. Now, grease-washed wagyu dashi lends a meaty depth to bright spring peas and rich brown butter, while grilled wild rice offers a nutty crisp. A pairing of Untitled Cedar Barrel Aged Kojimaya Sake brings notes of umami and fresh peas, while Suntory Hibiki Japanese Harmony Master’s Select evokes plum/umeshu and woody warmth.
A special extra course is the Japanese shokupan style toast layered in plain wagyu and Hokkaido (sea urchin) brisket with a tare (soya, sake, brown sugar, sweet mirin) and wasabi-infused Thousand Island dressing. A pure and divine decadence. Or, what I would otherwise call orgasmic food.
More creative combinations of wagyu and sea included poached bluefin tuna belly and wagyu bacon over black garlic mashed potatoes. Bay Area succulents, sea beans and miners lettuce provide vegetal contrast, while a tozasu wagyu broth, brown rice vinegar, smoked shoyu adds depth. Homemade warm Japanese milk bread is ideal for mopping up the excess.
Their main course of wagyu teishoku skewers arrives more dramatically than the skewers on previous visits: on a center plate in a large wooden tray marked with six side bites or broths. Centered on a meaty skewer of tender wagyu chuck roll (similar to ribeye) and zucchini and squash blossoms stuffed with creamed cornflower and sunflower sprouts, the dish spreads out with a game of puff pastry bites. accompaniement.
Think rare, seared strips of wagyu cut from minced triceps, biceps and shoulder in a truffle dressing with miso-fermented ramps. Or lacto-fermented turnips in sweet onion vinaigrette. Cucumber tsukemono is a sharp palate cleanser. The soak-it-up rice is adorned with candied wagyu neck and wagyu furikake. A cup of hot wagyu broth in a cup of tea might soothe everything. Nikka Yoichi Single Malt Apple Brandy Barrel Finish 2020 the whiskey – one of two single malts honoring the 100th wedding anniversary of Nikka founder Masataka Taketsuru and his wife Rita in 1920 – is a rare (and expensive) joy of pairing showcasing pear and peat .
The dessert is a series of chocolates and sweets, the star being apparently the simplest: Ten Brink Farms‘ Beef Tallow Roasted Strawberries with Buttermilk Vanilla Ice Cream. It’s pure Californian summer with a slightly charred intensity, smooth, subtly smoky, shiny and creamy. Paired with Ohishi Whiskey 15 Years In Ex-Sherry Cask and sicilian 2004 Marsala Superiore Riserva Gold DOCsweet umami elements are enhanced for a finish that characterizes Gozu’s unique taste and Zimmerman’s vision.
This wagyu shrine is not a fat, meaty joy bomb. Rather, it’s an understated glimpse of flavors that are lush, rewarding and sumptuous but not overpowered. It’s pricey but worthy of a big night out. Add to that top-notch service, balanced international wines, pristine sakes, and rare whiskeys, and you have a memorable, uncommon feast that evokes Japan while being thoroughly San Francisco.
// 201 Spear Street #120, www.gozusf.com