On the continual quest for great sushi in the bay area, I stumbled upon Sushi Toni in San Francisco after feeling cravings for sushi and consulting my iPhone Yelp app. Sushi Toni has a good rating and so I decided to check it out.
The restaurant is fairly cozy with a sushi bar on the left as you enter and on the right, restaurant-style seating. The most distinctive feature is a piece of artwork which hangs from the ceiling of the restaurant. It is a painting of a horse on fabric which hangs below the lights and not only adds a colorful element to the restaurant but also diffuses and softens the light.
I order the Chirashi sushi ($18.50) and a Hamachi roll to start. Generally when I go to a sushi restaurant I will start with a few selections and then alter my choices and order depending on what I enjoy. Some restaurants are strong on their sashimi and nigiri sushi, others specialize in creative rolls. I have been ordering Chirashi, because like the soft shell crab roll, it gives a quick benchmark on the quality of a sushi restaurant.
The Chirashi is good, but not as stellar as I anticipated after reading the reviews on Yelp. The fish is fresh but the portions are small. The weakest link in this dish though is the rice underneath. This is an element of Chirashi not to be overlooked. When done well, the vinegar-ed rice can be the highlight which transforms mortal Chirashi to divine. The texture of the rice is a little rough and not quite flavorful enough.
However, the greater disappointment is the Hamachi roll which is composed of mostly rice. I do have a bias in how I like my rolls prepared. I like just enough rice to balance off the fish. When you bite into a roll, it should be the fish and any other ingredients in the center that is the star with the rice as the supporting character to enhance the flavors of the other ingredients. In this case however, when I bite into the roll, I get a mouthful of rice and my tongue needs to scavenge for the taste of Hamachi which promises to be at the center of the roll.
The waitress and the sushi chefs behind the bar are friendly and polite and the service is good. I could see this being a place to hang out with a couple of friends, enjoying their company with sushi as a backdrop to the experience.
However, if you want to go to a sushi restaurant to worship raw fish, to be able to close your eyes and feel like you are one breath short of reaching nirvana, this restaurant falls short.
I revisited the Yelp entry and the photos of the sushi look good and people seem to rave about Toni, the chef. Perhaps I went on a bad day. After looking at the photos of the sushi rolls which seem delicious with only a thin layer of rice, I am open to going there again and being proven absolutely wrong on my first impression.