Noe Valley Voice October 2006

Store Trek

Store Trek is a regular Voice feature introducing new shops and cafes in Noe Valley. This month we spotlight two new restaurants, Toast and Tamasei Sushi. Each has taken the place of an eatery with a long tradition in the neighborhood.

1748 Church Street at Day Street

For those who mourned the loss of Hungry Joe's, the venerable breakfast diner on Church near Day Street, the opening of Toast in the same spot in early September was a big relief: the new café serves a lot of the same fare--egg dishes, burgers, and sandwiches--but now there are salads on the menu, too.

"We feel like we've been here 10 years already!" says co-owner Eddie Naser, who also operates a similar restaurant called the Grind on Haight Street.

With the assistance of his two partners--older brother Anis, a dentist with a practice in Noe; and younger brother Kamal, a cameraman for the San Francisco Giants and 49ers--Naser completely remodeled the 600-square-foot space, putting in a new kitchen, bright yellow paint on the walls, new tables and chairs, and six shiny stools at a sleek new counter.

The brothers have had to make a few adjustments, though. "It's much smaller than the Grind, and here we have table service," Naser notes. Toast can comfortably seat about 40 customers--28 inside and a dozen or so more at outdoor tables.

Since its Sept. 5 opening, the restaurant has been packed with a receptive and hungry crowd. On sunny days, people lunch outside with their kids and dogs, just as they did when the place was Hungry Joe's. But patrons can also return for dinner: Toast keeps the lights on much later than did the previous café.

"We're open till nine o'clock at night," says Naser, except for Sundays, when doors close at 4 p.m. "We need to catch our breath."

Naser, a San Francisco native who grew up in the Sunset District, describes the menu as basic "comfort food." So far, he says, the most popular dishes are the classic burger (Niman Ranch beef, $6.50), the chicken caesar salad ($8.50), and the corned beef hash (topped with two eggs, $8.50). Another favorite is the pear salad with cranberries, candied walnuts, and crumbled blue cheese ($8.50).

Breakfast is served all day. Customers can order the Day Street Omelet (chicken apple sausage, feta cheese, and sun dried tomatoes, $8.50), the Delox Omelet (fresh lox, tomatoes, cream cheese, and capers, $9.50), or Sourdough French Toast (dipped in a vanilla, cream, and cinnamon egg batter, $5.75).

Naser admits the prices are a bit higher than Hungry Joe's, but the servings are ample. "We like to keep the food simple, good, and filling."

He also knows that if you're feeding Noe Valley, you're feeding the young 'uns, too. The café's Kids' Menu supplies the under-8 crowd with scrambled eggs (plus hash browns), french toast sticks, a fruit bowl, and sandwiches like peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese, chicken nuggets, and mini-cheeseburgers. The children's meals range from $2 to $4, and milk and apple juice come kid-sized, too.

Thirsty adults have a choice of domestic or imported beer and wine ($2.50 to $4.50 a glass). "And mimosas seven days a week!" says Naser. Coffee is from local organic roaster Mr. Espresso, and lattes, mochas, and cappuccinos are standard offerings ($1.50 to $3.50).

Naser says he's ready to take on a booming business in the small Noe Valley cafe. "We picked this spot because we already knew what a wonderful neighborhood this is. We aim to please, and we'll be on our toes!"

Toast is open every day, starting at 7 a.m.

--Heidi Anderson

Tamasei Sushi
3856 24th Street near Vicksburg Street

Everyone in Noe Valley loved Matsuya, Fusai Ponne's longtime sushi bar on 24th Street, so the neighborhood was saddened when Ponne decided to close her doors. But fear not, Noe Valleyans: Koichi and Hiroko Tamano have moved in, renamed the shop Tamasei Sushi, and little, if anything, has changed.

The shop still has a friendly local vibe, and it certainly hasn't gotten any larger. With only three tables for four, and seats at the bar for seven people squeezed closely together, the tiny shop turns out nigiri (tuna, eel, or other varieties of raw fish over rice); makimono (rolls of fish or vegetables and rice wrapped in seaweed); and donburi rice bowls. You can sample the smaller sushi plates for $5 to $8.

Soft koto music plays in the background while locals and strangers banter back and forth with the Tamanos. Everyone seems to know each other, which is a good thing since there is hardly any space for a private conversation.

"Eleven years," Koichi says, referring to the amount of time he and his wife have been restaurateurs (they previously operated Country Station Sushi on Mission Street). But Koichi also says, "Before that, for 40 years, I was a dancer," because in his other life, Koichi Tamano is a renowned Butoh dancer and choreographer. He and Hiroko have traveled through Japan and around the world, performing with notables like Butoh originator Tatsumi Hijikata (who called his star pupil Koichi his "bowlegged Nijinsky"). New Age artist Kitaro even dedicated his latest CD to Koichi.

In his chef persona, Koichi may suggest you try the Tyfoon Roll, with salmon and sweet mango ($12); the fish and sushi combo (eight nigiri and one roll, with miso soup, $20); or a Dragon Roll, with shrimp, tempura, eel, avocado, and cucumber ($16).

Hiroko will bring it to you, well, when she's ready. With room for only one chef and one server, things can take a while at Tamasei. "Don't worry, don't worry, excuse me, thank you, I'm coming," Hiroko says, twisting her way through her customers to carry a full nigiri tray to the window table at the front of the shop. "The food is good, it's worth waiting."

Though the Tamanos live in Berkeley, they love the idea of having a restaurant in Noe Valley. "The Mission was hard," Koichi says. "Japanese people didn't want to come there. Noe Valley is much nicer. Everybody is very friendly. We've had no problems."

Noe Valley diners will be enthused at the absence of killer amounts of salt in Koichi Tamano's preparations--you can taste the fish without guzzling glass after glass of water.

Tamasei Sushi is open from 3 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The restaurant is closed on Sunday and Monday.

--Doug Konecky