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Ino-San: Nazi or Softy?

Sara Deseran | September 26, 2013 | Story Restaurants

Further reading:
Raising the Sushi Bar
Why You Should Still Say No to Toro
Advice for the Nigiri Novice
Selecting the Right Sake
A Visit to SF's Sushi Nazi

Every city has its sushi nazi. Nigiri worshippers will allow a chef to whip them with a live sea eel if they think they’re getting the best fish. Around here, the revered but feared master of sushi is Ino Noboru, chef-owner of Ino (22 Peace Plaza, near Post St., 415-922-3121), who, at 64, has been at it for decades. But is he really as mean as many of Ino’s 470 Yelp reviews claim? I made an anonymous reservation for 6 p.m. at the bar and headed to Japantown to find out.

“Don’t use too much soy sauce, or you’ll be scolded.” —Jeff P.
I asked the chef if I would be allowed to use soy sauce. He said yes, pointed to the dispenser, and looked at me like I was nuts. When my friend inadvertently drowned her nigiri rice in a bath of soy, he didn’t even flinch.

"This place is as expensive as hell.” —Fatty A.
Yes, there’s a sushi bar minimum, but it’s only $30 per person, reasonable given that most nigiri runs around $8 an order. With two sakes and plenty of sushi, my bill for two was just over $100. Not to mention, do you really want cheap raw fish?

“He’s not sociable at all, so don’t even bother starting a conversation with him, he will ignore you.” —Mei W.
I said hi, he said hi. We chatted about the photo of him and Farrah Fawcett on the wall, which he said was taken at Ino in 1978. We also talked about his love of golf. Maybe he’s more of a conversationalist when the restaurant is almost empty.

“We were 15 minutes late, and the chef punished [us] by serving nigiri in an extremely fast pace.” —Qing L.
Having read this, I was sweating it when I got lost in the maze of the Japantown mall. Though I did arrive on time, the chef still made my sushi quickly—albeit not begrudgingly. Love it or leave it—this is just Ino-san’s style.

Originally published in the October 2013 issue of San Francisco

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