Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar & Izakaya
Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar & Izakaya
370 14th Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
Shizen is a vegan sushi restaurant, and it’s not just your run-of-the-mill avocado rolls. This is a serious sushi restaurant in that they have a sushi bar as well as a beautiful dining room. The tables and room are largely wood, with beams running both through the ceiling and down the walls framing the windowed wall to the street. Shizen’s mission is to create delicious sushi and at the same time, protect and conserve our ailing oceans. They combine traditional Shojin and sushi technique with seasonal and local California ingredients to create amazing food that doesn’t harm the oceans, the animals, or the planet.
They are open every day at 5pm, and have very limited reservations. The best way to get a seat is to go around 4:45pm and wait in line, because by 5:15, the place is usually full with a waiting line outside. Cody and I have eaten at Shizen around six or seven times since they opened and have always enjoyed both the food and the atmosphere. We've told several friends, and they've always had a delicious experience. Know going in that it’s a busy place. Go and be patient, it is so worth the wait.
Okay, to the menu! It’s packed with traditional sounding dishes like tempura, nigiri, maki, ramen, and miso soup. The miso soup is rich and fragrant and feels very grounding; I can’t get enough of it. We usually order the miso soup with mushrooms.
Along with the miso soup, we always order a slew of different dishes. They come out as they are made in the kitchen—and the servers inform you of this when you order. In other words, there aren’t any courses, or a particular order to the meal; just plates of food that come at will (though, thankfully the miso soup usually comes out first).
After the soup, we were served our Agemono, or tempura of seasonal vegetables. The batter was light and airy, the vegetables fresh and delicious. At the same time, we also got our Yakimoni (grilled) plate of mushrooms. There was a spicy sauce on the plate which added to the juiciness of the eryngii, shiitake and enoki mushrooms. These were amazing! The texture was meaty, sweet and hot; truly a delight.
Next came our Philadelphia rolls. These had smoked tofu, vegan cream cheese and avocado. I have to say here that this is the only dish I have never enjoyed at Shizen—but it’s no fault of the dish; this was purely on me. The smoked tofu looked and tasted (to my memory at least) exactly like Spam, or some kind of smoked ham—all the way down to the texture. It was just a little too…. I don’t know, ham-like I suppose? I couldn’t taste the vegan cream cheese or the avocado—just the hammy smoked tofu. Cody enjoyed them however.
Not long after our Philly rolls arrived our first special roll appeared. The "Prime Suspect" (each of these specialty rolls have a fun name) has tempura asparagus, shredded gobo marinated eggplant, and torched spicy vegan aioli with sweet potato crisps on top. One thing I love about the rolls at Shizen is that you can bite into one and tear it apart, and not have everything fall out all over you or your plate. You don’t have to fight with the food. I know you are supposed to put the whole piece of sushi in your mouth—I get that—but with my chewing issues from oral cancer, that is just too difficult for me to accomplish gracefully; so I take a bite. The marinated eggplant in the Prime Suspect was savory and the aioli spicy, but not overly hot.
Next came our last roll, the "Open Invitation". Pumpkin tempura, spiced burdock, shredded tofu, avocado cream, and topped with lotus chips. I was nearly full by this time, but I managed to get a few of these down. I loved kabocha squash in general, and the lotus chips were crispy and a fun addition. This was my favorite roll of the evening.
There is another specialty roll called "The Surprise Ending." This roll, full of beets, kale, avocado, asparagus and more, comes on a round platter with a shot of sake in the middle. If you order this roll, make sure you enjoy spicy food. Like really spicy food. But go ahead, live a little. Order it. YOLO. (Note: we did not have The Surprise Ending this time around, but have enjoyed it previously.)
And after this, I somehow made room for dessert. Shizen has only one dessert each night, and the board by the sushi bar has an ever-changing sign with how many dessert servings are left. I believe the number when we entered was 15, but that doesn’t seem like very many. Tonight they had a plate consisting of a gluten-free brownie with a scoop of vegan green tea ice cream, chocolate covered strawberries and a tempura banana. The brownie was moist and soft; almost gummy-like, but I enjoyed it; especially with the creaminess of the green tea ice cream melting on top. And the tempura banana slices were still HOT when they came out, so buyer beware! This was a beautiful plate and lovely way to end our evening at Shizen.
Shizen serves beer, wine, sake, and a few specialty soju cocktails. The room can get noisy, so it’s not really a romantic evening out. And despite the crowded dining room and sushi bar, there in an uncluttered feeling to the plates, tables, and the room in general. It’s always a real treat for us to go, even if we have to leave the house around 3:45 for us to get there in time for a table (we usually BART and then walk). Go when you are ready to spend a little bit of coin, and be patient—delicious and exquisite things will come your way at Shizen.