Is it miso season? (Miso has a season?) Berkeley Bowl puts out about 10 different kinds of miso in their “international” aisle, and Nojo advertises a seasonal 5-course miso omakase menu on Black Board Eats. Usually the Black Board Eats emails go straight into the trash, which I kinda feel bad about because I signed up for their newsletter after all, but thank goodness I did read it that morning. That night I got the code, called my friend, and we went to Nojo.
We were seated at the counter, but not the one facing the chefs, that would have been nice, this was a small counter facing the wall near the door. The wall looks pretty cool but we felt kinda weird at first, what with the other customers crowding the tables and here the three of us facing a wall next to a middle-aged man. We felt outcast. But Nojo doesn’t take reservation for party under 6, only a phone call an hour before you arrive to put your name on the waiting list, guess I should have called more than an hour earlier, what was I thinking following the rules? But the servers, inked and all, are really nice, the water was clear and sweet, the sunflowers smelled good, and the middle-aged man left minutes after we sat down.
And the food.
Cucumber salad with shichimi and nori. Shichimi is a chili pepper mix with (supposedly) 6 other spices, but they sprinkled just enough to give the cold thing a kick, not spicy. There’s more shichimi on the counter for the duller tongues people who like spicy food.
Miso Omakase Course 1: a simple salad of Little Gem lettuce and cauliflower with shiromiso (white miso) dressing. The pickled red onion was the real little gem.
Fried eggplant with akamiso (red miso) and peanut sauce, topped with julienned leek. Eggplants have never been my favorite fruit and will never be even if I go vegan, but this miso eggplant was better than the grilled pork jowl and the garlic-barley miso butter chicken (Miso Omakase Course 3), both of which tip-toed on the salty side.
Tempura tree oyster mushroom, squash blossom and lemon, to be dipped in a zesty ponzu mayonnaise.
We didn’t expect a fried thing when we ordered the rice balls with tare and nori, but the surprise was welcome.
Miso Omakase Course 5: buckwheat & beer crepe, a drizzle of ginger-muscovado syrup, blueberry compote on top and shiromiso ice cream. We thought muscovado was a cross between muscat the grape and avocado (weird, I know, but possible, right?), but we asked, it’s a brown sugar.
And of course, kurogoma (black sesame) ice cream with roasted strawberries on a bed of “peanut thunder crackers”, which is like peanut brittle and caramel popcorn intertwined, multiplied the goodness by 85.
You know how people can just tell that something’s good when they see it, for no reason at all? That’s how it was with Nojo for me. Every izakaya in the Bay has the same kind of yakitori on the stick, the same expensive price, the same raves on Yelp, and I don’t know why I wanted to go to Nojo, but now I’m recommending it to everyone I talk to. Was it the kikubari exuding from the friendly staff, inked and all and warmly smiling as they strode between tables? Was it the simple but flawless food? But I didn’t know any of that before I came.
Somewhere in me, I just knew. Miso is in.
Address: Nojo (which means “farm” in Japanese)
231 Franklin St.
San Francisco, CA
Dinner for three: $99.82