Related Articles: Restaurants, All

Umi Sushi

Potrero Hill’s New Spot for Raw Fish, Small Plates and Sake

On a street with French, Mediterranean, Chinese, Southeast Asian and, of course, pizza, the only cuisine that’s been missing on Potrero Hill’s 18th Street corridor is Japanese, until this year -- when Umi opened its doors. A casual, sit-down sushi spot, the restaurant is a welcome addition to an already globally cuisine-rich street.

The layout is somewhat awkward, as you enter by the sushi kitchen and have to navigate towards the dining room past the restrooms. (There is no physical sushi bar proper, in fact.) But once you step down into the intimate, 30-seat dining room, the vibe is mellow with that decidedly neighborhoody Potrero charm.

Master Sake Sommelier Beau Timken of True Sake (in Hayes Valley) is the mastermind behind the extensive list of 30-odd sakes. We considered getting the “Pick-up Artist” ($7/glass) -- a fruity junmai ginjo -- but we ended up choosing “Snow Flower” ($9/glass), another junmai ginjo that was described to be a little softer and slightly more acidic.

The fish at Umi (which means “ocean” in Japanese) is fresh, thanks to the diligent efforts of chef/partner Stewart Chen (formerly at Skipjack Sushi), who shops directly at the market and fillets his own fish. Not only is it fresh, but there’s also a varied assortment, including the hard-to-find walu, a.k.a. butterfish.

We started with a few futo maki and were happy to hear that they didn’t dilute the spicy rolls with mayo. We opted for the Potrero ($12), a spicy tuna roll topped with salmon and avocado, assuming that if it’s named after the neighborhood, it’s got to be good.

We weren’t disappointed; though if you don’t like heat, ask for it to be less spicy. Another standout was the 49ers roll ($12), for the sliced lemon that rests above slices of salmon atop an avocado roll. Original, no, but certainly refreshing. Finally, the Umi Special ($13) is made for unagi lovers, sporting big slices of eel laid across a traditional (non-mayo) California roll.

After the raw fish, we moved on to cooked small plates. The dinner menu features about six, with roughly three specials the night of our recent (anonymous) visit. The hamachi kama ($10) special was fresh and generously portioned, and the sakana ($10) -- miso-marinated cod served next to a pea sprout salad -- was welcomingly light (especially after three rolls of sushi).

The menu has enough depth to please a non-sushi eater, and even a vegetarian found pleasure in the offerings (the yaki nasu appetizer of grilled eggplant in miso, $6, is a great option). And they’re open for lunch during the week, with reasonably priced bento boxes and lunch plates.

Umi is a welcome addition to a friendly locale, which makes it an ideal spot to chill over sake and sushi…if you’re in the neighborhood.

Potrero Hill