Shizen Sushi Review: Life-Changing Vegan Sushi?
On July 16, 2016, my husband and I visited Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar and Izakaya. I was pumped to eat dinner after reading these reviews on Yelp:
This sets a whole new standard for sushi.
To say the food was AMAZING seems inadequate cause it was so good I literally still get sad when I think about the fact I may never get back here.
So good in so many ways I can’t even begin to explain.
The countless 5-star reviews prepared me for an amazing meal. I was ready for mouthwatering vegetarian Japanese food in San Francisco.
- My rating for Shizen restaurant:
- Beautiful presentation
- Vegan sushi
- Innovative recipes
- Loud music
- Long wait time
- A bit pricey
- Fine dining atmosphere
This restaurant just isn’t for two practical, money-conscious people who eat at normal speeds (i.e., us). I’d prefer a cheap restaurant where the bathroom doubles as a utility closet, the waitress speaks broken English and they serve authentic food.
Before we begin, here’s my rating system:– This is one of the most disgusting food I’ve ever had in my life. – I’d eat it if I was really hungry, but I wouldn’t enjoy it. – Meh food. I’d eat it again, though I’d be fine with not eating it again, too. – This is tasty food. I wouldn’t hesitate to eat it again. – OMG. This is an orgasmic party in my mouth. I want to eat this every day for a week.
Nameko Mushroom Miso Soup
Rob (my husband) and I started off with the Nameko Mushroom Miso Soup. The soup was balanced between simple and complex. It had a distinct umami flavor from the fermented miso and the mushrooms. I appreciated that the soup wasn’t super salty from the miso.
Small pieces of mushroom and tofu prevented the soup from being a plain broth. There were also bits of an interesting jellylike substance. I think they were pieces of tapioca. These small bits made the soup look like it had oil on top, but it wasn’t oily at all.
Nameko Mushroom Miso Soup Rating:
While I went there for sushi, the Shizen Shiitake turned out to be my favorite dish. The menu describes Shizen Shiitake as “mushrooms stuffed with shredded tofu and tapioca, matcha sea salt”.
When I picked up the mushroom, I realized it wasn’t fully covered in the crunchy coating. The bottom was left untouched. You can see the mushroom on the bottom and the shredded tofu on the top.
I’m not sure what the mushrooms were covered in, though they weren’t fried. They didn’t taste oily and the texture wasn’t as crunchy as what you’d get from frying in oil.
The shredded tofu’s texture was pleasantly different from any shredded meat you’d find. Overall, an interesting flavor and texture combination. The sauce was sweet and tasted similar to teriyaki sauce.
Shizen Shiitake Rating:
Rob and I started off sushi with the Yuba selection. I had no idea what yuba was at the time. Rob ordered it off the menu. Being open to trying anything once, I agreed to order it.
The appearance of the yuba nigiri was unexpected. Traditionally, nigiri has the fish—or in this case vegetable/legume—on top of the rice. The yuba was served differently. Shizen used the yuba as a wrapping for the rice, like typical sushi. A dab of fresh wasabi adorned the top of the yuba sushi.
The yuba sushi was bland. The best part of the yuba sushi was the wasabi and konbu shoyu. Both the yuba and the white rice lacked flavor. The sauces on top gave a welcome kick of spice and flavor. Luckily, the roll stayed together and could be enjoyed in two bites.
It wasn’t gross, but I wouldn’t order it again knowing there are more flavorful items on the menu.
Yuba Nigiri Sushi Rating:
Smoked Bean Curd Nigiri
Next, I tried the Smoked Bean Curd Nigiri. It was a complete 180 from the yuba. On the menu it said it came with a “sweet shoyu marinade”. I didn’t know what to expect, but it wasn’t what I put into my mouth.
The smoked bean curd nigiri was wonderful. It was a perfect balance of sweet and spice. (Not spicy, spice.) The taste of the bean curd reminded me of a gingerbread cookie. It wasn’t overly sweet, yet the dessert-like tones were prominent.
Despite its delicate appearance, I easily ate the roll in two bites.
The smoked bean curd nigiri wasn’t as delightful as the mushrooms. I wouldn’t want to eat it every day for a week, but I would’ve enjoyed another serving.
Smoked Bean Curd Nigiri Sushi Rating:
The last nigiri dish was the eggplant. Visually and technically, the eggplant sushi was the most impressive. While I’ve never had real (i.e., fish) sushi before, it looked incredibly similar. The eggplant looked flaky.
The eggplant sushi didn’t taste as impressive as it looked. The entire piece, from the rice to the “sweet saikyo miso”, had a delicate smoky flavor. The eggplant tasted average, though I’ve never been a fan of eggplant. They didn’t infuse much flavor into the eggplant other than smokiness.
I appreciate the skill, technique and effort that went into the eggplant sushi. I truly do. It looked beautiful and the different components were well thought-out. Overall, the only flavor the rice and the eggplant had was smokiness.
Eggplant Nigiri Sushi Rating:
Rob and my last dish for the night was the futomaki uramaki sushi. I’m not sure what the difference is between hosomaki and uramaki. It seemed that the uramaki rolls required more ingredients and effort than hosomaki rolls. I don’t know for sure because we didn’t order a hosomaki.
The menu describes futomaki as being filled with “agedashi tofu, spinach, shiitake, kanpyo, inari, takuwan”. I only knew what half of those ingredients were, but I ordered it anyways.
The futomaki roll’s 6 ingredients all sang in harmony. I couldn’t pick any flavor out and they all combined well to form a cohesive sushi bite.
These pieces of sushi were around half the size of the nigiri pieces.
Futomaki Uramaki Sushi Rating:
What I liked about Shizen Sushi
Besides the food, what else is there to like about Shizen Sushi? Well…
I’m not sure how typical sushi looks, but I don’t think it’s as ornate as the sushi at Shizen.
Shizen’s presentation of the sushi was minimalistic and appealing. I appreciated the splash of color the flowers added. It fit the atmosphere of the restaurant: modern, refined and natural.
Being health-conscious and plant-based, I love that all the food is vegan. I’m not opposed to eating at a restaurant that serves meat, cheese and eggs. On the other hand, I prefer to support a restaurant that doesn’t.
Shizen is truly innovative. Not just because it serves vegan/vegetarian sushi in San Francisco, but because it serves interesting sushi.
You can order vegetarian sushi in any San Francisco sushi bar by ordering a cucumber or avocado roll. Shizen takes meatless sushi further with marinades, sauces and different preparation techniques. I commend Shizen for its creativity.
Shizen also doesn’t rely on salt, sugar and fat to make its sushi tasty. It’s simple to prepare food the general public will like by piling on salt, oil and soy sauce. But Shizen doesn’t do that either.
What I didn’t like about Shizen Sushi
Now it’s time for the downsides about Shizen. I have to be honest, it wasn’t the best experience.
The music was too loud at Shizen. It was difficult to hear Rob speak sitting a few feet away. For such an intimate space, the music shouldn’t have been as loud as it was. It made a conversation difficult between two people at the same table.
Perhaps Shizen read up on the science on eating with background noise to increase the amount people eat.
Long wait time
Given the popularity Shizen has, it’s silly that they don’t have a reservation system. Rob and I didn’t wait too long on Saturday night, only around 25 minutes. Some reviewers waited an hour outside to be seated.
Shizen could provide better customer satisfaction if they implemented a simple reservation system. It wouldn’t eliminate waiting times, but it would certainly shorten them. It would’ve made our experience better. Other patrons would agree, too.
They also took a long time to take our order and serve us. We waited at least 5 minutes just to get water.
It was frustrating to wait so long between food items. It made the experience feel like taste-testing rather than a meal. When I sit down to eat, I eat. I don’t dilly-dally and take two hours to eat.
A last note to touch on is the ordering style. Sushi restaurants usually let you order throughout your meal. Shizen’s ordering style was like a typical restaurant where you order everything at the beginning. This ordering style could be due to the busy wait staff or the fine-dining feel of the restaurant.
Shizen is a bit pricy
After all the food we ordered, the bill totaled around $33.
Unfortunately, we weren’t close to being satisfied after the futomaki. I probably could’ve eaten two more sushi rolls by myself. If we’d both ordered two additional rolls, our total would’ve been over $60.
We aim to spend $75 on groceries per week, so that wasn’t acceptable. We couldn’t justify spending that much money on a single meal. So after the futomaki, Rob and I headed out.
Fine dining isn’t for us
According to Rob (the sushi expert between the two of us) sushi isn’t supposed to be fancy. It’s casual. In Alton Brown’s sushi episode of Good Eats, sushi was made so it could be eaten on the go and with one hand.
That means sushi wasn’t intended to be fancy or made into a fine-dining experience. Can it? Sure, any food can be fancy.
We weren’t a fan of the fine dining experience Shizen offers. Did the flowers make the sushi beautiful? Were the bathrooms stylish? Yeah, Rob and I felt slightly uncomfortable to be there.
Fine dining isn’t our style. I’d much rather a restaurant where the bathroom doubles as a utility closet, the waitress speaks broken English and they serve cheap, authentic food.
My average rating for the food at Shizen is 3.9 stars. But that’s not the only aspect that I’m taking into account when rating. I also consider the practical aspects about the restaurant. The long waiting times and the atmosphere of the restaurant detracted from our experience at Shizen the most.
Maybe it was because of the reviews I read, but I was underwhelmed by my experience at Shizen.
Shizen is what it is. I’m not asking it to change. This restaurant just isn’t for two practical, money-conscious people who eat at normal speeds (i.e., us).
The cons detracted more from the experience than the benefits added. My overall rating for Shizen is
I’d eat there again if it was free and I didn’t have to wait. I’m not dying to go back and taste other items on the menu like other reviewers on Yelp. Some dishes were truly inspired, but I wasn’t impressed enough to plan another visit.