Shiro Kuma is not your typical sushi restaurant, but then again, neither is the owner, Chef Yasuo Shigeyoshi. Shigeyoshi named the restaurant for his favorite animal, the polar bear, but grew up in Yamanosaki, a small rural town in the South of Japan where there not only are no bears, but also no snow. He has been working at various sushi restaurants in the Bay Area for more than 30 years, starting with Osome on Fillmore Street in San Francisco and most recently at Sushi Ko in Larkspur Landing. At Shiro Kuma in San Rafael, his son Sebastian joins him as manager, along with chefs from Sushi Ko and Sushi Ran. Truly a labor of love, the restaurant is decorated with his own original paintings. Here he serves more traditional sushi than in other restaurants, plus dishes made from family recipes, as well as ishiyaki, a kind of cooking done over grilling stones.
Shigeyoshi uses his own recipe for washing, cooking, and seasoning the sushi rice and insists on cooking it himself to ensure consistency. He uses Japanese red vinegar, which is aged three to five years and considered the highest quality. Fish comes to the restaurant from Japan twice a week and Shigeyoshi uses seasonal ingredients including ones you’re unlikely to find elsewhere like umibudo, or grape sushi that resembles green caviar. The restaurant serves uni or sea urchin from three different places including Hokkaido. They also grate real wasabi, from both Japan and from Half Moon Bay.
A unique and visually stunning dish is the Chirashi Toku-jyo. It features six bowls with toro or fatty cuts of sake, hamachi, Hokkaido uni, squid, caviar, and kampachi. New specials are added each week and sometimes highlight other luxurious ingredients including live lobster and King crab or foie gras served as nigiri sushi marinated with Saikyo or sweet white miso, and seared.
Other unique specials include soups, both a clam soup and a soup with mochi made according to Shigeyoshi family recipes. The omokase or chef’s choice meal is $75 and eight courses, and the dishes differ from night to night.
This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine.