The seemingly simple act of making sushi is anything but. In Japan, apprentices sometimes spend decades perfecting things as mundane as washing the short grain rice properly and knowing the right proportion of vinegar to add to the warm-but-not-too-hot rice. And that’s before chefs can even think about touching a knife to fish.
So when Chef Jake Rand of Sushi Kosho restaurant scoops a deft hand into a wooden cask of red-vinegared sushi rice, it’s impossible not to ask how long it’s taken him to perfect his Tokyo-style version.
“I’ll let you know,” says Rand, who has worked in top sushi restaurants for much of his life and studied in Japan as a young “gaijin” (the Japanese word for “foreigner”). With practiced moves, he pushes the brown-tinted rice into the palm of his hand, flicks his wrists with feather-light pressure and a one-bite piece of nigiri magically appears.
It’s a quest for perfection that anyone who’s seen the ornery, but arguably world’s best sushi chef, Jiro Takashi, explain in the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” For a sushi fan, it’s impossible not to nerd out on the process. For everyone else, it’s just good sushi, and for Rand, that’s just fine.
With a menu that ranges from simple nigiri, sashimi and rolls to Wagyu beef shortribs and okonomiyaki (a savory Japanese pancake), Sebastopol’s Kosho is far above industrial-grade all-you-can-eat sushi bars but less formal than white napkin Japanese restaurants. Somewhere in between, Rand wants Kosho to be a weeknight kind of place rather than a special occasion eatery.
Named for a ubiquitous condiment found in Japanese cooking, kosho is a combination of red chiles and yuzu (a tart Japanese citrus that merges lemon, orange and grapefruit) fermented into a paste. The spicy, sour, salty condiment plays a part in many of Rand’s dishes, as does shiso, soy and sesame — lending plenty of savory umami.
Housed in the former Vignette pizzeria, the airy Barlow space is a stone’s throw from the burgeoning craft brew scene all around it. Sit at the sushi bar for a front-row seat to the action in the quiet open kitchen. For sushi beginners, it’s a safe space to explore. For pros, savor some of the best-made nigiri and sashimi in Sonoma County, along with other Japanese comfort classics — at the right price.
Blackened Shishito Peppers ($9): Blistered peppers get a kick from Japanese seven-spice and lime kosho. Sweet heat unless you get the one-in-10 hot shishito pepper that will have you reaching for water. Think of it as dining roulette.
Seaweed Salad ($11): Rather than the usual slippery green seaweed in most salads, Rand mixes red, green and white seaweeds together, giving a variety of bumpy, lumpy and tickly textures. Marinated in orange yuzu vinaigrette, avocado and fresh cherry tomatoes add a California touch.
Charcoal-Grilled Chicken Meatball ($9): Served on a skewer, these oval meatballs are crispy on the outside, and juicy on the inside, gently seasoned and served with a raw egg and soy dipping sauce. Yes, it’s a raw egg. If you’re not into that, just ask for the soy sauce. But you’re missing out.
Kanpachi Chili Sashimi ($17): Impossibly thin slices of radish and serrano chili atop what’s also known as amberjack fish. With a dot of yuzu citrus, the flavors of earth and sea, citrus and heat come together in a perfect bite. Sushi here isn’t cheap, but Rand sources impeccably from around the world to get fish that’s worth savoring with minimal fussery.
Okonomiyaki ($13): This rib-sticker is more like an omelet than a pancake, filled with mushrooms, bacon or seafood and topped with ribbons of mayonnaise. It’s sweet-salty and should be shared rather than trying to eat it on your own.
Wagyu Short Ribs ($22): A steal of a deal that features Snake River Farms wagyu atop crispy smashed fingerlings and a Korean bbq sauce that’s all about the garlic, soy and sweet brown sugar.
Sushi and Sashimi ($6 to $15 for two pieces): Most of the fish is fairly mild, with fatty tuna, New Zealand king salmon, bright orange ocean trout, halibut and red snapper. Saba, a Japanese mackerel, is one of the few strongly flavored fishes. Sushi meals are $31 for a nine-piece nigiri and maki, $34 for a sashimi dinner and $32 for chirashi (sashimi over rice).
Rolls ($12-$17): Not really my jam, but they have a handful that seem less offensive than most mayonnaise covered horrors.
Yuzu granita and Lemon Curd Panna Cotta ($6): Oh, my God. Tart, tart, tart, creamy amazement.
Overall: Approachable Japanese, impeccably sourced with high-end flavors in a casual environment.
Open for dinner daily from 5-9p.m., 6750 McKinley St., Sebastopol, 707-827-6373, koshosushi.com.