Dining Outside At Kaiyo Rooftop

Bluefin tuna toast gets glam at Kaiyo Rooftop.
Bluefin tuna toast gets glam at Kaiyo Rooftop.

To find San Francisco’s newest hot spot, all you need do is look up.

That’s where you’ll find Kaiyo Rooftop, up on the 12th floor of the Hyatt Place Hotel in the SOMA neighborhood.

Opened barely a month ago, it’s already drawing crowds, as evidenced by what I saw last Wednesday night when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant. Even at 5 p.m. on a school night, every seat was taken at the eye-catching bar done up in glazed emerald tiles, along with about half the tables.

Kaiyo Rooftop is the sister property to Kaiyo restaurant in the Cow Hollow neighborhood, both of which specialize in Nikkei cuisine, a blend of Japanese and Peruvian In fact, a similar Kaiyo restaurant is expected to open on the ground floor of the hotel by the end of the year to serve more substantial fare like its Union Street sibling. In contrast, Kaiyo Rooftop’s menu is designed to be more bar food. Even so, it’s ample food for a meal.

The elevator doors.
The elevator doors.

Just be sure to dress in layers, and don’t forget a scarf or hat, too. That’s because the winds can be fierce up top, and the chill will definitely set in once the sun goes down, despite heaters being all around.

Staff will come around with blankets if you need one, a very considerate touch. If supply chain issues subside, you can look forward to additional overhead heaters, as well as a wind screen to be added soon on the Townsend Street side, to further mitigate the draftiness.

The focal-point bar.
The focal-point bar.

The expansive 3,300-square-foot space is a party come to life with a riot of colors all around, including dramatic murals on the elevator doors. There’s a living wall with greenery at one end with a projection screen in front of it with looping scenes of traffic circles, jelly fish, terraced farm land, and more. The views of the city are equally impressive, too.

The Prince of the Sun cocktail (front) and the Boro the Caterpillar non-alcoholic sipper (back). Do you spy the tiny origami crane garnish?
The Prince of the Sun cocktail (front) and the Boro the Caterpillar non-alcoholic sipper (back). Do you spy the tiny origami crane garnish?

Lima-native Chef Alex Reccio has created an array of enticing small plates, while Chef Rafael Campo oversees the sushi program. Bar Manager Carl Brown has crafted a list of alluring cocktails, many with unexpected ingredients, such as the Prince of the Sun ($16), a riff on a mojito with pisco, agricole rum, lemon, mint, absinthe, lime & yuzu soda, and white miso. It’s plenty refreshing and minty, with the miso providing not overt saltiness or real fermented funkiness, but a tad more body to the cocktail.

The projection screen at one end of the roof.
The projection screen at one end of the roof.
The view from the roof.
The view from the roof.

If you’re jonesing for that minus the alcohol, the Boro the Caterpillar ($12) is a fine option, made with Seedlip Garden, cucumber juice, white miso, lemon and tonic. It’s like spa water but more complex and with plenty of quenching cucumber flavor. Every drink comes with a teeny-tiny origami crane garnish, too.

Japanese-Peruvian fried chicken.
Japanese-Peruvian fried chicken.

The karaage pollo ($12) brings golden, fried, boneless chunks of togarashi-seasoned chicken with a mildly spicy creamy rocoto aioli sauce for dipping. It’s not the crispiest version of karaage, but more like a Shake ‘n Bake coating that has a slight peppery kick.

The Nikomi beef empanada ($14) comes three to an order with more of that creamy dipping sauce. They arrive warm, sporting a flaky, tender crust with a filling of savory minced, stewed beef.

Beef empanadas.
Beef empanadas.

Bluefin tuna toast ($16) sits not on bread, but chewy, crunchy, compressed rice that’s been toasted. Two slices of tuna are overlayed with avocado cream, micro greens, and pepper slices. Each toast sits on a shiso leaf. Pick up the whole thing with your fingers to enjoy. There’s a nice little sprinkle of sea salt that complements the richness of the tuna, too. If you’re a blue fin connoisseur, the fish does get a little lost with everything else. But it does all make for a great bite alongside a cocktail.

Hamachi tiradito.
Hamachi tiradito.
Salmon cebiche.
Salmon cebiche.

The hamachi tiradito ($17) is beautiful to behold, arranged just so in a shallow bowl with smoky yam puree, micro cilantro, crunchy but not tooth-shattering corn nuts, and aji amarillo, and a spicy, citrus marinade known as leche de tigre. The fleshy fish gets bathed in spice and creaminess for an invigorating dish.

The salmon cebiche ($18) is a dish that truly melds Japanese and Peruvian influences. The diced salmon is tossed gently in a lime-y marinade with a touch of white miso, along with avocado puree, edamame, seaweed, cilantro, chili oil, and supple yet crunchy large corn kernels known as Peruvian choclo. Be sure to get a little of everything in one bite to really appreciate all the different textures and flavors.

Suzuki nigiri (left) and Tai Madai nigiri (right).
Suzuki nigiri (left) and Tai Madai nigiri (right).
The Kaiyo roll.
The Kaiyo roll.
Vegan eggplant nigiri.
Vegan eggplant nigiri.

From the sushi menu, we enjoyed the Suzuki ($3 per piece), slices of striped bass brushed with garlic shoyu and topped with crunchy garlic chips; and the Tai Madai ($3.50 per piece), Japanese red snapper with pisco-aged white soy, shiso leaf and yuzu salt.

The Kaiyo Roll ($18) is kind of like a pimped out rainbow roll, with a filling of crab salad and tempura asparagus rolled up and draped with salmon, avocado slices, jalapeno slices, flying fish roe, and crispy garlic chips. There’s a bit of aioli and garlic chili oil, too, but not too much so that everything gets drowned in sauce, which can be the downfall of many stuffed-to-the-gills maki rolls.

There’s even a small selection of vegetarian nigiri and vegetarian rolls. We tried the vegan eggplant nigiri ($5 for two pieces). Slender slices of eggplant get miso-glazed and grilled for a smoky, almost meaty taste. Gooseberry puree and an umeboshi add fruity tang.

No dessert is available. But nobody has seemed to mind. As our server jested, “People just order another drink instead.”

More: A Visit to Kaiyo in San Francisco’s Cow Hollow Neighborhood

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