Dining At The West Coast’s First Chotto Matte
If you’ve been wanting to experience a mesmerizing infinity room, you don’t have to trek to a museum. Just head to dinner at San Francisco’s new hot spot restaurant Chotto Matte that opened in October.
Step inside the first floor entrance of what used to be Macy’s Men’s Store and be greeted by floor-to-ceiling glossy walls that reflect colorful pendants hanging from the ceiling, making them appear as if they go on forever.
Just exercise caution after taking the elevator up to the restaurant, though, as the same black polished walls are used in the unisex bathrooms, creating such an entrancing effect that my husband, as well as the person walking in behind him, nearly walked into a wall.
Chotto Matte is definitely flash and panache, a fun-house dining experience.
It’s also immense at 400 seats. The expansive outdoor dining space has heaters and a view of Union Square. The indoor dining room buzzes with pulsating music and is as dim as a nightclub. In fact, when I was invited in as a guest a couple weeks ago to try the menu, management graciously brought over a more powerful lamp to replace the teeny one set on each table just so I could attempt to take a few decent photos. I feared the extra light might ruin the mood for others around me, but the young couple next to us joked that they could actually read their menu now.
The international restaurant group — which has establishments in Canada, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and Qatar — appears to have an immediate hit with its newest Chotto Matte. Less than a month after opening, the restaurant had already served 60,000 customers, said General Manager Adam Chapman, and that’s despite operating at only 40 percent capacity, as it continues to hire staff.
The restaurant specializes in Japanese-Peruvian cuisine known as Nikkei. It sports five different kitchens, each preparing a different section of the menu. That makes for a lot of variety, but also means items may show up in a random fashion or after a bit of a lull.
From the sizeable cocktail list, I opted for “The Story of Jade” ($18), a mix of gin, junmai sake, cardamom, turmeric, cucumber, lemon, and ginger ale. Wasabi was also on the ingredient list, but was fairly imperceptible. Instead, this grassy, citrusy cocktail rocked refreshing cucumber at the forefront.
Wagyu beef gyoza ($29) brought five pan-fried dumplings on a plate, arranged around a puddle of teriyaki veal jus. Their thin wrappers enveloped a juicy filling of ground beef mixed with ginger and shiitakes.
Chicken karaage ($20) was billed as spicy, but was fairly mild even with Korean gochujang drizzled on top. The breaded chicken pieces were moist, having been soaked in buttermilk, but could have used more seasoning.
From the raw bar, the tuna tataki ($27.50) was lush, meaty, and boasted a tickle of heat from a delicious jalapeno salsa.
My favorite dish of the night was the Chotto ceviche ($23). Thin slices of raw sea bass, cubes of tender sweet potato, and Peruvian corn kernels as crunchy as corn nuts were doused in leche de tigre, a light, bright, and spicy lime marinade, making for a bracing dish with loads of textures.
This place takes tableside service to a whole new level by having servers blow-torch some of the dishes right in front of you. It gave the sato maki ($24.50), a roll comprised of yellowtail, salmon tartare, red pepper, and seasoned soy sauce, a delightful smoky taste — even if that roll wasn’t the one that was meant to be torched.
It was actually the Tiger Roll that was supposed to get the fireworks at the table, at least according to the menu description. A roll wrapped around avocado and asparagus, and topped tempura corn bits and rings of jalapeno, it still proved satisfying, nevertheless.
Both rolls arrived with the requisite pickled ginger and blob of wasabi, but no soy sauce.
From the robata, we chose the barbecued baby back ribs ($26,50) that was served as one slab that you had to cut apart. The ribs, finished with an apple honey ponzu glaze, were nicely crusty on the outside, but again, could have used a little more seasoning to bring out the flavors more.
The nasu miso ($16.50) also from the robata was most excellent. Half moons of eggplant were cooked until meltingly soft and creamy. A miso-apricot sauce added a nice salty-fruity note.
Although cinnamon churros seemed to be the dessert most tables were clamoring for that night, we opted instead for the Japanese souffle cheesecake ($19). Served with strawberry yuzu jam and a waterfall of sweet, whipped mascarpone, it was light and fluffy as air. None too sweet, it had a nice tanginess, too.
Chotto Matte might not be the place you go for quiet conversation, but rather for date night, girls’ night out, or an after-work gathering. After all the turmoil that downtown San Francisco has faced in the past few years, it’s nice to see a showy new spot open to add much needed vigor.