Inside Yokai, an Ode to Japanese Whisky and Grilled Skewers in San Francisco

Back in 2016, Marc Zimmerman was the opening chef at the Tokyo outpost of Alexander’s Steakhouse. And during his time in Japan, he gained an appreciation for and love of Tokyo’s post-work dining and drinking culture. So now Zimmerman is bringing some of that flavor and energy to the States.

On Friday, the chef opens Yokai, a Japanese-inspired hi-fi listening bar and restaurant in San Francisco. Here, he’s serving up skewers, light bites, veggies, and larger plates paired with drinks that emphasize Japanese spirits, brandies, and Cognacs. And given that the music is just as important to the overall experience, there’s a sound system that competes for center stage with the food and drinks: Zimmerman himself sourced vintage mint JBL Pro Series studio speakers from which jazz records will be piped through the space.

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A scallop dish
A scallop dish

“Travel and personal experiences in Japan are what this place is all about,” Zimmerman told Robb Report in an email. “I enjoy creating places and experiences with soul, personal connection, and honesty. I feel we’ve done that with Gozu [his other restaurant] as well.”

On the menu, skewers grilled over Japanese binchotan coals are the stars of the show: There’s Wolfe Ranch quail, baby Spanish octopus, and Château Uenae chuck roll A5 Wagyu, among other proteins. (Zimmerman has become well known for the ways in which he uses Wagyu in his cooking.) Small plates like oysters with beet mignonette and broccolini and Dungeness crab salad share table space with vegetable-focused options such as shredded Brussels sprouts with sesame dressing and wild California mushrooms. And larger plates run the gamut from koji-cured Sonoma duck to a burger you can get in the decadent “Gozu style”—with wasabi thousand island and local sea urchin.

The bar area
The bar area

Behind the bar, the beverage director Jordan Abraham is slinging drinks that showcase Japanese whiskies and the country’s budding gin scene along with using Japanese ingredients. The Imperial Garden is made with Ki No Bi Go green tea gin and Saint Germain, while the Pretty Bird combines Kiyomi Japanese rum, coconut water, Luxardo Bitter Bianco, and lime. Nonalcoholic options, including carbonated teas, will be available for those who don’t wish to imbibe.

“I’m really looking forward to showing people what we’ve put together here,” Zimmerman said. “Yokai at its core is my idea of a bar and grill … There’s more than one experience that can be had … It’s going to be a scene.”

Click here to see all the images of Yokai.

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