If you’re not expecting a lot, one good surprise can make your entire week. Like when you realize you live next to a filming location for The Princess Diaries, or if the burger place you’re at gives you curly fries when you didn’t even know they were on the menu. Kaiyo is a Japanese-Peruvian restaurant in Cow Hollow, and much like the one time that getting on BART after work didn’t involve a passive aggressive shoving match with a stranger, eating here is a very welcome surprise.
If you spend much time in Cow Hollow, you know that a lot of the restaurants in the area follow the “cool space, fun drinks” formula, and on the surface, Kaiyo fits right in. The whole restaurant is super photogenic, and kind of looks like it could be a secret, invitation-only club, with a back wall made of living moss, a glowing bar, and another wall covered in roaring leopard designs that you can probably find printed on a jacket in Chinatown. It’s the kind of scene you’d expect at a birthday dinner where people are more focused on the cocktails and taking photos of everything than how the food actually tastes. But in this case, the food is quietly the best thing about this place.
Usually when a restaurant has as many menu sections as Clue has potential murder scenes, it’s not a good sign, but here there’s much more good than bad. The best things on the menu are the ceviches, and the Hokkaido Scallop Tiradito is the first one you should order. It comes floating in passionfruit leche de tigre that’s both cool and spicy - we’d be just as happy drinking it with some vodka instead of dressing shellfish, and we have similar feelings about the bigeye tuna version with aji amarillo.
Similarly, the sushi rolls and nigiri are good enough to make you wonder if some high end sushi counter is missing their chef because he got amnesia and walked in here by mistake. If your group needs a larger dish to share though, go for the stone pot lobster rice and make sure to scrape up the crispy rice at the bottom, it’s the definition of things that are right in this world. There are a few misses on the menu, like the bolitas de yuca that are a little too greasy and the uni toast that gets overshadowed by the ceviche and skewers you’ll eat before and after it, but the rest of the food you eat at Kaiyo will make up for the quick lull in your meal.
Order the excellent cocktails you came for, like the spicy Super Saiyan with green chili vodka or the Cowboy Bebop with pisco and maiz cream, and be glad that you found an exception to the rule in Cow Hollow. Not only is Kaiyo cool and fun and has good drinks, but the food here is worth coming for on its own - sort of like that time you went to Lyon Street just to see where Mia Thermopolis went to high school.
Hokkaido Scallop Tiradito
This dish of scallops in passionfruit leche de tigre is as good as it is nice to look at. Order this.
Bigeye Tuna Ceviche
The avocado isn’t our favorite thing in this, but everything else, from the aji amarillo leche de tigre to the compressed watermelon, is great.
Spicy Miso Lobster Soup
Kinda spicy, not super lobstery. Feel free to pass on this unless you’re on an all-liquid diet.
A solid sushi roll with crab, trout, tempura asparagus, avocado, onion, jalapeno, and garlic chili oil. You can’t go wrong splitting this with a few people.
Red Snapper Nigiri
High-quality fish and perfectly cooked rice - if you want sushi, don’t think twice about getting this.
Smoked Duck Breast Nigiri
Duck sushi isn’t something we run across every day, but now we want to. Make sure this is on your table.
This is pretty good in a vacuum and we like the thick bread it comes on, but after a bunch of ceviche, the flavor of the uni gets lost.
Stone Pot Lobster Rice
We’d show up here for just this. It’s essentially lobster paella, but in a hot stone pot, so if you wait a minute before digging in, a super crunchy crust will form on the bottom. You’re going to want that crust.
Good brussels sprouts with an even better spicy sauce. This isn’t going to make your meal, but it’s nice to snack on.
A5 Wagu Kofta
We don’t know how this ended up on the menu of a Japanese-Peruvian place, but it’s good, even if it doesn’t fit in super well with the rest of the menu.