Masa Yamasaki, owner of Gintei Japanese Restaurant, prepares meals for lunch service at his eatery on El Camino Real in San Bruno.
Sake sommelier Kiyomi Iwasaka shows off some of her extensive collection of rare bottles.
Even though the southern stretch of El Camino Real in San Bruno is not exactly recognized as a cradle for fine dining, a local sushi restaurant remains dedicated to establishing a reputation for uncommon quality.
Gintei Japanese Restaurant, 235 El Camino Real, specializes in traditional sushi craftsmanship with an emphasis on freshness and quality which owner Masa Yamasaki believes makes the restaurant a proverbial fish out of water.
But with an unconventional approach comes a unique set of challenges, said Yamasaki as the restaurant has faced hurdles reeling in an audience prepared to appreciate Gintei’s distinct offerings.
“We are the ones that have to create the market,” said Yamasaki. “So that is challenging because there is not much competition, but there also is not a lot of interest.”
To have Yamasaki tell it, Gintei separates itself from others in the local sushi market through simple and minimal preparation allowing fish freshness to shine. In short, this is not the place one should seek deep fried rolls, or those stuffed with cream cheese and topped with spicy mayonnaise.
He said the extra expense associated with preserving the restaurant’s commitment to its craft can be a deterrent for prospective patrons, especially those unwilling to pay a little more for an unfamiliar approach.
Meals can run in the neighborhood of $60, which Yamasaki acknowledges may be a little steep compared to some of the area’s more standard sushi restaurants. However, he added the rates are relatively low when compared to other traditional establishments in San Francisco.
While Gintei may be scuffling to hook locals among the sea of Peninsula sushi restaurants, Yamasaki said the restaurant has become an esteemed travel stop for connoisseurs shipping in from out of the area.
While it has been an ongoing battle to lure eaters from Millbrae or Burlingame, he said it is also not uncommon for diners to arrive with luggage in tote as they prefer to drop anchor at Gintei after arriving at San Francisco International Airport.
“When people travel they say they are surprised that San Bruno has this,” said Yamasaki.
The restaurant’s broad appeal is fortified through a Michelin Guide recommendation, touting Gintei as “a sleek and stylish sushi spot, whose offerings can hang with the best in San Francisco.”
The culinary directory’s acknowledgment of Gintei’s decor hits a focus of Yamasaki, who took care to assure the restaurant’s cool and straightforward ambiance befits its food.
A small sushi bar grants some a front-row seat to chef Yasu Ueno’s handiwork, while most of dining space is reserved for clean, comfortable and intimate settings appropriate for both a date and a business meeting.
A nuanced touch is apparent not only in Gintei’s fashion and fare, but also its drink list as sommelier Kiyomi Iwasaka personally picks each bottle of sake included in an extensive selection.
Iwasaka’s expertise in building a collection of a rare, quality and relatively inexpensive bottles is a function of her certification as one of the Bay Area’s few sake sommeliers.
To gain her accreditation, Iwasaka traveled back to her native Japan where she took classes designed to educate on the history of the rice wine and ways it can be best served with food.
Not an avid drinker herself, Iwasaka supplants the urge to imbibe with a thirst for sharing her knowledge.
“The food is so good, I am trying to come up with some good pairings,” she said.
She said much care is given to assuring customers enjoy their sake, which may require multiple tastings as Iwasaka strives to strike the right note appealing to a diner’s palate.
“I try to figure out our customer’s favorite,” she said.
Iwasaka’s commitment to customer satisfaction by leveraging her expertise and dedication to tradition is aligned with Yamasaki’s desire to please diners by going the extra mile.
His hope now is locals will return the favor by breaking out of their comfort zone and making the trek to try Gintei.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105