The pairing of tequila and sushi is a relatively new concept, but not without precedent. It was pioneered by establishments such as Sushi-Teq in Boston, Richard Sandoval’s Zengo chain, the New York and Las Vegas Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grills and Nick-San in Los Cabos and Mexico City. The trend continues to grow in San Francisco with the opening of Hecho, restauranteur Joseph Manzare’s (part owner of Tres, formerly Tres Agaves) latest venture and the first sushi-tequila bar on the West Coast.
In a space adjacent – and connected to – the Galleria Park Hotel in the heart of San Francisco’s Financial District, Hecho serves up a variety of small plates, sushi rolls, nigiri sushi, grilled meat and vegetable skewers, as well as a few other seafood and meat dishes alongside a wide selection of tequila and sake. Hecho’s interior is beautiful, dominated by light woods accented by colors from Japanese posters and other images. At first glance it looks like your typical, casual but high-quality sushi joint. And then you notice the tequila bar, where Gilberto Mendoza is ready to greet you and pour you a glass of one of the 80+ tequilas displayed prominently on the back wall. It’s a modest collection compared with the Bay Area’s Mexican-centric tequila bars, but what Hecho lacks in volume is made up for by the well-thought-out represenation characterized by a diversity of terroir and flavor. Most of the popular 100% agave brands have a space on the wall: Herradura, Partida, Siete Leguas, Patron, Corralejo, Casa Noble, and a handful of others. They share shelf space with a few lesser-known brands, like Tres Agaves and Pueblo Viejo, the restaurant’s house tequila.
Mendoza comes to Hecho by way of Tres Agaves, where he worked for four years prior. His passion for tequila is infectious, and he loves to share his knowledge and experience with guests in between pours. It’s strictly the basics when it comes to cocktails. Hecho makes a well-balanced margarita that’s made with tequila, agave nectar, and fresh lime juice, as well as traditional interpretations of the paloma and the tequila sunrise.
The tequila bar flows seamlessly into the sushi bar, which sports a several foot long clear glass case filled with bright-colored pieces of fish. It took me a moment to wrap my head around this juxtaposition, and makes it clear that Hecho will be destroying boundaries and redefining traditional food and spirit pairing. There are also redefined boundaries for patrons; seats are available at the tequila bar,the sushi bar, at tables downstairs as well as upstairs. There’s a private room for groups and meetings, and you can even sit at a bar in the kitchen, overlooking the activity on the first floor and at the tequila and sushi bars.
The sushi offerings reflect a traditional, simple Tokyo-style menu with nigiri sushi (small clump of rice with a piece of fish on top) and makimono rolls (filling of rice and fish rolled into dried seaweed). We sampled the tuna roll, a roll with chopped yellowtail and scallion, and the sea bass nigiri. All were simple and attractive, and the taste was exquisite and remarkably fresh, as if the fish just jumped onto the table.
There are no fancy, western-style rolls at Hecho. California, Philadelphia, Dynamite, or similar rolls filled with cream cheese, tempura, smoked salmon, etc. are nowhere to be found. The Hecho roll is a notable exception, a truly inspired, original “inside-out roll” (rice and toasted sesame seeds are on the outside, with the seaweed and fish on the inside) created by Executive Chef Masaki Sasaki. It is just as beautiful on the palate as it is on the plate. Do not visit Hecho without giving it a try.
For those who shy away from sushi, there are the Yakimono (grilled) items that include a variety of meat (chicken, beef, pork), vegetable (asparagus, mushroom, okra, yam), and seafood (scallop, yellowtail, tuna) skewers. The meats we sampled were tender, flavorful and fully-cooked, and the vegetables maintain a fresh crunch while still benefiting from the few minutes on the hot grill.
Tequila paired surprisingly well with everything, but only after we decided upon the right combination. Nigiri and makimono rolls paired best with blanco tequila – the house blanco (Pueblo Viejo) is a solid choice, but the variety of flavors offered on the sushi menu beg for exploring other brands. We tried reposado tequila with the sushi, but it had a tendency to overpower the subtlely of flavor inherent in sushi. Instead, the reposados are best reserved for the grilled items. A good guideline is that the whiter the meat/vegetable, the younger the tequila.
Prices at Hecho are affordable but not cheap – you’re in Downtown San Francisco and you pay for that. Fortunately, the quality of food is extremely good. Hecho has some of the best, most fresh-tasting sushi you will ever experience. The service was also incredibly strong, especially for a restaurant that has only been open for a few weeks. Our server, Maile (pronounced Miley), provided top-notch, friendly service and she was knowledgeable about the food and tequila selections, although her specialty happens to be sake.
The diverse tequila selection, unique and high-quality food, and superb service all add up to a strong recommendation. Hecho is an innovative addition to the ever-expanding world of tequila bars, and it will be exciting to see this one thrive and grow.
185 Sutter St. (at Kearny St.)
San Francisco, CA 94108
Phone: (415) 835-6400
Online: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Yelp | Google Maps
Menu: No official menu is available online, but here’s a complete overview of the food menu as of April 2011 from Grub Street San Francisco.
Items sampled (April 16, 2011):
Tequila and Cocktails
Hecho Margarita (Pueblo Viejo blanco, agave nectar, lime juice) – $10 /cocktail
Pueblo Viejo blanco – $8 /glass
Pueblo Viejo reposado – $10 /glass
Sushi (Nigiri and Makimono rolls)
Tekka (tuna roll) – $7 /roll
Suzuki (sea bass) – $3 /piece
Negi Hamachi (Chopped Yellowtail and scallion roll) – $7 /roll
Yakimono (Grilled items)
Shishito (Japanese peppers) – $3 /plate of 6 peppers
Maguro maki (Hecho roll) – $8 /roll
Momo (Chicken thigh skewer) – $6 /skewer
Wagyu (Beef skewer) – market price