THE WEEKNIGHTER Sometimes it happens. PR companies take me out, feed me, and get me boozed up. All with the hope that I will write about the place that’s feeding/boozing me. Sometimes I write about the place, sometimes I don’t. I make no promises other than I promise to consume the food and booze that’s put in front of me. I imagine I’ve had worse lifetimes, but I wouldn’t know.
This time Natalie was taking me to Chaya (132 Embarcadero, SF, (415) 777-8688) on the PR company’s dime. Sitting on the Embarcadero with staggering views of the bay, Chaya is absolutely lovely. Come at sunset to see the lights twinkle on the Emperor Norton Bridge and sit down to a romantic dinner of incredible French-Japanese fusion.
In fact, if I’m not mistaken, Chaya was one of the first places doing “fusion” back before that was a beaten and tired word in the culinary world. That’s because Chaya has been around in SF for 14 years, which is a remarkable feat in any town, but nearly magical in San Francisco. The thing is, 14 years ain’t shit compared to the fact that the family that owns the Chaya has been in the hospitality business for almost 400 years.
According to the thing Natalie just sent me (since I neglected to take notes): Chaya has an unprecedented 390-year history of restaurants owned and operated by the same Tsunoda family both in Japan and California. Chaya began under an enormous shade tree in Hayama, Japan, centuries ago, where it offered tea, sweets, and respite to weary horseback travelers.
As they say in Japan: that shit cray.
Sitting down in the back area with Natalie and Matthew, Chaya’s marketing manager, I was told about the restaurant’s all-night happy hour, which happens every day. Chaya has long been an after work staple for the well-heeled, so it only made sense to extend the length of happy hour to keep those with well-coiffed hair quaffing well-made drinks.
Then the food came out and it was glorious. I don’t remember exactly what we ate, but there was a lot of it and it was brilliant and made my mouth happy. Matthew was excited to have me eat the Temari-style sushi, which is little round balls of rice topped with fish so fresh you can almost taste their souls. If fish had souls, that is. More food followed, as did drinks with whimsical names and suddenly, somehow, I was full and drunk. Life was good.
Natalie and Matthew began telling me about something called the Kaisen platter, which is a full selection of various raw seafood meant to be shared. “That sounds amazing,” I said, “but if you actually bring that out here right now, I may cry.” I had made the mistake of saying that I would eat and drink anything they put in front of me, and the clever bastards had the balls to call my bluff. Every man has his limits and I had found mine.
It was the golden hour when I finally toppled out of Chaya. The buildings were shimmering like pyrite and by the time I made it to Market, the street had a pinkish hue.
“I think I’m gonna walk home,” I told Natalie. “If you don’t hear from me, it’s because I ruptured something and died on the way home.”
I didn’t die.