Discover Rare Japanese Spirits at S.F.’s Ittoryu Gozu

The restaurant’s padded, amber-hued lounge is the city’s newest destination for enticing sakes and whiskies



Chef Marc Zimmerman’s new wagyu-focused restaurant Ittoryu Gozu in San Francisco is the city’s hottest new ticket for rare Japanese beef — and a discreet refuge for fans of rare whiskies and spirits from around the world.

Cloistered within Gozu’s charcoal-hued dining room is a cozy, 12-seat whiskey lounge, clad with solid metal sheeting with soft, copper-toned paneled interiors for a heightened sense of cocoon-like intimacy.


“It creates a moment of surprise,” says designer Andrea Lenardin Madden of James Beard Award-winning Alm Project, who also realized interiors at restaurants In Situ and Benu. “From the outside, you have something very austere, sharp, hard and dark. In the space, warm hues of orange and amber — the color of whiskey was the most important reference.”

The lounge — which doubles as a private dining or events room — is dominated by a single striking red marble communal table, its pattern evocative of flame-licked embers or flowing lava, and an amber backlit bar.

Many of the whiskies on the shelf are international rarities procured through personal contacts or hand-carried from Japan by beverage director Lindsey Young and her staff.

There are some kitsch, fun options, such as the Game of Thrones portfolio, which recasts Scotch whisky producers as eminent houses of Westeros, and Nikka’s Gold & Gold Samurai, which Young picked up at Narita airport.


Among the sommelier’s standouts are a Macallan 1997 release, purchased and aged by third-party bottler Signatory and Ohishi, the only Japanese whiskey distilled from gohyakumanishi rice rather than barley imported from Scotland, 30 percent of which is estate-grown. “There was only one cask of the Ohishi Acacia made. We were lucky enough to get one bottle — we wanted to buy the whole cask, but they wouldn’t let us,” she explains. “And the Edradour Sauternes cask is one of my very favorites. You get this beautiful sweet, spicy finish — I absolutely love that one,” she says.

Other bottlings hail from closer to home, yet are equally lauded, such as 10th Street’s single malt American whiskey — crafted using Scottish malted barley and water from the Californian Sierras in copper pot stills — which won double gold in the 2019 New York World Spirits Competition.

Young offers whiskey flights, which will change regularly. Among the first trio of flights is the Nikka, which includes samplings of Taketsuru Pure Malt, Yoichi Single Malt and Miyagikyo Single Malt. There’s also a flight that encompasses single malts from around the world, featuring tastes of Hakushu 12-year Japanese Single Malt, Amrut Indian Single Malt, 10th Street American Single Malt and Bowmore 15-year Islay Single Malt.

A third flight, which will regularly explore the regions of Scotland, currently featuries Macallan 12-year Double Cask, The Balvenie 17-year Double Wood and Port Askaig 110 Proof. “Various styles of whisky are produced throughout Scotland’s six famous regions: Highlands, Speyside, Lowlands, Campbeltown, Islay and the Islands. This flight will rotate through these different expressions of terroir,” Young says.


All told, Gozu’s substantial beverage list includes IPAs, around 30 sakes, 150 wines and 40 whiskies, all offered a la carte in the whiskey lounge and dining room, and some on the standard drinks pairings for Gozu’s 10-course prix-fixe menu.

Chef Marc Zimmerman opened with his Private Reserve allocation of Hokkaido Snow Beef from producer Chateau Uenae, an extremely limited wagyu production raised in subzero temperatures on Japan’s northernmost island, and he imports one whole cut — the full set of meat yielded by one animal, averaging 750 pounds — at a time from a Japanese farmer.

Beef products are used in every dish to show the utility of wagyu and how regional genetics, feed and husbandry influences the flavor of the beef — much in the same way that terroir influences grapes used in wine production.

As you might expect, Young’s whisky pairings (along with IPA, sake, sochu and wine selections) must play well with umami and flavors imparted by the grill, such as albacore tataki brushed with beef garum and cooked over binchotan charcoal; wild mushroom grilled in wagyu fat with wagyu smoke; and a decadent chawanmushi with beef dashi, wild mushrooms and smoked roe.


The Ohishi, matured in brandy casks for 10 years, has a soft, delicate mouthfeel which doesn’t overpower the tallow-poached sturgeon, wagyu cow belly “bacon” and sweet shoyu it’s served alongside.

Chivas Regal Mizunara — the first blended Scotch to be finished in Japanese mizunara oak casks — has notes of exotic spice that complement Gozu’s three tastings of beef, served in a ritualistic style akin to a nigiri tasting.

With the restaurant continuing to find its stride, Zimmerman has made the full Gozu menu available as a la carte dishes, alongside additional bites from Gozu’s new bento box lunch menu, such as pickles and crab and potato salad.

And while the lounge is open via reservation, it’s also an option for those in the know who want to drop by to indulge in a pour or few, and to diners who want to finish their experience with a night cap before heading out.

201 Spear St., Ste. 120, S.F., 415-523-9745.


Feature image: Libations at the ready at ITTORYU GOZU. All photos by Joseph Weaver.


Dec. 20, 2019

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