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New izakaya at Fillmore and Geary

Chef-owner Nick Yoon: "That’s our slogan — refreshing."

Chef-owner Nick Yoon: “That’s our slogan — refreshing.”

Text and Photographs by Paul Dunn

ASK NICK YOON, the chef and owner of Izakaya Hashibiro Kou, what separates his new restaurant at Fillmore and Geary from all the other Japanese and Korean food this culinary city offers.

He hesitates — after all, his menu offers about 100 dishes — but not for long.

“Our sauces,” he says, his boyish face earnest but serene. About 60 sauces, in fact, and the South Korean-born chef makes them all from scratch. “I try to make different sauces for all the different dishes and do it all by hand,” he says.

Izakaya Hashibiro Kou sits in the prominent high-ceilinged space across from the Fillmore Auditorium that formerly housed Nan California Korean Kitchen. It opened with limited menu choices on September 17 and plans a grand opening — with a full menu — in early October. The food is mostly Japanese, with Korean influences.

Yoon, 36, is no stranger to his craft. He’s been cooking for 15 years at venues including the Ritz Carlton and Namu at the W Hotel. He immigrated to the Bay Area from South Korea in 1997, a few years after first coming here to visit his uncle.

“I just fell in love with all the farmers markets,” Yoon says.

A long bar gives patrons a perch to be near the action in the kitchen.

A long bar gives patrons a perch to be near the action in the kitchen.

He has transformed the space into what he calls a “modern Zen design.” It’s a cozy, reclaimed wood haven featuring a long bar where patrons are front and center with the chefs, plus table seating and four intimate tatami rooms.

The menu offers an eclectic blend of meat, vegetables, fish and noodles, along with sake-based cocktails, beer, wine and champagne.

Among Yoon’s favorites are kalbi tempura, which combines boneless short ribs with vegetables and sesame ponzu; and sunomono, an organic salad with prawns, octopus and cucumber.

All dishes on the menu are designed, Yoon says, to be “refreshing.”

“That’s our slogan — refreshing,” he says. “Our food is not that heavy, because we use less oil and a lot of greens.”

Izakaya Hashibiro Kou, at 1560 Fillmore, is open from 5:30 p.m. to midnight weekdays and until 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.