Japanese dreams

TABLEHOPPING Downtown workers, here's your new lunch spot. Sushi lovers, lock Pabu on your radar.

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Meet Pabu's Happy Spoon, you'll get along great.
PHOTO BYKEVIN J. MCCULLOUGH

CHOW NOW

There are not one but two big local openings that just happened in the Michael Mina empire, and anyone who has a passion for sushi or ramen will want to take note, because chef Ken Tominaga — of the destination-worthy Hana in Rohnert Park — is partnering with Mina on both projects. Pabu (101 California, SF. www.michaelmina.net) and The Ramen Bar (101 California, SF.) are two very different restaurants that happen to have the same address, the spacious 101 California. And depending on your budget, you can afford to at least eat at one of them.

Let's start with The Ramen Bar. Come by Mon–Fri 8am–9pm (with food service starting 11am). Based on the lines of people during the opening week, you may discover a wait at lunchtime. There are four kinds of ramen on the opening menu, and you won't find a thick and rich tonkotsu-style broth here: Tominaga is doing a lighter broth, taking inspiration from Tokyo-style ramen, so you won't fall into a food coma during your 2pm meeting.

The ingredients and techniques here are top notch: no cold eggs with a blue ring on the yolk, ya dig? There's a tempting Tokyo roast chicken ($12) with soy-cured egg, bamboo, spinach, and yuzu kosho. Or you can go rich with braised pork belly ($12) with wakame, soy-cured egg, and wilted spinach. Other choices include shrimp and crab dumpling ($16) in a ginger clam broth, with sweet corn and mizuna; and mushroom and tofu ($11) with miso, mizuna, hon-shimeji mushrooms, sweet corn, and nori. Gluten-free noodles are available as well. Additional lunchtime-friendly choices on the menu include salads and donburi.

The Ramen Bar has made the process simple if you want to order ahead: check the Facebook page (www.facebook.com/RamenBarSF) or download the app for iPhone and Android, just search "Ramen Bar SF." There are also seats at a counter, tables, or on the outdoor terrace if you don't want to eat at your desk. (You really should get some air). And you can come by in the morning for espresso and coffee drinks from LAMILL, or explore Hong Kong milk tea, boba tea, and more.

Now, you ready to acquaint yourself with the Happy Spoon? It's one of chef Tominaga's trademark dishes, and it's how you'll want to start your dinner at the upscale Pabu (dinner is served nightly; lunch won't begin until July 28). It's a soup spoon, yes, but artfully composed with uni, ikura, tobiko, ponzu, and crème fraîche, and should make you happier than a spoonful of Prozac. Nigiri obsessives will want to sidle over to the 22-seat sushi counter, and have Yoji-san prepare Ken's Nigiri Tasting Menu: eight courses of exquisite Edo-style nigiri, served two pieces at a time. It's the good stuff, let me tell you. There are also tables and booths where you can sit with your date or a group and make your way through Tominaga's varied menu, which includes both izakaya dishes and sushi (check out the ankimo dish), ranging from cold to hot small plates, eight kinds of robatayaki, elegant shabu-shabu, and some larger dishes, including seafood and A4 and A5 Japanese wagyu. (I hope you brought your company card). They're all designed to share.

A big bar and lounge under an open ceiling with softly glowing lanterns and tall windows can't help but charm. You can slide into a burnt orange leather and velvet booth during happy hour (Mon–Fri 3pm–6pm), which rocks a menu of BBQ pork buns, oysters, Tokyo fried chicken, and robata. The cocktails by Mina Group head bartender Carlo Splendorini are creative — house-carbonated cocktails abound, so get fizzy — and if you want to learn about sake, you need to meet sake master Stuart Morris. This total sake sensei puts together some exciting pairings, and is thrilled to share his knowledge with you. Kanpai!

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