When you step inside Tane Vegan Izakaya, the chic ambiance and stone and wood textures ease you into a state of zen. The small nook in front is filled with early guests; interior tables and a 10-seat sushi bar await the primetime rush. Tane's predecessor, the equally sleek Izakaya Shinn, seemed out of place on the same block of Moiliili as Mini Garden and Launderland. Tane expands on that out-of-placeness by bringing veganized Japanese dishes and sushi to a city infatuated with poke bowls and loco mocos — it's weird, but in a good way.
A quick glance shows a crowd of local couples and families — a change from other izakaya where you find Japanese nationals.
Sipping on an extra dry Onikoroshi junmai ginjo ($15 for a carafe), you can't help but notice the dishes headed for neighboring tables. Towers of photogenic tempura, shoyu ramen topped with chashu and sushi rolls splooshed with colorful sauces. OK, maybe this isn't weird. This is exciting.
Kin Lui, Tane's co-owner and chef, has made sharing his passion for the ocean through vegan and sustainable cuisine his mission. The McKinley grad left Honolulu to work in Japanese taverns around San Francisco before apprenticing at the former Kyo-Ya Restaurant. In 2008, Lui and his business partner Raymond Ho opened Tataki, America's first sustainable sushi bar. It was a challenge to forego using bluefin tuna and other overfished species, but it succeeded.
In 2015, Lui partnered with Casson Trenor and Ray Wang to open Shizen Sushi Bar in San Francisco's Mission District. Shizen had a new approach to sustainable cuisine: a focus on elevated vegan fare.
Tane is the twin sister of Shizen. Save for a few dishes and names, the menus are identical. There are familiar izakaya staples like nasu agebitashi, a chilled dish of fried eggplant simmered in a sweet soy dashi ($7), and yakimono, skewers of grilled shishito peppers and mushrooms ($7 - $8).
There's also a selection of chilled dishes and salads, which you'll appreciate even more in the coming warm months.
Peppery baby arugula coated in nutty miso dressing is remarkable in the yuba salad ($8). It's recommended by both our server and the San Francisco Michelin guide. The ribbons of tofu skin offer a chew that contrasts with the crunch of greens and bubu arare.
Ramen comes your with choice of a shio (salt), shoyu or spicy miso garlic broth. Each has all the elements of a well-built bowl: springy Sun Noodles, al dente bamboo shoots, smoky bean curd and faux chashu slices, nori and a crisp tempura shiitake mushroom garnish in a slurpable broth. A gluten-free noodle option is available for a $2 upcharge.
In this trio, the spicy miso garlic ranks high. Understanding the steps that go into making a delicous ramen — and a vegan one to boot — you'll recognize this is a feat.
One section of the menu takes us into uncharted territory: veggie sushi. Reading through the nigiri choices ($6 for two pieces), we wonder if a vegan sushi omakase is possible. With options like saikyo miso eggplant and grilled okra finished with truffle salt, there's more than just conveyor belt kappa maki here.
Pickled mango nigiri is a marvel of simplicity that plays well with the vinegared sushi rice. If sushi master Keiji Nakazawa added it to his omakase at Sushi Sho, I would not be surprised. The grilled okra, with its dash of garlic aioli and truffle salt, is reminicent of a torched wagyu nigiri. It lingers on the brain.
While the spicy tofuna and California rolls feature soy-based proteins, the majority of sushi rolls elevate vegetables and fruit as the main components through creative textures and flavors. Classic rolls run $5 to $8 while specialty rolls named after beaches in Northern California and Oahu are $13 to $15.
In Hawaii, where brown gravy flows like water, a vegan izakaya like Tane may always seem ahead of its time. Izakaya purists will appreciate the attention to detail in each dish, but miss the seafood element. Diehard carnivores will balk at the lack of sizzling wafu steak and simmered pork belly and would do better to stay home. Vegetarians, vegans and the curious, though, will revel in this new option. And if you're an omnivore who's been going a bit too heavy on meat, I couldn't imagine a more indulgent cleanse.
Despite going on Tane's first two official days of operation, I received exceptional service. It was as if this place had been in business for years.
The parking lot just past the building is free, but come after 5:30 p.m. on any given day and you'll likely be looking for street parking on Beretania.
Tane Vegan Izakaya
2065 S. Beretania St.
Tues - Sat 5:00-10 p.m.