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Wednesday, Dec 25 1996
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What's Your Poison?
If you're looking for fugu on local Japanese menus, don't be fooled by Blowfish, the enticingly named sushi bar that's moved into the space on Bryant at 20th Street vacated by the passing of Tisane. Blowfish offers sushi "to die for," but they're just kidding. California law forbids not only the serving for human consumption but the very importation to the state of fugu, or blowfish -- the Japanese delicacy that, if improperly prepared, can be lethally toxic.

Still, Peter Garin, a general partner in the restaurant (and one of the original partners in Cafe Du Nord), doesn't rule out offering fugu on Blowfish's menu at some point, although to do so would involve jumping through a series of bureaucratic hoops at the city, state, and federal levels.

"We'll have to sort that out," he says. "Two restaurants in New York City have already gone through the process" and are legally serving fugu to diners, but so far they're the only such places in the country.

Fugu can also be had locally if not legally, Garin says, though it's often called something else to evade unwelcome attention from the Department of Public Health, and from U.S. Customs inspectors. "Some restaurants here do serve it," he says, but people in a position to raise a ruckus about it often "look the other way."

Although for the time being Blowfish's chef, Ritsuo Tsuchida, will forgo the thrill of offering fugu, he already serves a wide-ranging menu of what Garin calls "Asian-fusion cuisine," including traditional sushi and sashimi, curry chicken, pizza, salads, grilled fish, and tsumami -- the little tapaslike plates.

Garin and company have also taken steps to soften Tisane's rather Spartan decor, which assembled too many bare cinder blocks into a prisonlike chill.

"There were a lot of hard surfaces in the restaurant," he says, and cinder blocks, even if painted bright blue, "are pretty unforgiving."

So the new owners have used maple plywood and various acoustical materials to "kill the echo" and give the place "a warm, ambient feel." They've also festooned the walls with Japanese anime and manga (comics) to lighten things up.

"We think we've made conversation easier," Garin says. "We're after a futuristic, fun look that's uniquely San Franciscan. We've tried to bear in mind that we're in the hospitality industry, and a big part of hospitality is hedonism -- people want to have a good time. So we've paid a lot of attention to the lighting, acoustics, and sound system."

Blowfish (the restaurant, not the actual creature) is easy to find: Just look for the bright-red sign with the puffed-up fish where the teapot used to be.

By Paul Reidinger
sfwdish@aol.com

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Paul Reidinger

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