See inside this San Francisco restaurant’s ‘quarantine bubble’ patio seating

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As restaurateurs continue to seek creative solutions to serve their clientele during the pandemic, a first-of-its-kind outdoor dining experience has made its way to downtown San Francisco.

Three seven-foot-tall translucent domes dotted the pavement of the Mint Plaza in SoMa on Wednesday evening, where a handful of customers at Sushi Hashiri were escorted inside to enjoy a meal — and a rather unusual patio seating arrangement.

Intrigued by restaurants in Amsterdam and Japan that had implemented similar greenhouse-style structures, manager Ken Matsuura decided to test out the concept at his own restaurant.

“We hadn’t seen any other Bay Area restaurants doing it, so why not be the first?” he told SFGATE.

Waiter Masaaki Shijeno explains to diners (left to right) Al Habeeb and Ed Shehab what their first course consist of. Sushi Hashiri opened up outdoor dining service using patio bubbles in front of their restaurant in Mint Plaza in San Francisco, California on Aug. 5, 2020. Photo: Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE / SFGATE

Photo: Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

Waiter Masaaki Shijeno explains to diners (left to right) Al Habeeb and Ed Shehab what their first course consist of. Sushi Hashiri opened up outdoor dining service using patio bubbles in front of their restaurant in Mint Plaza in San Francisco, California on Aug. 5, 2020.

By then, change had become the norm for Hashiri. When the pandemic settled over the city months ago, Matsuura’s restaurant was among many that were forced to close and try something new in order to stay afloat.

Providing takeout was the first alternative option, though a somewhat unorthodox one for a Michelin star restaurant that typically intertwines edomae nigiri sushi with multiple-course kaiseki and omakase dinners lasting three to four hours.

“What we provide is a journey of traditional cuisine in Japan,” said Matsuura. “In these challenging times, we knew everyone still wanted to have a good meal. We asked ourselves, how can we continue to offer that in these circumstances while keeping everyone safe?”

Melding such an experience with an adapted takeout menu allowed new customers to try out the restaurant in the comfort of their own home at a lower price range. But as time went on, Matsuura realized the restaurant couldn’t survive on takeout alone.

“We were hit harder and harder month by month, and we knew we had to come up with a new idea,” he said.

(Left)The first course (zensai) of the Sushi Hashiri omakase meal consists of a sweet potato corn portage, smoked sockeye salmon remark sushi, and a wild sea urchin chawan sushi. (Right) The second course (Hassun) of the Sushi Hashiri omakase meal includes wild sea urchin, poached black tiger prawn, freshwater eel, simmered abalone, pickled cucumber, washu beef, and egg omelette. The restaurant opened up outdoor dining service using patio bubbles in front of their restaurant in Mint Plaza in San Francisco, California on Aug. 5, 2020. Photo: Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE / SFGATE

Photo: Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

(Left)The first course (zensai) of the Sushi Hashiri omakase meal consists of a sweet potato corn portage, smoked sockeye salmon remark sushi, and a wild sea urchin chawan sushi. (Right) The second course (Hassun) of the Sushi Hashiri omakase meal includes wild sea urchin, poached black tiger prawn, freshwater eel, simmered abalone, pickled cucumber, washu beef, and egg omelette. The restaurant opened up outdoor dining service using patio bubbles in front of their restaurant in Mint Plaza in San Francisco, California on Aug. 5, 2020.

That’s where the igloos came in. Though they cost the restaurant $1,400 a piece, Matsuura views them as a worthwhile investment and plans to purchase more in the near future.

“They give our customers peace of mind. They’re in their own cozy atmosphere and they feel safe. They were having a blast! That’s what’s important to me,” said Maatsura.

Hashiri will continue to offer takeout in addition to rolling out its new outdoor dining plan. Each igloo seats four people, and guests can make a reservation each day at 5 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. Customers dining at 5 p.m. have a two-hour time limit, allowing staff time to clean and sanitize the igloos prior to the next set of reservations.

“We want to be able to stay in the game and operate our business and we’re honored to be able to survive,” said Matsuura. “We hope we can continue to serve the community and see some happy faces and happy stomachs.”

Sushi Hashiri is located at 4 Mint Plaza, and is open Tuesday-Saturday. More information on reservations can be found here.

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Amanda Bartlett is an SFGATE culture reporter. Email: amanda.bartlett@sfgate.com | Twitter: @byabartlett

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