Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sushi @ Okina Sushi

I'm always interested in finding good sushi, as my current favorite place for rolls (Sushi Zone) requires epic waits, and my favorite place for nigiri (Sushi Sam's, although, we had a horrible experience there last week), is down in San Mateo and is pretty pricy.  I've been slowly working my way through my list of recommended places from friends, acquaintances, etc.  (I'm actually almost near the end, so if you have a favorite, let me know!  I'm specifically looking for somewhere awesome, that takes reservations (or  somehow doesn't have 2 hour waits), for rolls or nigiri, with quality fish.  Bonus points if it isn't to pricy, but if it is great quality, I don't mind paying for it.  Bonus points for sushi bar seating and an interactive fun chef, but certainly not a requirement.  Bonus points for interesting selection of fish).

Tonight we went to Okina Sushi, after the places higher on my list were all booked (I didn't try to make a reservation until 5pm, my bad).  We were able to get a 7:45 reservation, at the bar.  So far, so good.

As we approached the restaurant at 7:35pm, I saw that it was basically empty.  On a Saturday night.  Yikes.  And then we got the menu, and I saw the sushi prices.  They were shockingly low.  Double yikes.  I tried to remember who recommended this place, and why it was on my list (it was a friend-of-a-friend).  I'd glanced again at Yelp before going, and it did have 4 starts.  I was a little anxious, but decided to trust my list ...

The restaurant is very small.  6 seats at the sushi bar.  3 additional tables.  The staff consists of a husband (the chef) and wife (the server).

The menu is likewise tiny.  There are no appetizers (not even edamame).  No cooked items (not even miso soup).  Just a list of ~15 nigiri (all the most common fish), a small number of very simple rolls (no more than two ingredients, no mayo in sight), a single beer, a single sake.  Or an omakase option.

We decided to just trust and do the omakase, which turned out to be only 4 pieces each.  After that, we asked for some recommendations, and picked a few ourselves.  Our sushi averaged an astonishing $2.17 per piece - post-tax!  And ... it was all good!  Not remarkable, but it was all solid, none of it was bad, and for the price, it really was a great value.  All the pieces were a good size and were nice cuts of fish.  I'd order any of the pieces again.  I really did not like the rice, it seemed really mushy and overly vinegary.

We were also served ridiculously quickly.  We left the restaurant less than 45 minutes after entering, even after taking a pause to decide if we wanted to order more or not.  We basically had sushi placed in front of us within 3 minutes of ordering, and it all arrived very rapidly.  Such an efficient meal.

Also, my concerns about it being empty were likely just a timing issue.  By 15 minutes into our meal, the place was full, and every table had been reserved.  We arrived early for our reservation, and I think they must allow for extra time to turn the tables, so we just arrived between seatings.

I'd certainly return, particularly given the value.  While this wasn't a particularly memorable meal, and none of it blew my mind, it was solid, good, simple sushi.  Unfortunately, they are only open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights!
Wasabi, ginger, pickled diakon, shredded raw diakon.
The moment we sat down, this mound was assembled on the counter in front of us.  Sorta a mess, not explained in any way.  It had the wasabi and ginger you'd expect, along with both pickled and shredded diakon.  I really liked the pickled diakon, and found the shredded raw diakon to be really nice and refreshing.  I preferred it to the ginger as a palate cleanser between pieces.

We also immediately received mugs of hot green tea.  The tea had a lovely flavor to it.  I try not to have caffeine in the evenings, and was shocked to look down at one point and realize I'd totally finished my big mug of tea.  Whoops.  It was good!
Omakase pieces #1 and #2: hamachi ($2) and maguro (seasonal, I didn't see the exact price).
The omakase turned out to be only four pieces, which arrived all at once, in pairs, set down directly on the sushi bar in front of us, next to the wasabi/diakon/ginger mound.

The hamachi was good, firm, with a decent flavor.  Probably my third to last pick of the night, but it wasn't bad, just not memorable, and I'd get it again.

The maguro was better, soft, flavorful.  Third favorite of the night.  With the mushy rice however, it was a little off putting, as it made the fish almost seem mushy too.  I started skipping the rice on the nigiri at this point.
Omakase pieces #3 and #4: smoked salmon ($1.50) and jackfish.
The smoked salmon was my second favorite piece of the night.  It had a lovely smoked flavor, and a firm, yet soft, texture.

The other piece was jackfish?  I've never heard of that before, and I'm still not positive we heard him correctly, but that is what we both thought the chef said.  It reminded me of needlefish when I ate it.  Looking at the photo, it looks kinda like halibut.  Can you tell what it was?  Like the hamachi, this wasn't particularly flavorful or memorable, but it wasn't bad, and was clearly a good quality fresh piece of fish.  The addition of the crisp shiso leaf made it more interesting and accented the fish well, so I place this above the hamachi in my ranking for the evening.
Santa Barbara uni ($2.25).
This was our pick, as I love uni!  I've never seen uni this cheap before.  It wasn't a huge amount of uni, but still.  Crazy prices!

Today's uni was from Santa Barbara, but it sounded like the chef sources it from different places at different times.  It was creamy, and really quite good, with a milder flavor than I've had in a lot of uni in the past.  You can also add a quail egg to any piece for $0.40 - I'd totally try that next time, to further enhance the creaminess and richness.  Only complaint here is that it wasn't wrapped that well, as you can see it coming apart just sitting on the counter.  I found it easier to just eat with my hands.  The rice also didn't bother me as much in this form.

This was so good that we ordered a second pair.  My favorite of the night.
Scallop (seasonal).
The scallop was a recommendation from the chef.  Topped with tobiko and sliced scallion.  It was tender and sweet.  One of the better pieces of raw scallop I've ever had.

Like the uni, not very well wrapped, and again the rice didn't bother me here.

Fourth favorite of the night.
Amaebi (seasonal).
Another recommendation from the chef, and one that I'd read very positive reviews about.  It reminded me of the scallop, tender and sweet.

I liked this, but I couldn't help comparing it to the amaebi that I normally get at Sushi Sam's, which comes with a citrus glaze and sea salt on top.  The citrus and salt just enhance the flavor so incredibly, that this seemed really plain in comparison.  Fifth favorite of the night.
Crab ($2).
I'm not sure what kind of crab it was, I forgot to ask.  Probably snow crab?  Like the scallop, it came topped with tobiko and scallions.

The crab was cooked and shredded and unfortunately not very flavorful.  It wasn't bad, or fishy, or anything negative exactly, but it was just really flavorless.  My least favorite seafood of the evening.  I'd skip this next time.
Tomago ($1.25).
We didn't actually order this, it just appeared near the end.  Perhaps part of the omakase?  I'm not sure.  Good thing we knew what it was, as the chef didn't explain it either.

I always order tomago as my last piece of sushi, as it is my "dessert".  This tomago however, was not dessert-like at all!  It had no sweetness whatsoever.  It was basically just egg.  Not particularly eggy, not particularly ... anything.  My least favorite of the night.  I'd skip this in the future.  Very disappointing, in fact, so disappointing, that we had to go get real dessert after this.
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