Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Cocktails, snacks, and desserts @ The Alembic

Friday evening I was sitting at my desk at work, having just devoured a ton of food at "TGIF".  I was planning to head home soon, for a quiet evening at home, and just eat a light meal.  My plans were thrown out the door when one of my co-workers/friends/best-dining companions swings by and says "Hey, we are going to The Alembic for drinks and some bar snacks, want to join?  The uber will be here in 2 minutes."  I take a moment to consider it, but he is already headed out the door.  My hey-don't-leave-me-behind instincts kick in, and without thinking things through at all, I'm quickly chasing them down.

I'd never been to The Alembic.  I didn't enough know what part of town it was in, just that we apparently needed to take a cab there.  Adventure time!

The Alembic was unlike any bar I've ever been to.  I should have known, given who I was joining, that this wasn't going to be a dive, but I still never expected to be writing a raving food blog post about the place.  "Bar snacks"?  Um, the menu included bone marrow, cauliflower mousse, bacon dashi, caper gremolata, garlic confit, and horseradish soubise.  A plethora of spices, like honey-cumin, sumac, zaatar, and house-smoked salts.  The eggs were cooked souz vide.  Seafood cooked "a la plancha".  This was no ordinary bar food.

The cocktail menu was equally intriguing.  Amazing sounding drinks, massive list of liquors available, knowledgeable bartenders.

We were able to walk right in and get seated at a table.  The atmosphere was incredibly relaxing and casual.  Service was friendly and more attentive than many restaurants.

The Alembic is a fantastic place.  Casual, friendly vibe, great food at totally reasonable prices, and fantastic cocktails, all in one?  It is easy to see why my friends used to be regulars here.  I wish it were in my neighborhood!  And did I mention, one of the top desserts I've had all year?  I'll be back!
Pickled quail eggs.  $2.
These were great - tiny little pickled quail eggs!  The flavors were far more intense than I expected, with a good level of vinegar from the pickling, and awesome salt on top.  The most surprising part was how much I tasted the yolk, I wonder if quail egg yolk is just more intense than chicken egg?  I haven't noticed that before, but I think it is possible I've only ever had raw quail egg before.

These were tasty little bites, and I'd gladly get them again.
Shishito peppers with house-smoked salt.  $5.
Fairly standard shishito peppers, but well executed.  Oily, but in a good way and not too oily, with a nice salt level that made them addicting.  We were a little surprised by how spicy they were, aren't only 1 in 10 supposed to be spicy? It seemed like every one of these was!

I was shocked by how quickly these arrived, I think they were on the table within just a few minutes of ordering!  If I was in the mood for these, I'd order again.
Jerk spiced duck hearts with pickled pineapple and thyme salt.  $5.
My first time (I think) having duck heart.  If I'm going to eat their livers all the time, I may as well eat their hearts too ...

These were more tasty bites!  Nicely grilled, and the jerk spicing on them was really quite delicious.  The jerk flavors paired nicely with the pineapple, and the pineapple also served as a good sweet compliment to the earthy, mineral flavor from the hearts.  It was a shame to have just raw slices of pineapple though, why not grill them as well?  Or spice them in some way?  Or better yet, caramelize them?

I probably wouldn't order this again, but it was an interesting dish to try.
The Poop Deck: Cognac, port wine, blackberry brandy.  $11.
My cocktail.  I was encouraged not to order a drink from the menu, and rather just tell the bartenders what I liked, but this just sounded so good I couldn't resist.

I loved it.  It was a very well balanced drink.  Sweet, but not too sweet.  The blackberry flavor was intense - there was absolutely no doubt that you were drinking blackberry!  The frothy foam on top made the experience of drinking it enjoyable as well.

I'd order again in a heartbeat, but so many other cocktails sounded good too, I'd like to try them as well ...
Kona Kampachi Crudo: compressed cucumber, jalapeno, shiso, lemon.  $13.
When my friends ordered this, I couldn't help but thinking, "who gets crudo at a bar?" (But, then again, what bar serves crudo in the first place?)  But as soon as I saw this, I realized that this was really, truly not ordinary bar food.  Beautiful plating and edible flowers?  This is about as fancy-pants of bar food as I've ever had.

It was as good as it looked.  The kampachi was really high quality fish, on par with that I'd get at any sushi restaurant.  The jalapeno was sliced super thin, so a bite that included it wasn't overwhelmed by the spice, but rather it enhanced it oh-so subtly.  The cucumber, radish, and flowers added to the light and bright feeling of this dish.

I'd definitely get again, you know, when I go to a bar wanting crudo ... and at $13, this felt like really a great deal.
Crispy softshell crab: Ajo blanco, pickled green strawberry, radish, charred avocado, mitsuba.  $15.
Softshell crab season just began, so everywhere is featuring it these days!

This was the least successful dish of the evening.  The charred avocado was visually very off putting, as it looked somewhat like it was just avocado that had been cut up too far in advance and left to oxidize.  The fried crab was kinda meh.

I found the pickled green strawberries fairly addicting, with a strange tartness, sweetness, and sourness all at once.  The sauce was an ajo blanco, which seemed like a strange pairing with the crab, but was tasty enough on its own.  It needed more vinegar or maltiness to really compliment the crab, and was a little too thick.

I'd skip this in the future, but it was a creative dish, and I give them credit for that.
Caramelized Brioche: strawberries, ice cream, foam.  $8.
OMG.  That is really all I have to say here :)

I was full and had already eaten at least 6 desserts that day, including one just an hour before that was an amazing caramelized bourbon bread pudding infused with Bailey's and topped with whipped cream.  I really didn't need more dessert.  And if top restaurants can rarely make desserts that impress me, how on earth would this place?  But, one of my dining companions told me that I needed to order this, and it doesn't take THAT much convincing to get me to order dessert ...

It didn't even sound that good - "caramelized brioche"?  Meh, that sounded just like another bread pudding, right?  Wrong!  This was the lovechild of a bread pudding and a crème brûlée!  And you know how obsessed I've been with crème brûlée!  It was awesometastic.

The brioche was insanely moist, served warm.  It leaned far more on the custard side than bready side, just bready enough to really hold its form.  And the top was caramelized like a crème brûlée, giving it an intense flavor and slight bitterness from the burnt sugar, rather than the typical sweetness you get from just a caramel.  I'd have preferred that the brûlée layer be thicker, and more like a shell, rather than slightly soggy as it was, but this thing really was just incredible.

Also on the plate were some chunks of fresh strawberry and a sweet strawberry puree, adding a seasonal aspect to the dish.  They were fine, but not memorable.  I didn't catch the details on what the foam or ice cream were, but they were both fairly sweet.  I didn't really like the foam with the brioche, as it was kinda just too sweet and the textures didn't play together all that well.  It did go nicely with the strawberries however.  The ice cream had poppy seeds in it, and was a great cold compliment to the warm brioche.

This really was a fantastic dish.  It combined so many aspects of things I love - custard! Sweet and bitter! Warm dessert paired with cold ice cream!  One of the best desserts I've had all year.  I WILL order this again :)  Also, $8?  Most desserts I've had lately have been $12, and nowhere near this good!
Cheesecake in a jar: meyer lemon curd,  huckleberry jam,  candied coconut.  $8
I had just a bite of this, as I was far too busy with my amazing dessert to notice it much.  It was pretty good - decent creamy cheesecake layer, tart lemon curd layer, sweet huckleberry jam, and really crunchy shards of coconut on top.  The flavors all paired together really nicely, and the crunchy coconut was a really fun contrast to the other creamy layers.  While the jar was a cute presentation, it was a little hard to eat this way to get all of the layers at once.  The first bite I took was just coconut, jam, and lemon curd, making me think that it was a really poorly done cheesecake, as I didn't taste any cheesecake at all :)
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Monday, April 30, 2012

More pasta @ Cotogna

A month ago, we went to Cotogna for the first time, after having an absolutely phenomenal meal at their formal sister restaurant, Quince.  I enjoyed it so much that I immediately came home and made another reservation, as they book a month out in advance.

Tonight's dinner wasn't as memorable as the first time we went, with no no dish being quite as good as our previous visit.  We decided to only get pasta dishes this time around, as we had pizza last night, the appetizers and sides weren't really jumping out at us, and the pastas were far and away the highlights from the first time.  Since we were going to share a bunch of pasta dishes, they let us course it out rather than get a slew of dishes all at once.

Service was just as good as last time - friendly, casual, yet very knowledgeable.  We did have to wait a while for our table, even with a reservation, but I don't really fault the restaurant for this, as the the people at our table had finished and paid, they were just taking their time getting up.  There was a mistake and we were brought the wrong dish, which they quickly fixed once we inquired about it, and gave us the extra dish complimentary.

The entire restaurant had the same friendly, casual vibe, with us even chatting for a while with the neighboring table.  I was again struck by the nice feeling of just being there.

I wasn't all that impressed by anything this evening, but I can still say that Cotogna really knows how to cook pasta.  The pasta was all amazingly fresh and just perfectly executed.  The area where they fell down tonight was the sauces.  They were particularly heavy, all butter and oil based, and the flavors didn't seem that developed.  Dishes had a rather one note feel.  And they were all topped with unnecessary cheese.  But man, they know how to cook pasta!

I'm sure I'll go back, particularly when I have a pasta craving, but I'm not rushing to make the next available reservation this time around.
Focaccia, dipped in oil.
Like last time, we requested the complimentary bread, a focaccia.  The bottom layer is coated in olive oil, the top has some herbs on it.  It was basically the same as last time, perhaps slightly less oily.  Not bad, but not particularly good either.  The olive oil was very flavorful, but it was a little too saturated for my liking.  And like last time, I would have preferred this to be served warm.

I think I'd skip this next time, there is just no reason to fill up on this when the pasta is coming ... (and unlike last time, we didn't have the amazing cheese fondue to soak up with the bread!).
Red wine, $10.
All wines by the glass are $10 (bottles are $40).  I asked for a recommendation, and the waitress, after talking me through some preferences, suggested the Bardolino, Le Fraghe, 2010.  She brought it over and poured me a sip, and I really didn't like it, which she could tell.  She asked what I didn't like, and I explained (the tannins, the bite), and she came back with another offering.  I didn't catch the name :(  This was much ligher, slightly sweet, and I enjoyed it.  Not a very complex wine, but very drinkable.  And you just need a glass of red wine with your pasta!

I was really impressed with her knowledge of the wines, and with her quick willingness to bring me something else when I didn't like the first wine.  Also worth noting, in addition to their decent sized wine menu, the entire Quince wine menu is also available, if you are feeling the desire to go higher end.
Asparagus tortelli.  $17. 
This was an asparagus and ricotta filled pasta, with slices of asparagus, in a heavy buttery sauce, finished with cheese.

The pasta was perfectly cooked al dente.  It had a really great chew to it.

The filling was a mix of ricotta and asparagus, plentiful, but not particularly memorable nor flavorful.

The asparagus shavings were tender and fresh tasting, but again, not as flavorful as I'd have liked, particularly as it is aspragus season and I really expected to taste the asparagus more.

The sauce felt very heavy, too buttery, and just too much for this dish.  I'd have preferred something ligher, and perhaps with lemon.

This was my second to last pick of the night, but the first pick for one other diner, and the second favorite for the other, so I was clearly in the minority.  I wouldn't get this again.
Tagliatelle verdi with duck Bolognese. $17.
This dish was mistakenly brought to us.

Again, the pasta was perfectly cooked al dente.  I'm not sure what made it green, as I didn't taste any particular flavor in it.

The sauce was an duck bolognese, and it was again topped with cheese.  I didn't expect to like this much, as I don't really care for duck.  But, it didn't taste anything like duck, it tasted more like pork sausage crumbles.  The crumbles were moist, slightly spicy, and I quite liked them, except that it was odd to not be able to identify what meat they were.  We actually thought that they might have told us the wrong thing when they told us this was the duck dish, and thought it might be the goat instead, but that one didn't come with green pasta.  I appreciated this dish for the well cooked pasta and the meaty sauce, but the sauce was really lacking something.  It was just oil and the duck crumbles, it seemed like it needed something more to bring the whole dish together.

This was my third favorite of the evening, but the last pick for one other diner, and the first pick for the other.  We were very divided on this one!  I wouldn't order it again, but I did enjoy it.
Tagliolini with Oregon bay shrimp, spring onion & horseradish.  $17.
This is the dish we actually ordered.

Again, perfectly cooked al dente pasta.  If I had to pick a best execution on the pasta, I'd say this one was the best, but they were all very well cooked.

The sauce was a light tomato and horseradish sauce, that reminded me of a bloody mary.  The horseradish flavor was definitely there, but I would have enjoyed this even more had it been more pronounced.  It was the most complex and developed of the sauces we had.

The bay shrimp were fine, cooked well enough, but were so small they weren't particularly memorable.  They did go quite well with the tomato and horseradish, sort of like a shrimp cocktail.

I appreciated that this sauce didn't feel quite as heavy as the others, not as loaded with butter or oil, and it wasn't topped with cheese.  A much more refreshing dish (insofar as a pasta dish is ever going to be light and refreshing ...).

This was my second favorite of the evening, and I'd probably order it again, although I'd pair it with a white wine.  It was the third favorite, and forth favorite, of my dining companions.
“agnolotti dal plin”  $17.
Another perfectly cooked pasta dish, in an oil sauce, topped with cheese.  Noticing a theme here?  This reminded me a lot of the duck dish.

The pasta was very, very al dente.  Perhaps slightly under, but with a great chew on it.

The filling was a ground mix of veal, pork belly, and chicken.  It had a rather gritty consistency, and seemed a little inconsistent.  We all kept having really mixed feelings on this dish.  We'd have one piece that had a nice flavor, and then one that didn't.  I think we were liking the veal and chicken and not the pork belly.

The sauce again just felt heavy, oily, and not developed in any way.  And, there was more grated cheese on top, that again just made it heavy and didn't seem to quite enhance it.

This was my last favorite of the evening, and I wouldn't order it again.  It sounds like they mix up the filling regularly however, and I'd try it again with a different filling.  It was also the least favorite for one other diner, and the second to last for the other.
Gnocchi with “four lilies,” vin santo & snap peas .  $17.
Oh yum!

Soft, fluffy little gnocchi pillows, in a cream sauce, with tons of assorted softened, caramelized onions.

The gnocchi were light little puffs of potato.  My dining companions felt that they were over cooked, and I agree that they were definitely on the mushy side, but it just reminded me more of mashed potatoes this way, which I liked.  They had clearly just been boiled and not pan finished, so there was no crust whatsoever on them.

The "four lilies" were a combination of a bunch of different onions, including spring onions and leeks.  There were tons of them, and they were all very cooked down, soft, and really flavorful.  I loved the flavor they added, and thought they went so well with the potato.

The menu said there were snap peas, but I sure didn't see any, which is too bad, as snap peas are in season right now, and oh so delicious!

The sauce was a creamy, cheesy sauce.  It was delicious.

This was ridiculous comfort food - mashed potatoes, creamy, buttery, cheesy sauce, and super flavorful onions.  So good.  No the most sophisticated or refined dish, but it totally satisfied me.  My first choice of the evening, and I"d order it again.  Second and third pick for my fellow diners.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Pizza @ Tony's Pizza Napoletana

Tonight, we finally made it to Tony's Pizza Napoletana, to try out the famous pizza.  "Everyone" says it is supposed to be the best pizza in the city.  They make 10 (yes, 10!) totally different styles of pizza, ranging from thin crust to New York to deep dish, using all different flours, sauces (sweet, chunky, etc), cheeses AND different ovens (coal, gas, electric, wood) for each type.  The owner has won all sorts of competitions, both abroad (including a win in Italy for his margherita pizza, of which they make only 73 per day and always sell out early in the day) and domestically (on Food network, he won for a pizza with asiago, mozzarella, imported italian gorgonzola, croatian sweet fig preserve, prosciutto di parma, parmesan, balsamic, no tomato sauce.  Apparently a great mix of sweet and savory and salty).

They don't take reservations, and the waits are known to be epic.  And since we knew they only make 73 of the famous pizzas per day, we tried to go early and hopefully get one of the pizzas and avoid the waits.  We arrived a little before 6pm, but still had an hour long wait (which is apparently fairly short), and they were out of the pizza.  Fail!  But, it was a beautiful day, and we spent our time waiting sitting in the park, enjoying the last of the sunlight.

The restaurant seemed like a pretty classic pizza joint, booths and all.  Smaller than I expected, with only 5 booths, a table, and 16 seats at the bar.  There was also additional outdoor seating on the sidewalk, and I think possibly more space next door?  I couldn't quite tell if it was part of the restaurant.

Service was fine.  The hostess takes you name and phone number, and will call you when your table is finally available.  Plates were changed out between appetizers and pizza.  When we were leaving, the hostess called out a thank you, including my name.  I was shocked that she'd remembered it, and it was a nice touch.

The menu is huge, literally.  They have a slew of pizzas in each style, along with a bunch of appetizers, salads, pastas, sides, burgers, even a kids menu.  But we were mostly there for the pizza!

The pizzas we got weren't that great (full reviews below), but I'd be interested in coming back to try some of the other styles, particularly the Italian and the New York.  Have you been to Tony's, and if so, do you have a recommended style?  We also didn't get to really experience the famous margarita, so I'd like to do that.  And I am really interested in the Cal-Italia pizza (the one with all the cheeses, fig, proscuitto, and balsamic that has also won awards).
Dipping oils: picante pepper, plain, pesto.
Complimentary bread and oil showed up almost immediately.  The oils used a good quality, flavorful olive oil as a base.  The picante pepper was fairly sweet, flavorful, and was pretty good. The pesto was garlicky and really good.  I enjoyed dipping my pizza crust into these as well.
Bread to go with oil.
The oils came with a tomato can full of bread, a cute touch.  The bread was not very good, fairly generic, and somewhat stale tasting.  I'm glad it was so bad, because I would have been way to tempted to stuff myself full of the bread and oil while waiting for the pizza.
MEATBALL GIGANTE: blend of veal, pork and beef.  Topped with burrata.  $13.
Tony's is known for their exclusive items, like the famous pizza.  And the giant meatballs, of which they make only 25 per day.  Luckily for us, they had some still available.

The giant meatballs are available with a variety of toppings: marinera sauce, marinera and burrata, wild mushroom, pancetta, and robiola, or farm egg and calabrese.  I'd read great reviews of the meatball, and in particular of the mushroom and cheese sauce version, but the mushroom and cheese sauce version included truffle, and we had a diner who doesn't like truffle.  We settled on the burrata version.

The meatball was made of a blend of veal, pork, and beef.  The meat was fairly flavorful and well seasoned.  It was surprisingly moist, and cooked very consistently throughout.  I actually would have preferred some variation in the cooking, perhaps seared on the outside to have a nice crust on it, or more rare on the inside, or something, as it got a little boring like this.  We all agreed it was decently done, but that it reminded us of meatloaf, just not as good as meatloaf since it was lacking the fillers that can add flavor and dimension.  By being this size and cooked in this way, it just seemed like you missed out on what can make a tasty burger or meatball, but didn't get any benefit from it.

There was tons of marinera sauce, which we weren't expecting, as it was listed as just "burrata with sea salt" on the menu, and marinera was a separate choice.  One diner doesn't care for marinera sauce, so she was disappointed by this.  The sauce was really tangy and slightly sweet.  Nothing memorable, but good, and it went well with the meat.

The burrata was my favorite part of the dish.  So soft and creamy.  Delicious.  It was almost melting into the meat and sauce.  They have some pizzas with burrata on them, I'd love to try those next time.

The meatball was indeed gigante.  It was kinda too much for only three of us to share.  It was good, but we were all ready to be done with it by the end.  I'm not entirely sure how big it was, but I've heard it was a full pound, which does seem about right.  That would mean that we started our meal with 1/3 pound of meat each, which is bigger than your average burger.  I recommend this, and would get it again, but I'd want to share it with more people.  I also really, really want to try the mushroom and cream sauce version, as that sounds fantastic!  $13, for that much meat, seemed like a good deal.
MARGHERITA: san marzano tomatoes D.O.P., sea salt, mozzarella fior di latte,  fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil. $16.
So, we couldn't get the famous margherita, that is made with a special flour and dough, but, we could get a similar pizza, with regular dough.  900 Degree Wood Fired.

The crust was ok, pretty standard tasting, with a nice chewiness to it.  I would have preferred it to  crisper, and more charred, which I think means I just prefer a slightly different style, as this seemed to be how it was designed to come out.

The sauce was very similar to the sauce with the meatball, tangy, slightly sweet.

The mozzarella was pretty standard fio di latte, a little bit rubbery.

The basil added some good flavor.

Overall, this was just a really standard margherita pizza.  Not a single dimension stood out.  I'm interested to try the really special version, just because its supposed to be so great, but I wouldn't order this one again.
HONEY PIE: North Beach honey, calabrese peppers, scallions, mozzarella,  piave cheese, fried caramelized onions, serrano peppers. $19.
This came from the California style section of the menu, meaning it was cooked in the wood oven, like the margherita.  We were kinda overwhelmed by the menu, and most of the pizzas I'd read about were not vegetarian, and we had a vegetarian with us, so we made a somewhat rush decision on this one.  In retrospect, I wish we'd picked one of the different styles, as this was really similar to the margherita.

This pizza was strange.  None of us liked it, but for totally different reasons.

The crust was exactly the same as the margherita, made using caputo flour, since we weren't able to get one of the special margheritas with the fancy crust.  Just the like margherita, I thought it had a decent chew to it, but I would have preferred a thinner, crispier crust, with some more char on it.

There was no sauce.

The peppers gave it a really nice spicy kick, I really enjoyed them.  There weren't nearly enough on the pizza!

The honey was from bees on their rooftop.  It paired surprisingly well with the peppers.  I liked the sweetness, but found very little of it in my slice.  One of the other diners really didn't like this pizza because he said it was far too sweet, and all he got was honey.  I think it must have been really inconsistently drizzled on, as neither slice I had had much at all.

The base layer of the pizza was melted mozzarella cheese, that I really didn't like.  There was tons of it, and it just totally dominated the other flavors.  I also just really didn't like the flavor of it at all.  This cheese didn't bother anyone else.

The shards of piave cheese were tasty and paired well with the onions, a nice touch, but each slice had only one on it.

The onions were really disappointing.  I read "fried caramelized onions" and just pictured something else.  These were tiny, tiny little chunks of onion, coated in batter, and fried.  I actually think many of the pieces were just fried batter.  It took us a long time to figure out that this was onions, we had to go remember the menu in order to determine this.  It really was just mostly little tiny oily chunks of fry.  Larger chunks of onion, more like onion straws, would have been much better, but really, I think I just wanted caramelized onions.  Either way, I would have wanted to taste the onions, rather than just oil.

So altogether, this pizza just didn't really work.  I didn't love the crust, and in most bites, all I tasted was the mozzarella and oily fried bits.  Would not order again.
Tiramisu.  $8.
I hadn't really read anything about desserts at Tony's, and wasn't intending on ordering any, but one person wanted the tiramisu, so we got it.  It was a pretty poor execution.  Generic ladyfingers, with a small portion of them soaked in espresso, moist enough.  Not much espresso or boozy flavor came through.  The cream was sweet, dominating, and just not good at all. I can't pinpoint what it was, but there was just nothing good about it.  Topped with mediocre shredded milk chocolate.

I'd certainly never get this again.

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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