Monday, March 06, 2006

Bargain Sushi at Okina Sushi

776 Arguello Boulevard
San Francisco, CA 94118
Dinner Thursday through Saturday
Cash only

Tried: March 2006

This tiny sushi restaurant is tucked away in a mostly residential area -- so hidden that our cab driver was convinced that we had the wrong address until we finally found the unobtrusive wood-framed door to the restaurant, barely visible behind Japanese cloth curtains. The modestly decorated restaurant has five seats at the varnished wood sushi bar and about six to eight additional seats at the plain wood tables set up in the small dining space.

The sushi bar is very traditional in that the sushi is served directly onto the slanted wood counter in front of the diners. The sushi rice was also packed loose, such that the sushi pieces were more conducive to eat with fingers than with chopsticks (although there were no hot moist towels provided for eating sushi in this manner). In addition to the standard wasabi and pickled ginger, the sushi chef plunked down a pile of shredded raw white daikon and chopped pickled yellow daikon as accompaniments, as well as some chopped tuna and diced scallions. Although a bit messy, these abundant garnishes were interesting side dishes.

The chef at Okina Sushi is among the fastest sushi makers I have ever seen. The Omakase (chef's selection) sushi came out faster than we could eat them. On this evening, it consisted of toro (fatty tuna), maguro (regular tuna), saba (mackerel), sake (salmon), ebi (shrimp), hirame (halibut), hamachi (yellowtail), kampachi, Alaskan king crab, unagi (eel), ika (squid), and scallop. The crab and scallop sushi were garnished with scoops of bright orange tobiko (flying fish roe) and diced scallions. The addition of shiso leaves to the hirame, ika, and kampachi sushi added a slightly minty taste, gently disguising the fact that the seafood was not at peak freshness. I was disappointed that the maguro and toro were both opaquely pink, without much distinction, and rather flavorless, and that the salmon tasted vaguely smoked. I would also have preferred if the unagi had not been pre-made and refrigerated, but they were still soft and fairly appetizing. The best of the lot was saba, which was quite meaty and flavorful, although a bit too cold (actually most of the sushi suffered from too cold refrigeration).

Even though I was quite full at the end of the extensive Omakase sushi selections, we also tried the ikura (salmon roe) and tamago (sweet egg omelette). The tamago was a little dry and not quite sweet enough. Although still pleasantly briny, about half of the ikura were losing their round shape, like deflating balloons, indicative of less than optimal freshness. The rest of the group ordered seconds of toro, unagi, and salmon. The total for four of us (three guys and a girl who eats like a guy) to stuff ourselves with as much sushi as we could consume, including multiple rounds of large beers (they only have Kirin and only one type of unspecified sake at $2.50 a glass), came to less than $150.

If you can overlook the intermittent quality of the sushi, Okina Sushi offers one of the most filling and least expensive sushi meals to be found anywhere, similar to Noshi Sushi in Los Angeles. For plentiful and fast sushi on a budget, Okina fits the bill. Sadly though, this tradeoff sacrifices too much for me to return.

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