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Taraval Okazu Ya

January 5, 2006

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Taraval Okazu Ya has the curious property that the interior of the restaurant is noticeably more bustling than the city street it is located on (the streetcar running directly in front of the restaurant notwithstanding). The people making sushi — who, for reasons which will be explained later, cannot really be dignified by being called sushi chefs, but who we will instead refer to as the People Behind The Counter (PBTC) — ring loudly-resonating bells an average of roughly 8 times a minute, to alert the servers to the fact that a platter of sushi that they have just made is ready to be delivered to a table. The servers — who, unlike the PBTC, are mobile, and hence cannot carry bells — make up for this lack by simply yelling at the PBTC and at each other to determine what needs to be done. The narrow corridor behind the sushi bar has traffic jams that effectively mimic those found on nearby 19th Avenue, and the northern corner of the sushi bar (where Short Exact happened to be sitting for this meal) was a hub of activity: servers’ paths crisscrossed densely, and sushi orders/old receipts piled high atop (and smothering) the cash register — though this structure was torn down every so often so that a bill could be calculated. Definitely do not come to Okazu Ya expecting peaceful repose: this is not a tranquil, idyllic garden in Kyoto; it has all the hustle and bustle of a street in Tokyo. (FYI: I’ve never been to either Kyoto or Tokyo.)

Please don’t think that because of my Kyoto/Tokyo analogies that this is an authentic Japanese restaurant: it is anything but. As you’ve probably figured out from other comments we’ve made, Short Exact very much favors classic, traditional Japanese food, especially with respect to sushi: fresh, subtle nigiri and sashimi, rather than Americanized rolls. You know the ones we’re talking about: these huge, overstuffed, Americanized monsters are bursting at the seam, often filled with cooked items such as tempura (and — God forbid — things like beef and chicken!), mayonnaise, mustard, nuts, lettuce, asparagus, and all sorts of other items that don’t belong in sushi. And they’re so large, it practically takes 15 bites just to eat one roll. These supermaki and megalomaki are all the rage these days, and one can find extensive lists of them at all the “trendy” and “hip” sushi bars — usually sporting locally-resonating names like “49er Roll” and “Castro Rainbow Roll.” We generally don’t hold with this sort of stuff, and unfortunately, Taraval Okazu Ya has made this brand of sushi their raison d’etre.

Even more unfortunately, they’ve done so at the expense of the freshness and presentation of the food. The nigiri fish is average: not unsafe at all (you won’t get food poisoning), but it’s not mind-blowingly fresh either: lukewarm, and almost stale-tasting. Moreover, the PBTC don’t display an extensive knowledge of architecural principles. Some rolls

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are hastily thrown together, and nigiri pieces

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are essentially slabs of fish jammed onto rice — with no attention paid to the crucial symbiosis that exists between the cut of fish and the rice lying underneath it. An excellent sushi chef understands this symbiosis and will craft each piece in a way that highlights the taste and texture of the fish and the rice, to the benefit of both. Okazu’s PBTC don’t work at this level, though; nor do they even seem to be interested in doing so. Instead, they’ve made it their mission to dish out large platters of Americanized rolls. It’s possible you may be a fan of these large, multi-ingredient rolls. If you are, you will probably enjoy Okazu Ya, and anyone can appreciate their price, since they are reasonably priced, and their portions are generously sized. And, in all fairness to Okazu Ya, most Japanese restaurants in the Bay Area do not achieve the level of perfection that we’ve described above, though it’s always a sensational pleasure to find one that actually does. Many places don’t even try to, preferring instead to provide a more Westernized fushion approach — and that’s fine: it certainly adds to our diversity of restaurant choices. In fact, if you are a fan of supermaki, we would probably even suggest that you try out Okazu, as they do have a good selection of these sorts of rolls, and the quality of fish they use is adequate for rolls, which have enough other ingredients that the exact texture and taste of the fish is hidden amongst other flavors. If you share our tastes, though, you probably won’t be so happy here, and in that case it’s better to just skip over this restaurant.

RATING:

COST:

1735 Taraval St. (between 27th Ave. and 28th Ave.)
San Francisco, CA 94116
Phone: 415.759.6850
Hours: Mon 12:00 noon – 10:00 pm, Wed-Sat 12:00 noon – 10:00 pm, Sun 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm. Closed Tuesday.

Cuisine: Japanese
Neighborhood: Parkside/West Portal

How to get there: Taraval Okazu Ya is accessible via Muni’s 66 and L lines.

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