February 5, 2007

Okoze is a little gem of a Japanese restaurant, specializing in sushi, located in a mostly residential part of Russian Hill, a couple blocks off the Upper Polk corridor. It is just around the corner from a much more well-known sushi restaurant, the infamous Sushi Groove. Sushi Groove specializes in Americanized rolls with crazy sauces, but on our (admittedly, just one) visit there, we found the fish to be mediocre at best. Okoze, on the other hand, offers less of a scene and much fresher fish.To be sure, one can order elaborate fusion maki at Okoze as well. If you’ve read any of our sushi reviews, you’ll know that Short Exact is a purist when it comes to sushi, in that we prefer traditional nigiri over fusion maki, so we haven’t actually tried the maki at Okoze, but it looks to have some tasty combinations, and based on what we’ve observed while sitting at the sushi bar, the actual construction of the rolls seems very neat and solid. Since we’ve never tried them, though, we can’t actually vouch for how successful they are from the flavor standpoint.

The sumeshi (sushi rice) at Okoze is not our very favorite, but it is a decent complement to the fish. To our taste, the rice tends to be a bit heavy on the sugar side, but it did not interfere with or distract from our enjoyment of the fish. In addition to the standard sushi bar items, Okoze also carries a nice supply of more interesting fish, sourced from the Tsukiji market in Tokyo. We had a mebachi maguro (big eye tuna), and a nicely textured tairagai (pen shell):


We had some very nice tai — real Japanese tai, not the New Zealand snapper that is often used as a substitute. Although the slicing was uneven on one piece, with one section of the cut being a bit too thick, the fish had an excellently sweet flavor. We also ordered the uni (from Santa Barbara), which was very fresh and had a nice creamy texture, but it was oddly low on flavor; in particular, it lacked that wonderful sweet brininess that characterizes the very best uni. We also asked the sushi chef if he carried ikura no shoyu zuke, and it turned out that he did:


Many sushi bars will purchase a salty version of ikura (salmon roe) that is prepared in advance, but the best sushiyas will carry a house marinated version that is stronger and superior in flavor to the standard available assortment. The exact nature of the marination of course varies from sushiya to sushiya. Generally, Short Exact personally prefers marinades with a stronger flavor of soy, but we have been won over by some particularly convincing ones that are heavy in sake as well. The marinade we had at Okoze had a distinct sake flavor, but the flavor was a little too mild for our taste. In any case, just the fact that Okoze carries the marinuated ikura puts it into the list of better sushiyas in the city.

To close, we ordered ankimo (monkfish liver), prepared gunkan style. The ankimo was not especially unique, but it was solid and tasty, and a nice, rich way to close the meal.

All in all, we had a very nice meal at Okoze. The itamae (sushi chef) was very friendly and fun to chat with. In addition, he made himself available and delivered pieces of nigiri promptly. Some chefs will get sufficiently distracted by preparing sushi for tables that the diners at the sushi bar end up having an uneven dining experience from the service perspective, but our itamae timed everything well. In addition, the complaints that we made above (such as the one uneven slice of tai and the oddly bland uni) are not deep-set flaws of the restaurant at all, but rather just quirks of the fish supply, which will change from week to week, or even day to day. What is generally true is that Okoze provides to its diners a nice assortment of very fresh fish, service that is both prompt and friendly, and a generally relaxing and pleasing dining environment.

So next time you’re in Russian Hill and have a hankering for truly fresh raw delights of the sea, skip right over Sushi Groove and head towards a much groovier joint: Okoze.



1207 Union Street (between Hyde St. and Larkin St.)
San Francisco, CA 94109
Phone: 415.567.3397
Hours: Thurs, 6:00 pm – 10:30 pm; Fri-Sat, 6:00 pm – 11:00 pm; Sun, 6:00 pm – 10:30 pm.

Cuisine: Japanese
Neighborhood: Russian Hill

How to get there: Direct access to Okoze via the Powell-Hyde cable car line and Muni bus lines 41 and 45; lines 19, 47, 49, and 76 are within easy walking distance.

One comment

  1. Glad to hear that the sushi chef at Okoze was willing to talk to the customers. I agree that sometimes sushi chefs can get a little “too” preoccupied with making the sushi, and often forget that pleasant conversation is just as enjoyable as the elaborate presentation of the sushi itself. Sometimes, I am saddened by the chefs that try to avoid all eye contact and diligently slave over the sushi.

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