Friday, July 20, 2007

Dish to Go: Geta

My Go-To Place for Takeout Sushi
165 41st St., Oakland
Piedmont Avenue
PH: 510.653.4643
Hours: Mon.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5–9 p.m. Closed Sunday.
Credit cards: $10 minimum

Geta is one of those tiny gems that you really don’t want to tell people about because you don’t want the lines to get any longer for the times when you end up going for takeout. But I’m a giver. So here’s my review of this family-run, hole-in-the-wall in the Piedmont Avenue shopping district in Oakland.

My philosophy on Japanese food is it’s very hard to screw it up. Japanese dishes are relatively simple and typically tickles the palate with the right balance of shoyu. With sushi, of course, you’ve got to have the freshest fish and perfectly cooked rice to distinguish a good sushi bar from another. But when it comes to dinner to take home, I generally order the teriyaki chicken. And really, how hard is it to make grilled chicken with the shoyu-sugar marinade?

What makes Geta (I’m still not clear if their name is Geta, which sounds Japanese, or Get A, as in “Get a sushi to go”?) a gem is that it makes standard Japanese dishes for takeout taste just like you’re dining in a restaurant. Their ingredients are fresh and their servings are generous but not overly so. So that makes Geta a value meal for weeknight takeout when you don’t want to fuss with cooking after work.

I call Geta a hole-in-the-wall because its tiny quarters do feel like someone dug a hole in the building next to the Longs Drugs store and decided to put in a kitchen. When you walk into the space, with a tiny sushi bar and maybe four tables and one raised table in the back, you really do feel like you’re walking into an unmarked ramen stand in an alley in Tokyo.

Some people do eat in the tiny restaurant, but I’ve found that most people, like me, go to Geta to get a dish to go. This can be either their ready-made sushi from the refrigerated section to the right or ordering off the menu.

Like I said earlier, I generally go for the chicken teriyaki, especially since I often go to Geta after the gym and my body’s craving protein. One day I got their daily special, which was a bento-style box (bento is the Japanese word for lunch boxes where you get an assortment of items beautifully presented in a carryout box) that included chicken teriyaki over rice, 6 pieces of gyoza, soba noodles, a green salad and miso soup—all for $7.50.

When I got home, I dug into the chicken, which had a strong smoky grill flavor. The gyoza had a thin skin and were plumped with filling and pan-fried for a crispy edge. Everything else in the box was nicely made, including the leafy lettuce salad with a soy dressing and a hint of yuzu and the perfectly cooked rice. The only down side was the miso soup, which was a bit salty for my taste.

Another time, I ordered a sushi roll off the menu. Although they sold ready-made sushi in the refrigerated section, I always feel it’s fresher if they made it right then and there for me. I took home the Rock N’ Roll sushi, which is avocado and unagi (broiled eel). It didn’t taste like anything special, but it was decent and much better than the ready-made sushi you’d get at the grocery stores. And for $4.25, that’s way cheaper than my Safeway sushi.

I wanted to experiment with their donburi, which is a staple takeout item for me as well. Donburi are the rice bowls topped with a main ingredient along with egg and onion slices. I typically order the oyakodon, which is the chicken teriyaki over rice (I know, I’m such a creature of habit). But this last time I ordered the Katsudon ($5.75), which is breaded pork cutlet over rice.

My mistake in ordering this was forgetting that the crunchy skin of the deep-fried pork cutlet couldn’t possibly survive my trek home. If you ever order this to take home, remember to leave the cover slightly open to allow any of the steam from the fresh katsu to release so it doesn’t stay trap and give your dish too much moisture, thereby softening the crunchy edges of your pork. Which is what happened to me. When I got home, the katsu was soft and not very satisfying.

However, I do have to sing Geta’s praises about the egg in the dish. Most donburi are made with the egg almost scrambled with the onions. But at least this particular time, Geta gave me a katsudon where the egg looked like it was made over-easy. So by the time I got home, it was still partly cooked giving the overall dish a beautiful creamy texture (just like eating custard). Hat’s off for the Geta chefs for their expert cooking of the egg in their donburi.

Geta is nothing fancy, but just one of those places you rely on when you don’t want fancy but want something basic and hearty. The fact that it’s just 10 minutes from my home and doesn’t cost a lot makes it one of my prime takeout destinations. (And not just mines, either, based on the number of people waiting each time I’ve visited. Tip: Call ahead with your orders to avoid a wait.)

The service is always very friendly, although some times can seem frazzled when busy. But everyone waiting always seem to be very patient. Probably because they realize Geta is worth the wait.

Single Guy rating: 3 stars (satisfying value meals)

Explanation of the Single Guy Chef’s takeout rating system:
1 star = Might as well cook yourself
2 stars = Nice to know it’s an option
3 stars = Definitely will return again
4 stars = I have its number on speed-dial
5 stars = Can I live here?


Mrs. L said...

And I thought we were the only ones who grabbed take-out sushi from Safeway every now and then :). You need to move to the South Bay to find all the cool places to eat down here!

foodhoe said...

Please don't tell me you eat sushi from safeway... Geta is a japanese flip flop with a clunky wooden bottom, that looks like one of those wooden platforms that sushi is sometimes served on.

Chef Ben said...

Foodhoe, I haven't bought sushi from Safeway in years, and now I don't have to with Geta near me. But before Safeway sushi was my desperation quick bite for lunch sometimes. The San Francisco Safeway sushi isn't that bad. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I live across the street from GetA, and am about to run over to pick up a lobster roll ($5.50 for 8 pieces) - Yum! and a seaweed salad. I go there at least 3x/week and still make some new discoveries. Their short rib appetizer is very tasty, and if you eat there, the tofu agadashi is fantastic - but it doesn't translate to home.