Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dish on Dining: Otoro Sushi

Latest Hip Addition to Hayes Valley
205 Oak St. (near Gough), San Francisco
Hayes Valley neighborhood
PH: 415.553.3986
Open daily for lunch and dinner (except closed for lunch Sundays)
Major credit cards, reservations accepted

Whenever I visit my old neighborhood in San Francisco, I’m always amazed at all the new places opening up. Funny how they all opened up after I moved!

Oh well, it makes the return trips down memory lane even more fun. Recently I checked out Hayes Valley for a pre-ballet dinner with my friend Peter. We stopped by Otoro Sushi, which had been open for just two weeks and is housed in what used to be a longtime Cuban restaurant.

The restaurant is tiny but had that spanking new look with freshly painted walls, new furnishings and contemporary ambient lighting. The wait staff stood patiently for customers and greeted us warmly as we arrived. There were already a couple of people at the sushi bar (with elevated stools) but we had our pick of tables along the window.

Otoro Sushi is a combination sushi bar and izakaya, which is the trend of small grilled dishes often eaten in Japan as a kind of happy hour. I liked the idea of having a variety of choices to choose from.

After ordering some Japanese beer, Peter and I delved into the menu and ordered a variety of things. I don’t know if it’s because Otoro had just opened and the kitchen is still feeling its way around, but I thought the order of when the food arrived at our table was a bit illogical. (Thank you, Mr. Spock.) To illustrate what I mean, I’m going to give you a run down of what we ate in the order that they arrived at our table.

First up was our sushi platter of sushi we ordered. This included nigiri orders of ebi (cooked shrimp, $3.50) and hotate (raw scallops, $4.50) and one special roll order of the Otoro, which is made of spicy tuna, avocado and mango ($12.95). Both the ebi and hotate were nicely presented and tasted fresh. The rice was nicely packed but not overly seasoned with rice vinegar.

The Otoro special roll was beautiful but the mango, to me, looked oddly fake because of its bright orange coloring and its bendable nature. But it tasted great, with the sweetness of the mango providing a nice contrast to the spicy tuna. Although it looked odd and I’m generally not a proponent of weird California-inspired rolls, this was very satisfying and different.

Then arrived a bowl of the Goma Ae ($3.75), our attempts to get some greens into our diet. Goma ae is a traditional Japanese spinach dish made with sesame paste. Otoro’s version was fresh and vibrant, and even though the paste was thick, it blended nicely with the spinach. The bowl was also very big for what is usually ordered as a side dish.

Next came an order of the chicken yakitori ($4.25), two skewers of plump succulent chicken with the tasty teriyaki sauce. The chicken pieces were grilled with scallions, which were cooked tender from the heat and provided a mild onion flavoring to the chicken.

Then we got our Baked Green Mussels ($5.95), which ironically was listed on the board near the sushi bar as a special appetizer. So it seemed odd arriving near the end of our meal. The baked mussels were topped with some breading and baked and overall it was filling and tasty. I enjoyed it although honestly I can’t really remember what other flavors were in the topping, other than the fact that the mussels tasted fresh and plump.

Finally, we had the Tara ($8.95), a miso-glazed black cod dish. The cod had a slight fishy taste to it, and not necessarily in a good way. The miso glaze tried to cover it up, but it was still apparent to me. This was my least favorite dish.

I do, however, have a lasting impression of Otoro as a fun, fresh addition to Hayes Valley. The space is small and I don’t know if the table arrangements really take advantage of the space, which has a loungey feel with the music playing, but it’s definitely worth checking out for yourself. Otoro is a bit away from all the shops and restaurants a couple of blocks north on Hayes Street, but it’s still adding to the emerging neighborhood hip factor.

Single guy rating: 3.75 stars (Fresh Japanese Bites)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Otoro Sushi on Urbanspoon


Kim said...

More importantly, which ballet did you see?

Single Guy Ben said...

Kim, I saw the last program of the season, I think Program 6? It was all beautiful and an enjoyable night. Lots of new dancer I never saw before, but I do miss some of my old favorites.

Faine said...

Looks like pretty good stuff - and I really like mango rolls if they're executed properly. What's the best sushi you've found in SF, out of curiosity? Always on the lookout for good raw fish... :)

Jealous about the ballet!

Single Guy Ben said...

I don't think I've eaten at enough sushi places to say where's the best, but I do like Sebu, which is also in Hayes Valley. And sometimes people think it's too over recommended, but I think Ebisu is pretty reliable.

Cookie said...

I agree about the mango. Before I read the description of the roll, I was like "What the heck is THAT yellow stuff?" I'm glad it tasted good though. Yum, those baked mussels look SO good!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post, was wondering about the new restaurant.

I noticed an error in your comment, it's Sebo, not Sebu.

Single Guy Ben said...

Thanks, I always keep getting the name of Sebo confused with Sebu. I'll probably call Otoro ... Otora! Ha!

Anonymous said...

Very ripe mango looks rather bright yellow/orange. And has a "bendable nature".