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Restaurants & Bars

Chika, Inner Sunset, San Francisco

Limster | Jan 5, 200212:05 AM

This sushi craving suddenly hit me, and Hama-Ko was closed for th holidays. I stopped at Chika, on Irving between 9th and 10th as a stop gap measure. It's the first time in more than a year that I've had sushi outside Hama-Ko.

This is a small cozy place run by a chef, his assistant and three waitresses. I felt fairly comfy if not ever so slightly cramped sitting at the bar.

The menu covers both raw fish and a variety of cooked dishes along the lines of teriyaki, oyako don etc... But what really intrigued me was a super extensive listing of appetizers. There's also a written listings of interesting specials (chicken hearts, chu-toro and the like) near the bar that faces the door.

I requested omakase.

"Do you have a price range?"

"Not more than $40, please." (It later comes to $38.)

The waitress goes behind the counter and starts talking to the chef. A few moments later, I hear him mention "ankimo" to his assistant. Soon, I'm happily chowing on two smooth and decadently rich oval slabs of monkfish liver in a bowl with a shallow pool of soy sauce, chopped scallions and an orange colored fruit puree of some sort - is that ponzu? - would have done better with slightly more of the last - its sweet acid would have been more able to cut the richness of the liver. Not as exquisite or flavorful as Hama-Ko's sushi version, but satisfying.

Then sashimi. Again, good stuff, progressing from a decent cut of salmon (miles behind Hama-Ko), slices of hamachi that were more on the lovely gelantinous side than of the buttery sort, and finally to ruby red maguro that melts in the mouth. A clever series of interesting textures. The fish is good, but I've been spoilt.

There's some cooking action going on in the back, and the chef takes the stove. Next thing I know, I get a generous plate of sauteed squid, with the bodies stacked neatly like fat logs and a pile of tentacles next to it. Dark green lettuce sits on the side to lend a crisp verdant bite. It's obvious on the palate that they sauteed the squid in butter. The burgundy coloured sauce was nice and gave the squid a bit of complexity (must have been some sort of wine in there) but the squid themselves took the crown. The tentacles are perfectly juicy and are crunchy in that snappy sort of way. The bodies are also delicious and the somewhat hollow insides are lined with the squid's custardy and mildly livery innards. This squid was excellent in every sense of the word.

Lastly, sushi. Nice and fairly mild aji, and a very very good shiro maguro that must have been loaded with fat. Also present, a satisfying spicy tuna roll, the tuna lightly moistened with mayo and with the heat level tweaked to closer the lower end of the spectrum, more a piquant bite than a blast.

On the whole, I liked Chika. Not an experience that rocks worlds or blow minds, but competent, well cooked and honest. The chef takes quite a bit of care as he makes his sushi. Each piece is precisely sized for one bite, and is aethestically pleasing in the way the piece of fish tapers into a point at the far tips, like a longish diamond, as they curve over the rice. On the whole, a fine and worthwhile eatery if you're in the neighborhood.

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