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Andrew Raskin | Aug 21, 200102:36 PM

I will not carry the guilt around any longer. It's been eating at me like a Chowhound on a Mangosteen: Last Saturday night, I ate at Tekka.

I called ahead to ask the owner/chef if he had room around 9:30. He said he probably would. When I got there he was sucking air through his teeth (not a good sign from Japanese people), but when I mentioned the phone call he asked people to scoot over. It was my fourth visit, and the first time he let me in. Capacity is ten people at best.

Still, he seemed to ignore me for a good 20 minutes. There was a Japanese student sitting at the end of the counter who was getting all the attention. The chef kept saying, "Eat up, you're a student!" and offering more bowls of rice.

Up on the shelf behind the counter, I saw a small doll with the face of an angry Japanese salaryman. I recognized it because I have the same one. You pull the string and it says "Get back to work!" in Japanese. It's a souvenier from the Ganko Sushi chain in Japan.

Bonding over the doll helped at least get his attention so I could order. There are only a few sushi things in English -- all the cooked stuff is written in Japanese. That didn't seem to stop non-Japanese-speakers from enjoying themselves, because the chef takes pleasure in educating people about his cooking, and he brings out whatever he thinks people will like. The guy next to me told me he spent almost a hundred thousand dollars on college and graduate school but prized the lessons from Tekka more dearly. The chef said he worked at a Japanese airline company before starting Tekka 15 years ago. His wife does most of the cooking, and he does the sushi. He said that when he opened Tekka, Japanese chefs in the area would come over to drink, and they would often go behind the counter and show him how to make stuff.

That guy next to me turned out to be an old friend from high school in Long Island and a Tekka mega-regular, so I think I can go back more easily now. Two or three groups came in after I did, and the chef said the kitchen was closed. Then my old friend showed up, and was invited to sit down. I don't think you need an intro to eat there (I didn't have one), but clearly return visits pay off.

Food notes:

Saba sushi -- like Hama-Ko, he marinates it himself. This stuff is awesome. I would dare say it was better than the saba at Hama-Ko, certainly more of a home-made flavor.

Hamachi no kama -- grilled yellowtail cheeks. Perfection. Buttery, salty, crispy.

Oden-fu nimono -- oden (boiled stew of vegetables, fish cake, etc.) but made in a nimono broth. Addition of tsukune (chicken meat balls) made this even more special. Regular oden is served only in the winter.

Agedashi dofu -- just ok.

Buta no kakuni -- they were already out when I got there. Next time. But the 5-night simmer rumor appears rooted in truth.

Motsu ni -- soup of cow intestine and vegetables. Not as gutsy and gross as some mostu-ni I've had, but I liked it.

Take no ko no dosani -- whole bamboo shoots simmered in a sake/soy broth with sansai (mountain vegetable mix). Yum.

Kabocha nimono -- simmered Japanese pumpkin. Nice and soft.

By the end of the evening, the chef was passing around photos of his recent visit back to Fukuoka, where he marched almost-nude in a traditional parade (a cloth wrapped around his waist and crotch showed off his butt cheeks, sort of like a sumo wrestler). I used to live in that city, so we bonded over that a little.

Still lots of things to try for next time. I guess the secret to Tekka is go a little later, and I would say bring at most one other person with you the first time. Also call to make sure he's open.

The other patrons were all saying they keep this place secret and asked me to also. Well, it's already been posted on Chowhound, so no use in that. Also, I hope everyone has the chance to enjoy this place. It really is a great example of Japanese izakaya/home cooking.

537 Balboa Street, San Francisco
(415) 221-8455

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