I went to Hama-Ko this past Tuesday when my sister from Chicago was in town. We agreed on having classical style sushi before her arrival and thus visited Hama-Ko following recommendation from Melanie Wong of chowhound fame.
We walked in around 7:00 and pleasantly found that there was certainly a fair amount of space available (only three tables were taken). Instinctually, we didnt ask for the sushi bar, and was glad that we did that (see below). We ordered Omakase style.
Heres my summary in a list:
1. The bill ($75, approx.) wasnt obscene, nor cheap. The quality of the offerings is indeed above average. On a scale of 0 to 10, I would give it a high 8. Heres what I remembered to be on the plate: Monkfish liver (ankimo), Uni, hamachi, maguro, smoked salmon, unagi, tobiko, and maybe one more? The rice was indeed expertly packed. It didnt fall off, and the sizing was approx. 40% of the size of the fish for the nigiris The temperature of the rice was not warm, and it does complement the temperature of the fish just right. A good contrast, I remember thinking about it. The vinegar-sugar flavor profile of the rice was very subtle. I didnt feel like the rice overpowered the fish at any time, but it did hold its own. To quote ballroom dancers, the rice was the frame and the fish was the picture.
2. The Ankimo was very sublime. Its finer than general foie gras, and the sea flavor also was present. The hamachi was surprisingly silky and fatty, almost toro-like. The maguro was firm, a bit fibrous, and the mouth-feel was persistent. A good finish.
3. The service was attentive. The wife/server was unflappable, I thought. The husband/chef was friendly but not overbearing, a bit different from the Sushi Nazi labels I heard frequently used to describe this place.
4. Its definitely not a good place to go when you are looking for food to fill up after a hard work-out. I suggest really taking the time to sip the tea, enjoy each piece, and just carry on a conversation long enough before you embark on the next piece. If you go by yourself (as a few people did), bring a book. There didnt seem to be a hurry in the service.
A few interesting observations that do not have anything to do with the food:
1. My sisters husband called right before we walked into the restaurant, and the chef instructed her, across the sushi bar, that no cell phone is allowed inside. That was refreshing, and definitely reminded me to turn my cell phone off. Nothing like public shaming, I guess.
2. The place is small, so the conversation noise level would really need to be toned down. To that end, I would not suggest going there with more than 2 or 3 people unless you are all mutued speakers.
3. One couple (on a date, Im sure) came in and stood at the doorway for a bit longer than usual. The wife/server was taking care of the diners sitting down, so that probably explains the wait. The guy asked for the sushi bar (seats only four), and was replied with a question of whether a reservation was made. Interestingly enough, I am pretty sure the restaurant doesnt take reservations, so I think the reservation comment might be a test of worthiness? In any case, they did end up at the bar, and I was glad for the guy because that would have been unfortunate in a date-setting. One lone native Japanese speaker also came in, but did not ask for the bar, and instead sat at the table closest to the bar, and spent half of his meal talking (on friendly terms, I presume) to the husband/chef across the bar. That just deepens the mystery for me, I guess, in terms of what the bar seats are for.
I would definitely go back.