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Okina report

Andrew Raskin | Jul 7, 200102:30 PM

In a freak coincidence, I was free for dinner last night and Okina (Arguello/Golden Gate) was open (they're open only on Thur, Fri, and Sat nights from 5 to 10pm).

Actually, the whole experience was a little freaky. I walked through the noren (door curtain) and through the door. The sushi chef greeted me and I sat at the counter. He had a tight crewcut, and looked younger than how I pictured him from talking on the phone. Once we started speaking in Japanese, he asked me several times if I could believe that he was 61 -- well, it wasn't *that* far out of the realm of possibility, but he did seem in good shape. He said he uses Avon skin care products to protect his skin, since Shiseido products are too expensive.

He asked me what fish I wanted and told me the amaebi, saba and shiro-maguro were especially good that night. He kept saying "very fresh" in a kind of sing-songy English. He placed the sushi directly onto the angled ledge above the wood counter -- no plates -- which I like, especially when the counter is as beatiful as the one at Okina. Each time he placed sushi there he would say, "thank you, okay. thank you, okay" in that sing-songy voice and it weirded me out. Later he told me that most Japanese people don't know how to speak English with the right accent and that's one reason they can't do business well in the US. So I'm guessing the sing-songy thing was his take on the American accent. I guess the "thank you" is a translation for "hai dozo" which a sushi chef might say in Japanese when serving you, but it seemed odd. He even said the thank you thing to Japanese customers, so maybe he's gotten used to saying it that way.

As for the sushi, it was good, but the shari (rice) was a little cold. Actually, the fish was a little too cold also. The chill masked some of the true freshness and taste. Still, the saba was excellent. Though I'm a huge oyster fan, I never went for oyster sushi before, but he was pushing it so I tried it. It was very nice and fresh. The menu is limited to good basic sushi -- no dragon rolls or any of that.

While I was eating, the chef asked me my ethnicity and guessed that I'm Greek or Italian (common mistakes). When I told him I was Jewish, he said, "you must be smart and rich." I've heard that kind of thing millions of times in Japan and have learned to get over it. Then he started teasing his waitress. "She has a huge crush on me," he said. I think this comment was partly the result of the freedom he felt in speaking Japanese, and partly his attempt to impress the attractive older Okinawan woman who sat down at the counter a few seats away from me. "Can you believe I'm 61?" he asked her.

I asked his name and he said I should just call him James Bond. Mr. Bond said he used to study Noh kyogen (Noh comedy -- "Okina" he said is a term from those plays) and likes to act. So far his film credits have been limited to extra parts. He wants to co-star in a film with the famous Japanese actor Takakura Ken, but he believes Takakura wouldn't work with him for fear of being shown up.

The tab for trying 6 different kinds of sushi at the counter, including oyster, negi-toro-maki, shiro-maguro, kuro-maguro (bluefin tuna), saba, and amaebi (plus a tamago present from the chef) came to 20 bucks including tax, which I thought was reasonable given that some of these often come at premium prices.

It's nice to know you don't have to be smart and rich to enjoy some decent sushi.

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