Nuthin' but Nigiri at Ryoko | Apr 1, 200405:32 PM     2

Last night my girlfriend and I went to Ryoko for sushi, on taylor between sutter & post.

This is not your typical clean & bright sushi bar. It's downstairs, with dark blue walls & low lights. Everything about the place indicates that it was once a carpet bar (there's even a piano in the corner).

When we entered, there were a few people at the sushi bar, and a couple of 'reserved' signs in front of the other seats. Noticing that the restaurant was only 1/4 full, we asked about the reserved signs. The sushi chef, a 30-ish guy with long hair, asked if we would be eating sushi. Of course, we said, and he said have a seat. Later he told us that recently some people have been sitting at the sushi bar, ordering a california roll, drinking free tea, and leaving ... while the regulars are confined to tables. Fair enough, we thought.

We chose seats at the end of the bar that actually gave us a clear view of all the sushi chef's work. After chatting with him for a few minutes, we ordered several nigiri sushi, all from the specials board. We ordered it all simultaneously, but he served it to us two pieces at a time -- so nothing sat for more than 10 seconds after he made it. I thought this was a nice touch.

We ordered blue fin red tuna, pike mackerel, halibut, red snapper, spanish mackerel, unagi, and wild salmon. All of the fish tasted just great, fresh and light, and several times I remarked that it was the best i'd tasted. The nigiri helpings were about average; the tuna and mackerel were larger than usual (we didn't complain). Some details I remember:

The wasabi was less pasty than any i'd seen. when I asked why, the chef said that they grate it freshly every day.

For the halibut and red snapper, the chef brought out fresh fillets; we watched him carefully section off the pieces.

Instead of grilling the unagi, they made unagi tempura. The chef said he thought it was better that way. I've never had unagi tempura before, and this was a treat. None of the slight stringiness or boniness you get in sub-par unagi -- just tender and savory. Piping hot too -- I hate ordering "grilled" unagi and getting it room temperature.

Both mackerels had been cured in a combination of lemon juice & rice wine vinegar, and thus tasted a little like a cebiche. The chef made sure we did not dip them in soy sauce.

several of the nigiri had little touches that i appreciated -- a little grated ginger on the snapper, freshly squeezed lemon on the mackerel.

The sushi chef was very friendly, and though his english was not so good, he was a lot of fun to talk to. At the end of the night (after a couple of extra sakes) he treated us to tow BIG pieces of toro sashimi (it was on the specials board for $14!). I don't usually like toro very much (it seems goopy to me), this must have been a little less fatty, because it just melted in my mouth (the way everyone says it should!)

I would definitely go back to ryoko. The nigiri was a little expensive ($6-8 per pair), but expertly prepared and as fresh as any I've had in the city.


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