I arrived at Tekka (Balboa/7th) around 6pm. Caryl was walking around in the general vicinity, thrown off by the fact that there isn't really a sign, just a curtain in the window that says Tekka in Japanese. Other chowhounds arrived around 6:30 so we'd be first in line when they opened. Unfortunately, they never did.
Around 6:45, we saw a guy who Rochelle recognized as the Panhandle Pizza delivery man, John. John lives a few doors down from Tekka. "That Tekka guy pretty much makes his own hours," he said. "But I'm a man who likes my fish cooked, if you know what I mean." (Rochelle says Panhandle Pizza has a great cornmeal crust, though.)
Peering through the window, I could read the Japanese menu board -- all the stuff Tida was talking about-- buta no kakuni, and lots of nimono (simmered dishes). A young Japanese couple was also waiting. He works at Robata in Marin, she at Sushi Ko in Larkspur. His sushi chef goes to Tekka and recommended it.
By 7 we all agreed there was no way they were opening, since they'd probably need time to steam the rice, etc. (If anyone went later and they were open, we don't want to know about it.) So we drafted Plan B: Tekka-like dishes at Kabuto.
I was at Kabuto (Geary/15th) a few weeks ago and noticed a bunch of new cooked dishes. Our idea was, for one night, to forego the sushi at Kabuto and order almost exclusively from their cooked dishes to simulate the Tekka experience to some degree. So we hailed a cab and went over to Geary. The cabbie told us his monthly fare income is 50% lower than last year, thanks to the poor local economy, and that he expects more restaurants to close.
Inside Kabuto we took off our shoes and sat on the tatami floor in the Japanese-style room. Rochelle and I went for the sake. We had Karatamba, served slightly above room temperature in martini glasses, which could be considered tacky, but because it was Kabuto it was cool.
Foodwise, we started out with Tsubuni (short for Tsubu-gai no nimono), small snails simmered in a soy sauce/sake marinade. Then agedashi dofu, lightly fried tofu in a dashi broth with ground daikon and ginger. We also got Hamachi-kama, grilled cheeks of yellowtail, because Rochelle had heard about eating fish cheeks. She was wondering how you would get a lot of meat out of the cheek. Nancy explained that the cheek served at Japanese restaurants is really the "whole side of the fish's face, or whatever they have." I forget what beautiful words Rochelle used to describe the delicate, buttery cheek meat, but it was clearly the hit of the night. In the same order we got umekyu-maki (cucumber and plum paste roll) and I asked them to put some shiso leaf in it too. The tart taste of the plum paste balanced out some of the oily stuff. Oh yeah, we also got Nasu Dengaku, eggplant grilled with a miso sauce on top, which seemed to be a big hit with Caryl. She was permitted to go on this outing based on her prior online promise to "behave," and the eggplant almost made her go back on her word. Rochelle said "Really like it" in response to my question, "How much do you like grilled fish," so I ordered grilled smelts as well.
They were out of nitsuke, so we got kinpira gobo, which contains julliened pieces of simmered burdock root. This simple dish was also a big hit, and it gave me an opening to point out how burdock root really looks like a long skinny twig, and to tell my friend Zen's story about how in WWII Japanese would feed their POWs this vegetable, and how a Japanese official was later executed for war crimes around forcing Americans to eat wood. I don't know if it's really true. But yes, his name really is Zen.
Now, in Japanese there is an expression "Ryote ni hana" which literally means "In both hands, a flower." It's used when a guy has a beautiful woman on each arm. As you might have surmised by now, I was the only male chowhound in this group. Let's just say I was eating in the middle of a bouquet.
After a stomach capacity check, I ordered three more dishes: tuna poke (spicy raw tuna salad), niratama (Nira -- sort of like scallions -- and egg floating in a dashi-based broth), and tamago tofu -- tofu made with egg yolks. The poke was way too spicy for most of us, except Rochelle. I even asked the waitress, "Is it always this spicy?" to which she replied "Yes," and the look in her eye let me know that if there was a problem with the spiciness, it was my problem. Rochelle and I refilled our sake/martini glasses, given that someone else would be taking us home (in her case Nancy, in mine the drivers of the 38, 22 and 45 buses).
The egg tofu was delicate, the egg adding a slightly custardy taste/texture to the tofu. The niratama was nice and simple, but pretty salty -- we probably should have had that before the tofu.
The bill came to $25 per, more for those of us who had sake. As we parted ways, Rochelle handed each of us a bag of homemade cookies. Okay, some of us began nibbling on the cookies earlier in the evening in the doorway at Tekka. We were cold and we were hungry.
With my car in the shop, I shared part of the bus ride home with Caryl. While waiting for the bus, I remarked that the Rochelle's cookies were amazing. Was that lime in one of them? "Yes, I agree, it is," said Caryl, whose New York accent has not succumbed to 20 years in the Bay Area. "Lime in a cookie -- who ever thought to do that? That Rochelle is a very creative woman."
Caryl and I caught the 22 to the Marina. Before I got off, she asked me if I knew any good breakfast places in SF. I said I like Rex, but just like, don't love. She said she likes Doidge's, but remarked about how expensive it is. "12.99 for two eggs? Uh, hello? For that, can I have the whole carton? Never mind that, can I have the whole chicken?"
I guess even when the chef doesn't show up, chowhounds can make their own fun.