Sushi for Halloween

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

A short distance from our flat, near the MUNI train stop on Cole Street, is a tiny lighted room with a CLOSED sign in the window that is flanked by giant, empty bottles of sake.  It is next to a large and busy creperie and there is no name; the door leading into this space does not directly face the sidewalk but is rather tucked back around a corner.  It is a sushi restaurant, but it took us several months to figure this out.   We only noticed it because it sits directly across the street from our table in the picture window at the wine bar, and our gaze often fell on this puzzling little operation.

With help from the interweb, we found the name of this boîte: Hama-Ko, and its business hours of 5-9pm.   (No wonder the CLOSED side of the sign is more sun-faded than the OPEN side.)   The customer reviews on Yelp described such an eclectic, fantastic, rule-laden treasure of a sushi joint, that we promised ourselves a visit.   With little expectation of trick-or-treaters last night, we decided it was time.    We arrived slightly before 6pm and were turned away:  they weren’t ready for customers yet.

A half hour later, we returned and were this time warmly welcomed by the wife of the husband-and-wife team that run Hama-ko, sat down at one of 6 tables and ordered a “large sake”.  These are the rules:   be polite, order all your sushi at one time (no fooling around ordering one or two pieces at a time), eat what is recommended, accept unavailability, don’t be loud, turn off your cell phone, don’t add wasabi to your soy sauce, and appreciate your food.  Breaking the rules, we understand, risks a venomous stink eye.  A man at the table next to us walked up to the sushi bar at which the husband-chef worked and asked if he could make a California roll with salmon and lemon on top, something called a “49er roll”.  The chef immediately shook his head no, no he wouldn’t make that, and if “you want a 49er roll, go down the street [to the other sushi place on Cole]”.  The man backed off, saying he wouldn’t go because the sushi here was better.   A grunt and nod from behind the bar. We stuck rigidly to the menu.

And so, unagi, sea scallop, tuna sashimi, monkfish liver, Tokyo roll (prawn & avocado), tako and sake-steamed lobster.  Has it been too long since we’ve had sushi?   Each bite was a pleasure, so fresh, so light.  The unagi – something we both really like – was particularly enjoyable, the warm sauce gently drizzled over warm eel.  We could have been in someone’s home, a little trip to Japan.   There’s no question that we’ll go back.

Upon returning from this near ritual of a supper, I unexpectedly got sucked in to Diners, Drive Ins and Dives on the Food Network, hosted by some jack-ass with bad hair and an wrap-around sunglasses clinging to the back of his head.  Thus I was dragged from delicate sushi to monstrously huge fried things with cheese.   However, at last there was one positive outcome of having watched part of the program:  an inspiration for this morning’s cool weather breakfast of bacon and tomato hash.     A little worcestershire, a good dose of salt, this eye-opener should effectively offset any good that a meal of pure fish and rice could have done.