Oyaji: Where Hideki-san Knows Your Name
The other night I was taken to Oyaji, a sushi spot on Clement Street, so far out in the avenues you might as well get on a plane to Tokyo. I’ve heard a lot about it from my friends that frequent it. They talk about the sushi, sure, but what they really talk about is Hideki-san, the theatrical, ham-of-a-chef and owner who knows his fish and drinks like one too.
We walked in and Hideki-san greeted us warmly. I was with my friends Jas (who goes by Jas-san there) and Sona. Jas has been going to Hideki-san’s restaurants for 12 years now; he used to own Saji in the Marina, so the crowd was a mix of destination dining Marina-ites and Japanese. Oyaji supposedly means “dirty old man”—which I would say is pretty appropriate. As Jas tells it: “The craziest night at Oyaji was X-rated, really. Let’s just say he made some rare carvings with cucumbers that he served as rolls to us girls. This of course, was after lots and lots of sake! When he’s on a roll, he’ll buy you sake just to keep you there! I have to say I do laugh a lot when I'm there. It’s very therapeutic.”
I wasn’t expecting more than to be entertained (and Hideki-san is plenty entertaining), but his sushi was fantastic: The rice was slightly warm, and it was all served in small Tokyo-style portions. We had everything, from a buttery toro to ankimo, hamachi, abalone and Spanish mackerel (which then returned to us in the form of crispy fried bones that we ate like the best chips). The menu also has plenty of izakaya dishes, such as kushiyaki and fried things. Completely full, I could barely taste more than a bite of the Oyaji beef that came sizzling to our table as well as the very good ramen that Jas ordered on top of everything, skinny fiend that she is.
While we sat at the bar, more than one customer walked behind the bar to give Hideki-san a hug and toast him with more sake. His daughter served us. We toasted her with sake, and Jas sent sake back to the kitchen staff. I’m not denying that the sake might have fueled a lot of the evening (and left me slightly fuzzy on the details), but it was one of those nights where I was reminded that in some of our quests (ok, my quest) to always try out the newest, latest restaurants, we’re missing out on the pleasures of being a regular—it’s such a great way to make the city seem like a small town. Not to mention, food always tastes best when there’s a community around it.