Okaeri took over the space once inhabited by a succession of fine-but-not-great sushi/Chinese/boba tea restaurants and performed a major overhaul to create an upscale, modern, Japanese bistro.
The space is gorgeous and serene, with elegant, light woods and subtle, recessed lighting, a far cry from the days of the former Yoji Sushi and Tao Yin. Owner Cameron Chan brings omakase to the Mission, but Okaeri also offers individual orders of sushi, sashimi, and rolls, plus other specialty items.
Okaeri takes reservations, but on a busy Friday night, we snagged the one two-seater, walk-in table.
We started out with the chicken gyoza:
The gyoza were fantastic, especially for chicken. They were nicely flavored, with perfectly crispy “wings,” and tender inside. One of the better orders of gyoza we’ve had.
Next, chicken karaage:
Delicately crispy and juicy, with tempuraed shishito peppers and a spicy mayonnaise for dipping, this fried chicken was quite delicious. Maybe not quite as flavorful as the karaage we had at Taishoken, but a very close contender.
The normally fish-averse BF insisted on accompaning me here, and the one fish item he ordered was a spicy tekka maki:
Serviceable at best, to me; I tried one piece near the end of our meal, and even though it had sat there throughout that time, the tuna mixture was too cold. The rice was fine, with distinct, separate grains, but I’d not order this again.
My first bites were pristine sawara (Spanish mackerel) nigiri:
It had been so long since I’d had Spanish mackerel (a less oily version than aji). Here, the fish was lightly smoked, the flesh fresh, sweet, and light. Glad to have a source of this in the neighborhood.
Next, I had the hamachi sashimi “truffle” with grapefruit:
Beautifully presented, with delightful little crunchy “doilies” of daikon. The delicacy of the citrus paired wonderfully with rich, meaty hamachi, enhancing the breezy whiff of the sea. One of my favorite sushi bar orders anywhere, this was a stand-out. I had the BF taste almost all my dishes, and even he was impressed with this one.
I tried an izakaya (chef’s choice) of four pieces of nigiri:
From the left: Black snapper belly, ocean trout, red snapper, and cured albacore. My favorite was the belly, which had a lovely chewiness to it, and a light char. The cured albacore was also flavorful, though a little dry. The madai (red snapper) was fresh and mild, and the gorgeous ocean trout a fatty, silky bite.
For my grand finale, I had one of their signature dishes, The Toast.
A thing of beauty that, unfortunately, fell shy of the mark for me. Crispy toast made with Japanese milk bread, comes topped with tuna, uni, and tobiko. The tuna was a little too cold, obliterating the delicate sweetness of the uni. I found the whole thing a bit bland, actually; even the ikura did not add much zing. It wasn’t bad by any means, but at $24, it should have been fantastic.
The next time I visit Okaeri, I’ll bring someone who really loves seafood, to try more of their specialties: scallop with corn puree, unagi chazuke (broiled eel over rice with hot tea broth), chawanmushi, a plethora of nigiri/sashimi varieties I’ve neither had nor heard of (ebodai, ishidai, tobiuo, tachiou, to name just a few), and a selection of donburi. I’d do omakase here again, too, with choices ranging from three to 12 pieces of nigiri, some sets with hosomaki, too, and up to 10 pieces of sashimi. There’s also the $90 omakase, with 10 pieces of nigiri, hot and cold dishes, dessert, with a supplemental A5 wagyu uni handroll available. I could definitely do some damage here.
To drink, there are quite a few sakes to choose from, but the yuzu one I tried was a bit unpleasant; mostly bland. I was told they’d be adding wine to the menu at some point. And, of course, they offer Japanese beer, which would have been a good choice with any of our dishes.
I’d love to sit at the sushi bar and chat with the chefs, but our servers were very able and friendly. There’s also a tatami seating room in the back for small groups. Most everything was beautiful and fresh, and while sushi places abound, this is a grander addition to the neighborhood. Not unreasonably priced, go with someone adventurous and enjoy the bounty.
Okaeri Japanese Bistro
3515 20th St.
San Francisco, CA 94110