Travels in a strange sushi

Pub date February 3, 2011
SectionPixel Vision

Tanuki Restaurant on California and Sixth Avenue was my first taste of the Richmond and my millionth of raw fish. On a quiet block in unfamiliar territory far from Mother Mission, I saw her “Open Sushi” neon sign and walked towards the light. But before I go on, I should admit that my heart belongs to another: We Be Sushi on 16th and Valencia. Theirs is simple, clean, casual, and delicious fish. But as every baby bird must one day leave its nest, so must I leave my small, insular universe to discover nourishment in new land.

The Richmond – what are you? I took the #33 past Golden Gate Park and – I know I am a ridiculous Mission idiot – entered the Twilight Zone. Where were all the people? Why are the streets so wide? Why is the sky so big? I guess there were some inhabitants, but they all seemed eerily calm, mustache-less. And there was so much space between them. There I was: a stranger in a strange land trying to get a spicy tuna roll.

The disconnect was heightened upon entering Tanuki, where my friend and I were faced with that awkward bad thing where you try to give the other tables space, but your server forces you to sit next to them anyway. I comforted myself with the thought that cultural immersion really is the best way of getting to know a place.


Counter attack. Photo by Alex Fine

And what a place! We were in a 1970s ski lodge. Well not literally, you’d have to ignore the long white counter and glassed-in fish with industrious chef behind — but with the low ceilings, suspicious wood paneling, and ESPN playing on the TV that hung over the small center dining room I caught a fresh-faced, schussing vibe. There were a few other tables near us: two hetero single lady couples complaining about men, one deliriously happy Midwestern-looking middle-aged duo, and a table of dudes desperately trying to make it known that they were a band. Everyone was white. But enough about the vibes, you crunchy Mission-ite. How was the food?

I am but a casual fisherperson. Virtually all I know about sushi is based on subtle inclination, hunch, and rumor that I can’t remember the origin of. I don’t think I’m alone there. But whether or not sushi is an ancient Japanese art or a conspiracy created by the US government, most of us can agree that it’s lovable fare (even when it’s not from We Be). 

But as far as I’m concerned, there are two kinds of sushi. One, a simple, minimal kind that allows you to fully taste its one or two ingredients. Two, the kind where the rolls are named things like Kamikaze and Oompa Loompa Sex Party and contain a million varieties of mayonnaise, teriyaki sauce, and what basically amounts to ketchup. 

I enjoy both — and I’m not making any sort of heady, stuck-up judgment about which is better (see my knowledge-of-sushi caveat above). But what I am saying is that Tanuki was inching towards the latter kind. And it was a little expensive — most menu items were between $10 and $20. 

On that menu: hot hamachi, oyster shooters, carpaccio, and clams in miso soup, to name but a few offerings. Everyone around us was ordering one oyster shooter after another – delicacies I still can’t categorically define, but “shooter” anything and I start to have my doubts. 

We started with a large green salad and a seaweed salad. The seaweed salad was good, but seaweed salad is hard to screw up. The green salad was huge and semi-warm with mushy tomatoes and watered-down miso dressing. It grossed me out, but you couldn’t tell from the way I wolfed it down. My friend got a huge bowl of shrimp tempura in udon noodle soup. Halfway through she exclaimed, “I want a beer and a peanut butter Snickers.” I tried it and thought the udon noodles were fun and chewy, the broth satisfying. But I agreed that Snickers might be in order. 

I had a house roll: crab, salmon, tuna, and avocado in a moat of spicy mayo and teriyaki sauce. It was great because it was huge, and spicy, and I was starving. I didn’t pay much attention to the fish — how could I? It was covered in creamy sauce. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does seem rather base to smother something expensive in sriracha mayo. 

I’m not whining. Much. I’m just saying that, as I finished the last droopy bites of my pal’s udon, the servers throwing me shade nearby, and the sound of show tune instrumentals playing softly overhead, it dawned on me that sometimes; it’s ok to stick with We Be Sushi.


Tanuki Restaurant

Mon- Sun 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

4419 California, SF

(415) 752-5740

Beer and Wine


Moderately Noisy

Wheelchair Accessible