G and I have a fondness for mom and pop restaurants. Back home, we had Tekka, run by an elderly Japanese couple in their sixties. While we’ve come across a few places like that here, none have made an impression quite like Ooi. The restaurant is run by an adorably friendly obasan with her chef husband, the creator of straightforward and downright tasty meals. It might just be our new favorite (but pricey) spot for a good Japanese home-cooked meal.
Hidden in the basement of Cuppage Plaza, it’s unlikely that one would happen to stumble upon Ooi. This could explain why it’s filled predominantly by regulars, and why we were the only new faces that evening. It’s a small restaurant, seating maybe 20 people. The wife, Hiromi-san, alternates serving dishes, chatting with the guests and taking shots of shochu. Fortunately, she has two other staff to ensure that food is promptly served and drinks always filled.
Ooi offers a decent à la carte menu, but as first time visitors, we opted for the kaiseki. There’s a choice of 4 different grades of set meals that differ mainly on the amount of seafood given. The staff won’t try to upsell you on spending more and in fact suggested one of the lower-range sets since we weren’t in the mood for too much fish. While the presentation and sophistication wasn’t at the level of our recent meal by Shinichiro Takagi, the flavors and showcasing of the ingredients was infinitely better. Despite the increased scrutiny of imports from Japan, Ooi still has a decent offering of produce and seafood with ingredients coming from anywhere between the top of the main island down through Kyushu.
Our starter was a selection of miso cucumber, pickled eggplant, Kyoto tofu, a small mushroom medley, and potato salad with individually carved carrot bunnies. This was followed by seasonal bamboo and seaweed in broth. For items this simple and straightforward, G and I were both delighted with the tastes and textures.
The sashimi platter was a fresh mix of familiar and new fish. Having just tried nodoguro steamed/grilled, the sashimi version we had that evening was much nicer. Our favorite though was the hirame belly. It had a nice crunchiness that contrasted well with the fatty portion.
The kurobuta was the only disappointment of the evening as I found it a bit chewy and over seasoned, but the ika with homemade shiro miso more than made up for it with its surprisingly tangy mayo-like sauce atop the wonderfully crunchy squid. A kampachi kama followed that was so nicely grilled and flavorful that I eschewed the lemon and soy-daikon seasoning.
While we were happily eating away, Hiromi-san was busy making the rounds chit chatting and laughing away with the restaurant patrons/regulars. And as first time diners, she really did an earnest job of making us feel at home. And cementing their place in our hearts, Hiromi-san informed us that her husband was worried that pregnant G wouldn’t have enough to eat so he made sure to provide a bit more for the baby. After a serving of spring potatoes, two slices of very large futomaki with some absolutely delicious dashi-marinated ikura, and a miso noodle soup, we were both stuffed. Baby was very happy indeed.
We love the atmosphere at Ooi made that much warmer by friendly proprietors. Their prices might be on the higher end, but it’s well worth it for a good “authentic” Japanese home-cooked meal in a casual setting. We’ll be back for the food and the company.
Cuppage Plaza, #B1-28