Monday, March 26, 2012

IDGI: Rokuan vs. Ojiya: Sushi in the IE

I bounce around California a lot for work, many days I eat a home packed lunch sitting in an empty classroom or in the driver's seat of my car. Some days I actually eat at a table with knife and fork or chopsticks like a civilized human. This month I played two sushi restaurants in the Inland Empire against each other, one my long time favorite Rokuan and the other Yelp favorite Ojiya. I ordered exactly the same at both restaurants. Here's what I ate and what I thought about it.

14230 Chino Hills Pkwy
Chino Hills, CA 91709

I have been praising the wonders of Rokuan's ramen for a couple years now. I have also eaten sushi here a few times, loving their simplicity and freshness, the deftness of the cuts.

Nothing to disappoint from Rokuan. Crunchy cabbage salad with a dark umami-esque sesame dressing. Hotate and hamachi nigiri, the hamachi generously cut, the hotate looked like the entire scallop (rather than sliced in half) and neither  was over-riced. Spicy salmon handroll. I love how he loosely packs and wraps the seaweed, you can see that it doesn't even come to a point at the back, sort of laying slightly open. I like the balance of fish to rice in this handroll, it makes for easy eating and doesn't overwhelm the beautiful crunchy nori. The service can be a tiny bit on the chilly side at the sushi bar, friendlier if you take a table. I chalk it up to sushi genius behind the bar, because I find the simple sushi perfect in every way.

4183 Chino Hills Parkway
Chino Hills, CA 91709

Same exact lunch order a couple weeks later at Ojiya. An iceberg lettuce salad with ginger dressing that I have to say I was not keen on. The lettuce seemed to have been kept a little too close to freezing in the fridge because it had that slightly limp translucent quality, although it didn't seem not fresh. Iceberg browns so quickly when it's not fresh and this was very green. Very disappointed in the scallop sushi. I didn't look at a menu when I ordered, and the chef gave me no indication this would be a creamy bay scallop nigiri. It wasn't bad, but it's not my style. However, the scallop was generous and succulent. Regarding the hamachi. I know absolutely nothing about cutting fish for sushi and assume there are different schools with regard to the slicing. Ojiya slices theirs much thinner and longer than Rokuan, compare the photos. Ojiya also served the hamachi much colder, and I know I am right in thinking serving it slightly warmer delivers the flavor of the fish more effectively to your taste buds. The spicy salmon handroll was fine, although the generous scoop of fish made the nori a little soggy and messy to eat. Still, it was good.

Ojiya is always packed. I admit I don't 100% get the love for Ojiya. It's good, it's not great. I went by a couple times before getting to eat this lunch. The first time I got there 15 minutes after opening and there was a 20 minute wait. This week, my friend K got there before me to put our name in 5 minutes before they opened. I found the service friendly but on the slow side, and for some reason they seemed surprised we were going to sit at the sushi bar to "eat sushi?" I don't know, maybe I missed something in the translation of our request. Like Ojiya, Rokuan also gets busy as the lunch hour extends itself, and the single time I drove out for the amazing ramen on a Sunday night the joint was packed with Asian folk. We waited for a seat. Nevertheless, Ojiya seems to be a Chino Hills favorite, probably because of their more extensive menu and lunch specials. For me, hands down Rokuan is the favorite. When I go for sushi or ramen, I am not looking for 12 different kinds of rolls nor izakaya style side dishes (although I love these, too). However, there seems to be room for both kinds of restaurants in Chino Hills. I just know which one you will find me dining at on random weekday mornings at 11:35.

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