Oh, man. Feel like Mickey Mouse in Fantasia, when he faced endless food coming at him. In front of me I have four spicy tuna, four California rolls, four veggie rolls, eight spicy scallop rolls, and eight pieces of chicken on skewers.
And half an hour to down all 28 pieces of this late-nite Japanese nosh.
I’ve painted myself into a corner. But a beautiful corner. It’s around eleven, at Harney and Congress, Old Town. Half an hour ago I was loping alone up the dark of Congress, pinning my hopes on some desperate joint with a late happy hour where I could just get a Bud and a bite before the last trolley home, around 12:30 a.m.
Things weren’t looking good, till I turned onto Harney Street. Suddenly, life, lights, buzz of voices, tinkle of music. Harney Sushi. It’s a li’l ol’ bungalow with low-lit patio and people bulging out onto the sidewalk.
Actually, I’ve wanted to come here for a while, now I think about it, partly because I hear their chefs are seriously into sustainability. Like, not going for overfished creatures of the deep.
I do a quick check of the sidewalk sandwich boards. And...yes! They do have a “Late Night Social Hour,” ten till close. Hey, hey. A light in the night. Time for a bite.
I head in. You’re almost stooping to get through the door. Gal, Courtenay, leads me down to a long bar on the right side, past white-cushioned chairs, black tables, ziggurat dark brown tile flooring, long, dark-gray marble bar, cream walls, brown brick back of counter, long dragon, long aquarium. Row of bar seats — white with black piping — ends up where the chefs are still busy molding, chopping, carving.
Guess this late-night social hour’s a happening thing. Place is crowded. Maybe because its menu’s got a bunch of real food deals.
Like a veggie roll for $3.50, spicy scallop roll for $5, veggie fried rice ($5), a sampler with tuna, Cali and veggie rolls for $5, a salad combo with sunomono (thin-sliced vinegar-marinated veggies), chuka (seaweed) and salmon skin ($5), chicken skewers ($7), an albacore roll for $5, and sweet potato frites for $3.50.
When you look at the regular menu with items like culichi wa roll (tuna, avo, salmon poke, mango-serrano salsa) costing $17, or salmon sashimi costing $16, there’s no contest, price-wise. I’ve come at totally the right time.
Plus, Courtenay comes and points to a late-night beer special. “It’s from our own little brewery up in our Oceanside restaurant. You get a five-ounce taster for $1,” she says.
Wow. Dollar sounds good. Menu says it’s from Sachi Brewing. “Kanpai blonde ale. Made by Harney!”
Kanpai’s a good word. Feels good to yell out. “Kanpai!” It’s like “Cheers!” They say it literally means “dry the glass!” (But you’ve got to say it right or it’ll mean “complete defeat!”)
But time is a-flying. Start zipping through the options again. “Gimme that 12-piece sampler,” I say to John, who’s standing primed for action across the counter. So, that’s five bucks down. “And, uh, the spicy scallop roll.” Another $5. And, what the heck, the chicken skewers sound delish. “The chicken, too,” I say. That one’s seven bucks.
’Course, when it all comes, I know I’ve gone way over the top. Lord! Spicy scallop dish is about a foot long. So’s the sampler.
“What’s this in the middle?” I ask John — Han, they call him here. I’m looking at the four sushi in the middle of my sampler, with the creamy fishy-smelling centers. “Kanikama,” he says. “Imitation crab. Actually, it’s pollock, which can be fished sustainably.”
The four sushi on the far end are veggie, brightened up by carrot chunks. And at this end, spicy tuna. They all have gentle tastes, but what makes them delicious is the soy sauce in the bowl. It’s certainly sweeter, more seductive than what you get on a supermarket shelf.
But the climax has to be the chicken. It comes with maybe eight cuts skewered, marinated, and grilled plus more skewers loaded with mushroom, green onions, shishito peppers, and slices of grilled zucchini.
These are all totally garlicky, grilled to blackened edges, and delish on their own, especially the chicken. But then dip any into this teriyaki sauce bowl in the middle of the plate and we’re in heaven. Kanpai! The teriyaki’s sweet in a different way from the soy sauce. “It has sugar, sake, plus elements of vegetables mixed in,” says John. Whatever, worth every cent of the $7.
And the shishito pepper is like a chewable jalapeño. Good flavor. Just enough heat.
So, is this sushi stuff really good for you?” I ask.
“You bet,” John says. “It’s fresh, not processed, and have you ever seen a fat Japanese guy? Except for sumo wrestlers?”
John’s an interesting guy. “I came to wash dishes here ten years ago, when I was 18,” he says. “But they taught me the art of sushi. I stay because it’s fun, you can be totally creative, and the owner’s serious about sustainability. Like, we won’t buy eel anymore. The fishermen tear up the river bottoms catching them. So we use black cod instead. Also, our salmon’s from New Zealand, because they are free-range and live in beautiful fresh-flowing waters.”
The beer? It’s a real deal at $1 a glass. Problem is, it’s kind of insipid, like Kirin and Sapporo, to my mind. Guess I’ve been spoiled by the San Diego hop revolution.
But I like this place a lot. Next time, I swear, more time, emptier stomach, the company of Carla, and I’ll get into the sake.
Now, just gotta pack all the leftovers and run like hell. Catch that last trolley.
3964 Harney Street, Old Town
Late-Night Social Hour Prices: Veggie roll, $3.50; spicy scallop roll, $5; veggie fried rice, $5; roll sampler (spicy tuna, California and veggie rolls) $5; salad combo (sunomono, chuka — seaweed — and salmon skin), $5; chicken skewers, $7; albacore roll, $5; sweet potato frites, $3.50; normal prices, e.g. culichi wa roll (tuna, avo, salmon poke), $17; salmon sashimi, $16
Buses: 8, 9, 10, 28, 30, 35, 44, 88, 105, 150
Nearest bus stop: Old Town Transit Center
Trolley: Green Line
Nearest Trolley Stop: Old Town
Trains: Coaster, Amtrak
Nearest train stop: Old Town