Onigilly Express – San Francisco
I miss Japan terribly. When I’m bitten by the travel bug, it can take me awhile to shake it off. Fortunately, R and I embarked on a weekend trip to San Francisco with his good friends who are originally from the Midwest. We shared a house in the Sunset district that we found on HomeAway vacation rentals. Being that it was R’s first time in California (!), it was doubly exciting. We did all the touristy things, such as Fisherman’s Wharf for clam chowder, Chinatown, rode a trolley through the rollicking hills of San Francisco, and rambled down ‘crooked’ Lombard Street – just to name a few.
On the last night of our trip, we moved out of the house into the Hyatt Regency San Francisco – Embarcadero Hotel. It’s an ideal location, near the Ferry Building, where you can find all manner of handcrafted items and gourmet foods, including Blue Bottle Coffee and Humphry Slocombe ice cream.
From the Hyatt, the Embarcadero Center shopping center is within steps, perfect for a quick bite. You can even watch a movie at Landmark Theatres. I spotted a bunch of folks dressed in button-down shirts and shiny shoes who looked like they were here for business.
We meandered toward Onigiri Express – and I’m glad we decided to eat there! I was feeling nostalgic and wanted to eat some Japanese food, so onigiri was right up my alley. For those who don’t know, onigiri is a traditional Japanese food made with pressed rice and assorted fillings (from plum to cod roe) wrapped in nori, or seaweed. Onigilly Express makes their onigiri with brown rice and not the white rice that I usually see sold in stores.
The Onigilly Set comes with three hefty onigiri and a side of daikon (radish) and edamame, all for just $8.28, plus tax. You choose your onigiri from the menu, along with the rotating Seasonal Menu that changes daily. I chose the fresh Kale Goma-Ae with sesame dressing, the Unagi (broiled fresh water eel with sweet BBQ sauce), and the Sake Shio Koji (salmon seasoned with salt and rice-malt). All were delicious! Of the three, I think my favorite was the unagi. The fish was indeed fresh, soft and succulent, with a tangy BBQ sauce that did not drown out the delicate eel flavor.
R’s Onigilly Set included Unagi, plus Teriyaki Chicken (roasted organic chicken with agave teriyaki) and Snow Crab (Canadian snow crab with lemon aioli). Since I have a shellfish allergy, I don’t often indulge in crabs, lobsters, oysters and the like. I’ll still take a bite or two and enjoy it, but I can’t say I really miss it much. That said, none of the onigiri we chose tasted bad. I think Onigiri Express’ success is due in large part to its fresh ingredients, expert seasoning and authentic flavors. The older Japanese lady who took our order reminded me of the hospitable auntie at the ryokan that R and I stayed at in Miyajima. Friendly, gracious and patient, with a big smile to boot.
I grabbed a bottle of sparkling Kombucha Wonder Drink to see what it would taste like. I’m new to kombucha. I’ve heard it’s a pungent brew (i.e. not exactly the most popular drink), but I thought the sparkling water element might elevate it a notch (I love flavored San Pellegrino).
And I was right: although the kombucha’s yeast and bacteria culture were fairly strong, the familiar taste of oolong tea mixed with carbonation made it drinkable. It’s not something I’d down on a regular basis, but not completely awful either. It does, however, leave a slightly bitter taste in your mouth, so be sure to follow that up with a fresh mint! 😛 Boy did I wake up after one sip!
Onigilly Express has a sister restaurant on Kearny St. in San Francisco’s Chinatown. I would heartily recommend this establishment for a hearty breakfast or lunch. I noticed that this location takes 10% off your bill on weekdays from 10 to 11 a.m., so take advantage of the offer while it lasts!
Four Embarcadero Center
Sacrament Lane (street level)
San Francisco, CA 94111
Neighborhood: Financial District