Jason Chen has a way with raw fish. With people, too. The exuberant chef-owner of the new Onsen remembers virtually every customer by name, chatting while he cuts up toro or yellowtail. He brings to Oakdale's table a caliber of Japanese cuisine ordinarily found at hi-glam, high-ticket spots.
The specials board lists wild salmon, which I'm able to have in a salmon avocado roll. It's lovely. A marine-sweet live scallop is cut into circles, fanned out across the top of its shell. Uni (sea urchin) is unctuous and fine, beautifully presented outside its spiny enclosure.
A major hit is the 2010 roll -- tuna, salmon, yellowtail, fluke and crab rolled in a seaweed-soybean wrapper with fried onion, offering warm, mellow contrast. Another successful juxtaposition: spicy yellowtail, fruity chopped apple and salty roe comprising the "yellow submarine" roll. A peanut and avocado roll topped with miso sauce is a vegetarian's dream.
Everything in a chirashi platter -- assorted finfish served with rice -- proves fresh and decorative. An entree maki combo -- ordered with three spicy rolls (salmon, tuna, yellowtail) -- has electricity but doesn't sear the palate.
What a nice surprise: both the salmon and shrimp teriyaki in a bento box are cooked to moist doneness. Also included: miso soup, salad, rice, a California roll, shumai (steamed shrimp dumplings) and fresh fruit.
My spoon repeatedly finds its way into a pal's nabe yaki udon, its deeply flavorsome broth loaded with chicken, vegetables and fat al dente noodles, topped with an egg, served with crisp shrimp tempura plated separately. No sogginess here.
Although we have reservations, our party waits half an hour to get seated and then another 15 minutes for our order to be taken.
About dessert: Why would anyone want to fry ice cream?
Although you may have to wait, the payoff comes at the end of your chopsticks.