San Francisco’s Japantown is an explosion of the senses. Shops flashing neon signs compete for eyeballs and wallets, selling everything from crepes oozing red bean paste to sushi cat keychains. But around the corner from Anderson Bakery, tucked away in an empty hallway of the West Center Mall, hides Oma San Francisco Station. Eight stools facing a wooden countertop — usually filled by avid sushi enthusiasts — serve as the only seating in this minimalist space. Don’t be fooled by the sparse kitchen lacking both stove and oven, however, there’s more to this omakase only establishment than meets the eye.
Oma, short for “omakase”, meaning "entrust the chef", is the vision of Hong Kong-native Chef Wilson. Gaining recognition as executive chef of Tsubasa in Hayes Valley, Wilson opened Oma in September of 2018. Tasked with the mission of bringing affordable and quality driven omakase to the Bay Area, three prix fixe options are an ode to his mantra. This is no grab-and-go crunchy roll purveyor — if you’re looking for large portions or mayo-laden California rolls, try Nijiya Market or Tenroku’s revolving sushi belt.
Chef Wilson runs an almost solo show with confidence and grace. Whether handling tuna from Okinawa or draping glistening slabs of madai over well-formed rice cakes, the dance between fish and rice is a well-choreographed ballet. But that’s to be expected from a man who’s spent the past 15 years training under numerous mentors in the art of Japanese cuisine. Don’t be surprised when he asks if the rice to fish ratio is satisfactory or leans over the counter to see if you’ve enjoyed the kinmedai dusted with salt and ponzu.
Dining with Chef Wilson gives you a sense of what a home-cooked Japanese meal might be like. His attention to detail and playful character pushes you beyond your comfort zone, engaging diners in an intimate experience between chef and diner. This became apparent on my first visit when I sheepishly asked for no mackerel. “Why?” was his response. As I explained my distaste for the rich oily fish he waved his hand saying, “You will like how I prepare it.” Eager to prove my sense of adventure I obliged. After all, omakase does mean trust. He served the goma saba, a wild sesame mackerel with a playful grin. Plopping the nigiri into my mouth, I allowed my taste buds time to search for the usual “fishy” flavor but there was none. Looking at me intently as I nodded in approval, he erupted in a triumphant laugh exclaiming “See, I told you!”
Expect an ever-rotating seasonal selection like the hiram kobuiime, flounder marinated for two hours in kelp or glistening black sea bream topped with shiso flavored sesame seeds. A hand roll filled with chopped toro (from Spain) and crunchy daikon followed by a bowl of warm, house-made aged miso serve as the final act to each omakase selection. Pricing runs between $30 for five pieces to $125 for the 18-piece secret menu that must be booked online in advance. Though competition in the area is fierce, there is always space for passionate people eager to share their craft with the world. Chef Wilson is no exception. As David Chang once said, “food made with love separates a good meal from a tremendous meal,” and this speaks loudly at Oma.
Oma San Francisco Station
1737 Post Street, Ste 337; omasfstation.com
RECOMMENDED DISHES Arctic char; wild golden eye snapper; chu-toro; wild king fish.
PRICE RANGE Pre-Fixe: $30 for 5, $55 for 8, $85 for 12.
HOURS 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Sunday.