Okuman is all about the fish: head, bones, fins and tail. And eyes and scales, and entrails too — that’s what you get at Okuman.
Apologies, I have been overwhelmed by kids’ songs lately. It was after eight on a weeknight when we dropped by Okuman and there wasn’t a child in sight, possibly because it’s a smoky, rough-and-ready kind of joint. That’s not to say the service and hospitality aren’t up to Japanese standards. They are. The master at the Okuman restaurant in Nakazakicho, a short walk northeast of Umeda, is about the hardest-working, most ceaselessly hospitable cook/waiter/boss I have seen in action in a while.
The “Kaisenyatai” part of the name translates roughly as “seafood stand.” At heart it’s a seafood izakaya, kitted out not unlike how you might imagine an easy-come, easy-go seafood restaurant straddling a pier, with the trawlers tied up for the night, while fishermen and locals sit around on crates eating the catch and drinking too much. The reality is different, but the seats are like crates and there are glass buoys dangling from the ceiling. And plenty of drinking.
There are at least three different menus at Okuman, but the food can roughly be divided between tempura, sashimi and … everything else, including oden (dashi stew), though it’s still a bit early in the year for that particular brew.
The sashimi menu changes daily depending on what has been picked up at the market. We started with sanma (Pacific saury) shima-aji (striped jack) and hamachi (yellowtail). Most plates have four or five cuts, and at around ¥400 a plate this is decent fish at good prices. If you like rich-tasting fish such as toro (fatty tuna) I recommend the shima-aji, which has a lively taste, but perhaps not the sophistication of hamachi or toro. On any given night there’s a good serving of fish on the sashimi menu; I meant to try the namageso (squid tentacles), but we were in tempura territory before I knew it.
Tempura is literally everywhere in Okuman; the menu hangs from the walls on little timber boards. It’s an expansive menu, with mostly vegetables, but fish too. We went with hamo (conger eel), which rarely fails to satisfy, no matter how it’s cooked; shishito (green peppers) that were sweet and succulent; and renkon and eringi. My companion drank his bowl of tempura dashi, which, along with seeing someone “smoke” an e-cigarette the same night, was a first.
Actually, there was one more first: We finished, as we started, with fish: ara, a type of perch. It’s about the same size as ayu (smelt) and it was a sweet, delicious fish, especially in the company of French fries. And if you think you know your fish, the house Okuman salad — thrown together with various cuts — will test you.
There are a few Okuman outposts divided between Osaka, Hyogo and Tokyo. It’s an unfussy and uncomplicated seafood restaurant — the type of place where a thick-skinned fisherman wouldn’t feel like a fish out of water.
1-6-17 Nakazaki, Kita-ku, Osaka; 06-6377-0907; www.izakanaya-okuman.com; open daily 5 p.m.-3 a.m.; nearest station Nakazakicho; smoking OK; ¥2,000-3,000 per head; no English menu; no English spoken. J.J. O’Donoghue is an Irish writer living in Kyoto.