(2008) This little storefront restaurant’s extensive menu places a strong emphasis on fish, as you would expect, but beef, chicken, tofu and a variety of vegetables also have roles to play. Ocean Star Japanese Restaurant's styles of preparation range from sushi and sashimi through tataki, tempura and teriyaki to noodle dishes and straight-up frying.
My wife and I eat there often, snagging a coveted pair of stools at the sushi bar when luck is with us. During peak dinner hours three chefs are usually displaying their knifework on the other side of low glass cases.
Our routine is to study, with single-minded focus, the sushi list (27 kinds of nigiri and 35 maki rolls, plus chalkboard specials) and to stubbornly ignore the proffered multi-page dinner menu. We can’t help ourselves. The sushi is that good.
By the time we’ve made our choices and placed our completed checklists atop the case in front of us, our wine or sake or beer has arrived and we settle in to watch the show. While it’s true that you can’t rush art, these chefs seem incapable of wasting either time or motion. By the time we’re ready for another round, two beautiful platters have replaced our lists atop the glass case.
We usually go for four or five (or six) nigiri selections (two pieces per order, $4 to $5.95; “Sashimi will be extra charge!” the menu warns) and a maki roll ($4 to $13.95). That’s for each of us, not to share. We’ve even been known to order a Black Dragon Roll, a fearsome creature with shrimp tails for horns and incorporating tempura shrimp, freshwater eel, cream cheese (yes, really) and avocado, for dessert.
Nigiri, of course, are the familiar lozenges of hand-formed sticky rice topped with raw or cooked seafood expertly parted from scales or shells and hand-cut with great precision. Every variety we’ve tasted at Ocean Star has been superb, but our favorites include buttery escolar, firm but not chewy conch, tuna (both the lean and the fatty), fresh salmon, and cooked and sauced freshwater eel with sesame seeds. The flying fish roe in its seaweed wrapper is positively psychedelic. Remember Pop Rocks, those candies that exploded on your tongue? Same with these little red fish eggs.
Favorite hand rolls, which generally have the rice on the outside, include these combos: eel and cucumber; salmon, tuna, avocado and scallion (the Green Bay); conch, cucumber, masago—a.k.a. Icelandic smelt roe—and spicy sauce (the Islander); tuna and cucumber (Tekkyu), and that extravagant set piece, the Black Dragon.
Sometimes, if we’re particularly hungry, we’ll preface the sushi with a bowl of warm edamame; those tender little soy beans are actually quite good once you’ve popped them out of their hairy pods. Sometimes, sticking with the soy bean theme, we go for the excellent deep-fried tofu with sweet-and-salty dashi sauce for dipping. The carrot-topped house salad is good, too.
On our most recent visit, mindful of our roles as reporters, we ventured far enough afield to actually request a table and to add an order of tempura shrimp ($17.95, with rice and salad) to our sushi fix, just for science. The result was positive. Fresh shrimp and assorted veggies arrived fried to perfection in a light, lacy batter, accented by a pretty fan of crisp-fried noodles. I’m surprised these virtually greaseless dainties didn’t float off the plate.
Absolutely lovely. Next time, however, it’s more than likely we’ll be back at the sushi bar, indulging our carefully nurtured bias.
The sushi is that good.
Ocean Star Japanese Restaurant
3608 East Bay Drive, Holmes Beach
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; ‘til 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; ‘til 9:30 p.m. Sunday
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover
Ample lot parking