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Aug 5, 2014 11:02 AM

Abura-Ya (Oakland)

Pop-up open Thurs.-Sun. 6-10 in Garden House, 380 15th St. Cash only.

Japanese-style fried chicken thighs, wasabi cole slaw, sunomono, yaki onigiri, good and cheap.

The guy said he'd also be open tonight for National Night whatsit. East Bay Express article:

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  1. The word Kara-age literally means Chinese style frying. That's part of Chukka Ryori = Chinese cuisine in Japan. So it's really a Japa-Chino style fried chicken. Just a comment, not criticizing anybody. These guys have put together something unique, so they can call it anything they want.

    I find that most young Japanese I've met are not familiar with the history of the foods they eat. Usually only ramen, gyoza, and mapo tofu get credit for being Chinese dishes. But items like kara-age, chawan mushi, soba, udon, buta kakuni, shabu shabu, yuzu lemons, etc. are considered Japanese, even though they're Chinese imports.

    The "Oil Shop" name is funny. Seems like a Japanese adaptation of a chicken wings business, but using "nuggets" tossed with one of your pick of 3 sauces or 3 spice mixes (4 or 8 chicken thigh morsels for $7-$12 - Less than a month open and they've already raised prices by $1). You can add rice for $2 or $3 more. Looks like just half cup of white rice.

    The food portions are modest, so Abura has several side dishes ($4-$8) and vegetarian options you can add.

    I don't like the checkered parchment paper they use. In my experience the inked parts leach into hot foods. Don't know if it's soy based ink, but probably non-toxic.

    3 Replies
    1. re: L C

      I wouldn't call those nuggets, they're good-sized pieces.

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        True, Mc nuggets are much smaller. Sorry about that. There's probably 4 thighs in the 8 piece order. In Japan, when explaining Kara-age to foreigners, most everyone describes them as Japanese chicken nuggets. Because of how popular they are.

        Another version is Tatsu-age, which is the same dish except that the batter has potato flour (more delicate crust). I've seen a few American chefs make this, but still call it Kara-age on their menu because they thought Americans wouldn't recognize the name. That just perpetuates ignorance about the food.

      2. re: L C

        Need to find a place in San Francisco that makes (I guess) the 'Hawaiian' version... 'Mochiko Chicken'... ^^

        Only place that made Mochiko Chicken (I liked)... Sadly closed ages ago, and was located on Judah... Way out in the avenues...

      3. I went last night with two others. Ordered an 8-piece and a 4-piece between the three of us (for an 8-piece you can get two sauces/spices). I think they were $12 and $8, respectively. We got the orange honey aioli and Japanese BBQ "wet" sauces, and I think the sansho and sea salt dry. We also ordered several sides.

        The chicken pieces were about 3 times the size of a mcnugget, and made from chicken thighs. They were nicely fried with a dark golden crust. Quite good. The sauces were ok --rather unremarkable sweet sauces. The dry was fine, but also pretty unremarkable. I'd rather have the chicken without sauce, with the option of dipping, rather than having the sauces painted over the chicken pieces.

        The sides were:
        1. Avocado with a wasabi soy vinaigrette. The avocado itself was beautiful and nicely sliced. Kudos to the kitchen for their ability to pick out good produce and use a knife.
        2. Wasabi cole slaw. This was tasty, with a nice little kick. A good accompanyment to the chicken --the best among the sides as far as a match with the chicken.
        3. Yaki onigiri (grilled rice triangles). These were ok. Nicely toasty with a nutty taste. Nothing I'd need to order again.
        4. Okonomi-yaki (Japanese pancake). BAD. about 3/4-inch thick and 4 inches in diameter, smothered with almost a half cup of ponzu and some other sauce. Just what crime are they hiding under all that sauce? A flavorless, barely edible goo, that's what.

        We also got their sake "sangria." It was made with peaches and plums. I prefer a sangria with more robust fruit like apples. Plums and peaches tend to disintigrate in a liquid, and that is what we got: sake flecked with pulp of plum/peach and floating fruit skins. Meh.

        There are about 12 tables, the music was definitely present, but not too loud. Staff was friendly.

        Would I go back? Only maybe, if I happened to be in the neighborhood from 6-10 pm (meaning that I would have been happy-houring); or if they popped up for the lunch hour. But I'd only order the chicken (perhaps requesting it without any sauce at all) and would pass on everything else.

        I looked it up on Yelp where it is filled with 5-star reviews. Sorry, not a chance; that's nonsense. Let's say 3-stars --4 if drunk or high.