When Chris Chon opened Ooi — his Japanese restaurant at Herndon and Clovis avenues — some customers had never tried a sushi roll, made with a variety of raw fish and specially-marinated rice.
That was 10 years ago.
“Now, it’s very popular, and people have a lot of places where they can eat sushi,” Chon said.
However, few restaurants might rival Ooi (pronounced oy) when it comes to interesting names for the rolls.
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For example, Ooi’s “Bulldog” is crabmeat, shrimp tempura and unagi (freshwater eel). Then there’s the “Hot Mama” — crabmeat, shrimp tempura topped with spicy tuna and salmon, plus two sauces.
Or how about the Titanic? Or the Frankenstein?
Ooi’s menu lists more than 90 sushi rolls, and each month, Chon offers several “special” ones.
Recently, one of the specials was a “Mexican Roll” — spicy crabmeat and spicy tuna with avocado, thinly sliced jalapeno and topped with spicy sauce.
“People want to try different tastes, different experiences,” June Chon said, explaining why she and her husband offer many sushi choices.
Chris and June Chon bring an international background to Ooi, but they have embraced this country. “This is America,” June Chon said. “Food unites us.”
They were born in Korea, and Chris Chon became interested in cooking while working as a food and beverage manager for hotels in Korea and Japan.
He and his wife eventually settled in San Francisco, where they operated two Japanese restaurants.
They came to the Fresno-Clovis area looking for a smaller metropolitan area to raise their son, Chris Jr. “San Francisco is good for single people, but not for families,” Chris Chon said.
He calls Clovis a good “family town.” Their son graduated from Buchanan High School in 2014 and now attends the University of California, Irvine. He is interested in becoming a doctor.
After moving to this area, the Chons opened a Japanese restaurant at First Street and Nees Avenue. They sold that business and opened Ooi at 840 Herndon Ave. in the Trading Post shopping center (southeast corner of Herndon and Clovis avenues).
Ooi means “many” in Japanese, but some people called the restaurant “zero, zero, one” at first, believing the letters were numbers.
For someone new to sushi, Chon would recommend the “Spider” — deep-fried soft shell crab and avocado.
“It’s a little bit crunchy, but you can chew it,” Chon said.
His next recommendation would be the “New York,” a roll made with crabmeat, shrimp and avocado. Sushi rolls are priced from $4.95 to $14.95.
Chon’s favorite menu item is the Hawaiian Poki Salad, made with tuna, radish, tobiko, cucumber, marinated seaweed with a spicy sauce.
“It is healthful,” he said. Ooi’s salads range from $3.50 to $13.50.
June Chon has several favorite menu items, including several udon dishes. Udon is a thick Japanese noodle, and Ooi serves it with beef, seafood, chicken or pork. Udon dishes vary from $6.95 to $12.95.
June Chon also is partial to the restaurant’s chicken teriyaki, which is served as an entree or in a combo box with a side such as tempura or potstickers. Soup and salad come with both the entrees and combos.
The combo boxes are $10.95 at lunch and $15.95 at dinner. Lunch entrees range from $8.95 to $12.95 and dinner entrees from $9.95 to $13.95.
Beef and salmon teriyaki plus spicy pork also are served as entrees and in the box combos.
Clovis resident Rick Lewis has been eating at Ooi for many years. He enjoys both the restaurant’s sushi and its sake (rice wine).
The atmosphere also is a plus, Lewis said: “It’s very friendly, and they make you feel good, and you want to come back.”
Now back to those interesting sushi names. Here are a few more:
▪ Crispy Crazy Horse — assorted fish and avocado, deep fried.
▪ Pimp Daddy — salmon, albacore and unagi with special sauce.
▪ Titanic — crabmeat, shrimp tempura, tuna and salmon with special sauce.
▪ Frankenstein — soft shell crab, shrimp, deep-fried unagi, avocado, crabmeat and a spicy sauce.
Ooi is open 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Saturday; 5 to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday. The telephone number is (559) 323-4131. The restaurant is on Facebook. Ooi features live music on Wednesday (pop) and Sunday (jazz). There is no cover charge.
Dining with Doug appears every other week in the Independent. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org