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So long Jun, so long sushi…

December 16th, 2009

When I first moved up to the Bay Area, I had to start looking for all the things I took for granted in San Diego. Whenever you move to another city, you need to find a new dentist, dry cleaner, doctor and the like. But just as importantly is finding all the foods you adore.

Pizza is easy, and so is Italian. As the wise man once said, “With pizza, even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good”. Chinese, as I mentioned in my previous blog posting, adapts to its surroundings (Although San Francisco Chinese food is really amazing!)

Having spent years at Sushi Ota in San Diego, I thought finding sushi of that quality seemed like a daunting task. Still, I decided to face the peril and force myself to try as many sushi places as I could.

My new friends introduced me to some nice places, but nothing came close to the raw fish yumminess that was Sushi Ota. One day I mentioned this to the lovely Kristine O’Berry, who suggested a place she had just tried in Burlingame called Jun.

Burlingame, CA is a wonderful little town, with two parallel and very different main drags. Burlingame Avenue is very upscale and trendy, whereas Broadway looks like something out of “It’s a Wonderful Life”. It’s a quiet little main street, full of restaurants and small shops, and at the end of the five-block stretch are two of my favorite things; an Irish pub and a sushi bar!

Jun Restaurant and Sushi bar was a wonderful little hole-in-the-wall place, with an eight seat counter and a few tiny tables. The sushi chef, Aki, had named it after his lovely and friendly Korean wife, Jun. Both worked the restaurant, and years later their son Leo would work there as well.

The sushi I had that first day was a religious experience.

The albacore melted in my mouth. The spicy tuna hand rolls were spicy enough to entice, but mellow enough to be enjoyed. The bonita with ponzu, hamachi and unagi were incredible. It was the first of what would be dozens of visits to Aki’s counter.

My love for Jun Sushi enticed me to eventually move into an apartment a couple hundred feet away. And after visiting me and my Saturday ritual of Jun followed by Behan’s Irish Pub, several friends moved into the same apartment building.

It’s also where I gained my great love of Iron Chef!

You see, my friend Steve Rozmus, the most idealistic and funny curmudgen I’ve ever known, spent several years in Japan teaching English. So most Saturday nights you could find Steve and I at the sushi bar at Jun, watching Iron Chef on TV, while Steve patiently translated the uncaptioned Japanese from the local Japanese language station.

Jun was the place where Steve and Jeremy and I became closer friends.

It was everything I want in a dining experience. A place with amazing food, friendly, helpful people, and fond memories. And like how Kristine had introduced me to Aki and his family, I shared Jun with as many of my friends as I could.

Eventually I had to move from Burlingame, and my visits became less frequent. Jun let Aki run the place, and Leo took her place as the friendly face that greeted me each time, and treated me like a well-appreciated regular.

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of work in San Diego, and staying down there for weeks at a time. Before this happened back in May, I paid a visit to Jun, not knowing that it would be my last.

It was the type of visit I had come to take for granted. I wandered in with a good book, had an enjoyable chat with Leo and Aki, and enjoyed all my favorites.

Months passed, and I came back from San Diego with a desperate hankering for my favorite sushi. I hopped in my car, drove down Broadway like I had so many times before, to find that the familiar blue awning was gone. Sometime in my absence Jun had closed it’s doors, and had been replaced with something else.

Aki’s food had developed a deep love for sushi and the skill it takes to do it well. It became the “secret locals place” I shared with all the people I loved. And it hosted many a birthday, special occasion, as well as just a normal Tuesday night.

I don’t know what happened to the Jun Restaurant, or the warm and friendly family of Aki, Jun and Leo that always made me feel welcome there. All I can say is thank you, for setting the bar for what good sushi should taste like.

If anyone knows what happened to Jun, please let me know. Until then, I’ll start my search for great sushi once again.

6 Responses to “So long Jun, so long sushi…”

  1. chammer1248 Says:

    Jun was indeed a gem in my little hometown. Just down the street from my father’s store. So very sad to hear that it was closed… According to a recent Yelp posting, “The beer and wine license has been transferred to CouCou Japanese Restaurant at the same address and is active as of October 22, 2009. Has the restaurant been sold??? They also list a different phone number…”

  2. sirrozmus Says:

    Peter, thank you for the really great story about Jun — it needed a memorial entry that only you could write. I still remember going there one night and we found out when Aki’s birthday would be. We returned with a six pack of Coors, his favorite beer (for what reason I don’t know) and six little candles, one per can, that we lit for him. The whole place sang Happy Birthday for him. It was that kind of place. When I heard that the place was closed it didn’t surprise me but I was sad. Aki was walking with a cane the last time I saw him, before leaving Burlingame about 2 1/2 years ago.

    Tom I wonder what CouCou is — might you make a trip and write a guest entry on Happy Omnivore?

  3. Tim Says:

    Have you tried Kiss Seafood in SF’s Pac Heighs neighborhood? Tiny place, family run, delicious.

  4. Peter Kevin Reeves Says:

    Neena ran into Leo the other night. It looks like Aki decided to retire after a heart attack scare. As happy as I am for him that he’s getting to take some well deserved time off, I’ll miss him and his mad sushi making skills.

  5. Peter Kevin Reeves Says:

    Tim, I haven’t tried Kiss Seafood, but if they have good sushi, I’ll be up for dinner! 😉

  6. Tom Hammer Says:

    OK, Steve….we’ll have to give it a try. Perhaps while Peter’s up here for Christmas. Though it feels a little like going to the “Swingin’ Door”…. a betrayal to the memory of what preceded it… But we have to get the G2 on what happened to Aki-san (who made a great spider roll!).

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