This Article Was Written by Contributing Writer Robin Lanei and Edited by J Rize Noveno
Hey there! I’m Robin Lanei, and you may be familiar with my silly surf comics on Instagram @robinlanei_art. J Rize of Free Range Kings approached me about working on a collaboration. Now sure, I get collab pitches like this often. What stood out to me with him was he’s the first person to ask me about a food illustration.
I. LOVE. FOOD.
He asked me specifically about my favorite restaurant, post-surf. My immediate response: OCEAN SUSHI DELI in Monterey, Califnornia.
So, back story, ahem. I hail from Monterey Bay, CA. Monterey loves seafood, eating outside, dogs, and stopping traffic to let quail cross the street. Monterey is where I grew up and learned how to surf with my girl crew in high school! Aw, the memories… I go home to visit family and friends and, of course, jump back into
that cold, sharky water. You know, for old times’ sake. The cold doesn’t bother me much, because rosy-cheeked and numb digits.
WTF you think I want when I get out of the ocean!? Haha, OCEAN SUSHI DELI. I want hot, umami, little spicy, sweet sauce, and sour pickles! I want ramen! I want curry udon! I want some inari or onigiri or sweet mochi while I wait for my main course! And I want a cold Kirin or Sapporo beer in a frozen pint glass. I want the comforts of being home and eating snacks from my childhood. I want the flavors that coursed through my early life and shaped my pallete.
Ocean Sushi Deli in Monterey is my all-time favorite spot to eat – with friends, family, on a date, or by myself. The smells of freshly-cooked rice, sweet and savory soup stocks, and hot barley tea fill my head and make me feel so
The Shop and Service
It is small inside, not many tables, a bar in the window, and two tables outside. One of the things I love about this place is the entire menu is made of 8.5 x 11” laminated sheets, all hung together from the ceiling. I can see where the menu once started as perhaps a few laminated sheets and more sheets were added as the menu continued to expand. Its a piece of art! It is fine Japanese cuisine sold via deli counter. Brilliant.
Beyond the “drapery” of many menu sheets, I witness bits and pieces of hustle and bustle from in the kitchen. There’s loud clanking of pots and pans and a lot of steam in the air. Japanese, Spanish and English all chattering at once, but all bodies are maneuvering in perfect, albeit frenzied, harmony. All my spoken languages in one place! I order and pay for my food at the counter. My favorite place to sit is outside or inside at the window bar.
Ocean Sushi Deli is owned and operated by couple Toshimi and Chris Fukushima and their eldest daughter, Shiho Fukushima. Shiho just had her second baby. Omedeto gosaimashita (congratulations)! I reached out to her for some deeper insight on the shop.
Shiho told me about her parents’ path to opening Ocean Sushi Deli in Monterey. They are from Nara, Japan, and Chris (whose real name Masayasu) was trained at the prestigious Tsuji Culinary Institute. He traveled through Europe and ended up working at a few Japanese restaurants in the Bay Area, as well as Monterey’s Ginza restaurant, which has since been supplanted by a Benihana. After Ginza, he opened his own take-out shop in Pacific Grove. He wanted to make sushi approachable and unpretentious. He pioneered sushi displayed in to-go cases at local supermarkets, hospitals such as the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, and even at Pacific Grove schools. The Fukushimas also made sushi available for the banquet departments at all the local hotels and resorts and continue to work with them today.
Their Pacific Grove location opened in 1986, and they opened the Monterey store in 2000. The new spot enabled them to add hot food to their menu and a small deli space for dine-in. Shiho says “We’ve been lucky during the SIP as we are take-out specialists so we are able to stay open and we are grateful for our loyal customers, as well as the many tourists, that stop in to grab a bite to go.”
Then I asked about the food. While most everybody orders sushi, Shiho says her family is most proud of their authentic Japanese entrees, many of which you would be hard pressed to find in or around Monterey. She says one of their major differentiators is they “make all our sauces and dressings from scratch and, of course, our sushi rice vinegar, which is just a must for a sushi deli or restaurant. Customers love their signature miso soup, packed with veggies, including burdock root, kelp, tofu, and umami from dashi. The Katsu-don, Nabeyaki udon, and traditional Sabashio bento are also among the top sellers.
I then asked about owners Toshimi and Chris, who were a fixture of the shop every time I visited. Well, it seems that they taking on other challenges on top of managing Ocean Sushi Deli.
“Chris and Toshimi have been playing tennis on their off time, with Toshimi focusing more on Tea Ceremony practice in recent years. Chris has spent the last decade or more teaching ballroom dancing in the Bay Area on the weekends,” Shiho said.
So if you’ve made it this far into the article, well done!
You may have noticed the illustrations I made for this piece! This was a very fun opportunity to draw my favorite foods from my favorite restaurant. I’ve missed Ocean Sushi Deli, as I am currently in Mexico, and there’s no swell in sight! Hungry for waves and hungry for food from home.
It got my tummy rumbling for a chirashi (scattered sashimi) bowl with a little onigiri rice ball. OR, a hot bowl of chashyu (pork) ramen with two sweet inari rice pockets, yum. And, my personal favorite, Japanese curry on udon noodles! #comfortfood with a spam musubi, the hawaiian twist on onigiri.
There is too much yumminess on that colorful, hanging menu to draw! I also included an illustration of the sidewalk tables, my favorite place to sit, since we are usually sandy and dripping with sea water. I also illustrated the hanging menu by the order counter. Making these drawings was an awesome chance to think outside my usual box and draw something different than butts, boobs and wipeouts!
It was also a chance to feature a locally-owned place from home I love, to learn about its history, and the family running it all. Thank you, Free Range Kings, for asking me to do this piece. Later skater!
More Robin Lanei!
Free Range Kings thanks Robin Lanei for this entertaining article on her favorite locally-owned restaurant in her home town of Monterey. We are also super greatful for the dope artwork!
MORE INFO ON OCEAN SUSHI DELI