'Oysters and caviar at Basa!" My wife was a tad overzealous for our upcoming date night, but I was about to be caught in a lie. Well, kind of. Technically, we were going to Basa. It's just that I failed to mention the full name: Basa Seafood Express.
I also declined to share that "restaurant" was a loose term for four wobbly tables hidden in the back of a seafood market.
Her first taste of Basa's spicy salmon poke got me off the hook, even though it's served in a plastic container with matching cutlery. Small cubes of extremely-fresh raw salmon were doused with a concoction featuring mayonnaise and Sriracha then capped with generous mounds of red and black tobiko, resulting in a mouth-tingling sensation punctuated by the contrast of the buttery fish and the crunchy eggs.
Simpler but equally as fresh was the shoyu tuna poke, served with a small plastic cup (the enviro-conscious may shudder here for many reasons) of a sesame oil and soy sauce blend alongside.
Rounding out the "fish in plastic containers" category was a vibrant, citrus-laced ceviche, its remaining broth so addictive that I swigged it out of the cup like a teenager pounding the remains of others' cocktails.
With none costing more than $6, these three dishes rank among the best bargains in The City.
Owner Scott Lie is the ultimate jack-of-all-trades, managing the cash register, waiting tables and manning the fish counter seemingly all at once. However, despite his manic pace, he's as caring about his food and service as any four-star chef, constantly checking in with diners and sprinting to and fro with a cup of water or extra napkins. Lie also is quite the linguist, speaking Chinese, Vietnamese, Spanish, English and even French to his patrons as he deems appropriate.
Basa's menu is as internationally diverse as Lie, venturing from the eastern seaboard to the Far East. A fried seafood combination plate featured a trio of mammoth, panko-crusted Washington oysters that exploded briny liquor in my mouth upon impact.
Four shrimp were flawlessly fried to a golden brown while an equal number of Basa fillets were so delicious due to their cornmeal breading that I didn't mind that the fish had dried out. This battered feast came piled on top of a mound of crinkle-cut fries rendered tingly by a dusting of Cajun seasoning.
Traditionalists won't find fault with a cup of creamy, bacon-studded New England clam chowder or a generously sized soft-shell crab sandwich parked on a ciabatta roll that I could swear was from nearby Panorama Bakery, which Lie would neither confirm nor deny.
Basa recently added sushi to its vast menu board and here's where things got a bit dicey. A 49er roll should have been an easy crowd pleaser, but rather than drape the rice and salmon with razor-thin slices of lemon, here a lemon wedge was plopped on the side, losing the desired effect.
The sloppily arranged Basa roll featured fake crab and scallops but needed to be submerged in soy sauce to add flavor.
All was forgiven, though, over a half-dozen pristine, perfectly shucked miyagi oysters, served atop ice on an actual metal tray. After all, when it comes to date night, I'm a man of my word.
Basa Seafood Express
Location: 3064 24th St. (at Folsom Street), S.F.
Contact: (415) 550-2388, www.basaseafoodexpress.net
Hours: 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sunday-Saturday; market open until 8 p.m.
Price range: $5 to $12.99
Recommended dishes: Fried seafood combo ($12.99), soft-shell crab burger ($7.99), shoyu tuna poke ($6), spicy salmon poke ($5), ceviche ($5), clam chowder ($3.99)
Credit cards: All major
Reservations: Not accepted