The story: This unmarked, tiny Japanese sushi restaurant on the edge of San Francisco’s Financial District and Chinatown has been opened for about 20 years. But about six years ago the family’s son, Ray Lee, bought out his parents and took control, bringing in a new chef to man the sushi counter.
Why I went: I got together for dinner with my niece, and she had a craving for sushi so I suggested Akiko’s. Although I’d never been here, I had heard rumblings about the food after The Chronicle’s Michael Bauer wrote a glowing review two years ago.
The vibe: Definitely a young, Financial district vibe. We had an early dinner on a weeknight, and there were a lot of people who looked like they were coming in after work. My niece and I sat in one of the few tables in the front room near the sushi bar, but most of the tables were squeezed in a back dining room that was dark and almost like a private club. Up front, it was brighter and the decor sophisticated and slick, especially the impressive sushi bar. Still, the restaurant only has 38 seats and many people were turned away if they didn’t have a reservation.
The booze: For a sushi restaurant, it has a nice selection of white and red wine. There are more white wine sold by the glass than red (probably because white goes better with fish), and there’s also an impressive list of sake.
The menu: There’s a few ways to approach Akiko’s menu. First, there’s the ala carte menu, then you an order omakase, or chef’s choice, at the sushi bar, and finally there’s what’s called the nama menu, which is a daily changing menu of specials. We mostly ordered from the ala carte menu, which list the bulk of fresh fish available, sold as two pieces of nigiri or as sashimi (slices of fish without the rice). If you feel overwhelmed by the choices, I recommend starting with the sashimi tasting ($35), which is a selection of five different raw fishes totaling 12 pieces. I ordered a few additional nigiri to complement what we were trying on the sashimi tasting, and my niece ordered the spider roll ($10), made of soft shell crab cooked tempura-style and rolled with avocado and scallions A few non-sushi items are under the “Kitchen” section, including a few vegetable dishes and several fried items, such as agedashi tofu ($9) and the ika ($9) or fried Monterey squid, which we ordered (I know, we ordered a deep-fried dish). There’s not much for dessert, other than a selection of mochi ice cream.
My favorite dish: I loved all the fish we had, some recommended by our server, such as the creamy kuro maguro (or black tuna) from Nagasaki or the tennen hirame (or wild halibut) also from Nagasaki that came as a nigiri with a shiso leave between the rice and light seasoning. When I found out they were out of local uni (or sea urchin), I ordered the ankimo or monkfish liver ($8.50) that was a darker, reddish color than typical ankimo and interestingly presented in slivers rather than one big chunk. It was creamy and flavorful.
Insider tip: Omakase is only offered at the sushi bar by request only, so make a note when making reservations.
The last bite: Akiko’s offers up high-end sushi (as demonstrated by the prices), but the freshness and unique offerings often from Japan makes it worth it. The expert knife skills of the sushi chef are displayed in the sashimi and nigiri, and the helpful and efficient service makes it a classy spot for sophisticated sushi. The rolls are more traditional than wacky, but that’s part of Akiko’s authenticity that rings true.
The rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Akiko’s Sushi Restaurant, 431 Bush St. (near Kearny), San Francisco. PH: 415.397.3218. Open weekday lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner, Monday through Saturday, 5:30 to 9 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. akikosrestaurant.com
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