431 Bush St
San Francisco, CA 94108
Dining date: 12/2/13
I’ve always found San Francisco to have a surprisingly lackluster Japanese food scene, made very noticeable once I moved to Los Angeles. Comparing some of the most oft-eaten Japanese foods like sushi and ramen – SF hasn’t really had any noteworthy standouts. However, I do think it’s been catching up in recent years.
One example is Akiko’s, a restaurant that’s been around for almost 20 years but just underwent an ownership and chef change. My mom’s been following the restaurant closely ever since a stellar Michael Bauer review in September. The food’s more serious and passionate now and features a pretty extensive menu. Typically I feel like the jack-of-all-trades Japanese restaurants lack focus on any one particular item but Akiko’s seems to be able to handle it. Fried foods, grilled foods, noodles, rice bowls and a vast sushi/sashimi selection make up the menu. My mom went with the a la carte option while my dad and I opted for the omakase priced in an $80-100 range (with a few supplements). The $10 corkage was pretty sweet.
The restaurant, right in between Union Square and Chinatown, has no signage…it’s not really the type of place one would wander and stumble into. You’ve got to be seeking it.
Sunomono with octopus
The omakase meal began with a handful of cold starters. Each were great examples of the dish and I felt they put more care into these dishes than a lot of other Japanese spots. My favorite was the sunomono with its chewy bits of octopus offset by bright acidity.
My mom’s appetizer arrived next. Soft, silky tofu arrived in its crispy shell and bathed in its usual dashi/mirin/soy broth. The batter was a little thicker than I usually see, though this helped get a real firm crunch in each bite.
Sashimi kanpachi, hamachi, sustainable bluefin chutoro, maguro, saba, suzuki
A small platter of sashimi was next as we entered the raw fish-centric part of the meal. These were good examples and I particularly liked the use of the sustainable bluefin for their chutoro. Ah, San Francisco. I did find a scale in one of the pieces of fish, though.
Santa Barbara Uni and House-marinated Ikura
Presentation-wise, the uni looked a little sloppy but it had the sweet, cool flavor and mouthfeel I was expecting. The ikura was a good bite too, with its small bursts of flavor.
Assorted Tempura and Chicken Teriyaki
My mom ordered this duo as her main course. She enjoyed the simply prepared items, although we thought the oil may have been due for a change given the tempura’s dark color (it wasn’t overfried).
Nama Ebi and Hokkaido Scallop
Akamutsu and Kamasu
A couple of fish heads was next, wrapping up the omakase. The shrimp head was one of the meatiest I’ve ever had, while the kanpachi/amberjack had some really flavorful flesh particularly around the collar.
Fatty and rich, I really liked this bonito especially with its crisp onion and ginger accents. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture before scooping this one into my mouth.
With the completion of the omakase, we ordered a few supplements.
A-5 Wagyu marinated black truffle
From Miyazaki, this wagyu was smooth and rich, almost dripping with some of the excess fat. The truffle topping got a little lost in the mix, although I didn’t really mind. Delicious.
Blue Crab Hand Roll cucumber, avocado, sesame
The negihama roll came out pretty much as expected; on the other hand, I found the extra ingredients to get in way of the crab. The crab was very subtle, and the cucumber and avocado really overshadowed in terms of texture and flavor.
Mochi always seems to be a good way to end a meal.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Akiko’s. Sure, there was some sloppiness that held the meal back and the progression of items was a little out of place (as well as dishes coming out too fast as the kitchen was hurriedly closing for the evening), but this was easily some of the best sushi I’ve had in the city. The composed/cooked plates showed off some strong execution and focused flavors, while the wide variety of quality sushi is something bound to keep people coming back. A strong point, which my parents definitely appreciate, is the ability for one person to order an omakase and another to order a la carte. It’s rare for a party to be able to share a strong omakase side-by-side with an order of chicken teriyaki. Speaking of the omakase, I found the sub-$100 price to be fairly reasonable and a good way to sample what the restaurant is capable of.