Battle Sushi

There is nothing on this Earth that I adore more than sushi, or just about any seafood prepared in the tradition of the land of the rising sun. In fact, I have two theories on the matter: that 1) raw, fresh fish is a perfect thing in itself, and, like the paradise of Christian lore, can only be spoiled by human meddling; and that 2) raw, fresh fish is a perfect thing that can, in fact, be improved far beyond the bloodless illusion of the ideal, through the addition of seasonings, the combination of ingredients, the use of heat, black magic, side orders of forbidden fruit, et al.

And the perfect sushi restaurant -- if such a thing exists -- would cater to both my theories, which, of course, contradict one another, the way theories often do. But then again, as Walt Whitman once said, "I am large, I contain multitudes" -- not my favorite line of his, but certainly in the top five. Which is still saying a lot considering what a magnificent writer Mr. Whitman was before his time on Earth came to an end. Just as yours will, and mine, and everyone's, for that matter. So please, enjoy while you can.

Now that I've thrown that out there, I should say it must be difficult to open a sushi restaurant in San Francisco. Given the many fabulous -- and often convenient -- options available to residents of this fair city, a new place has to offer something special if it hopes to lure people away from their favorite haunts. But all the same, new sushi restaurants do keep popping up, which prompted me to spend an extended weekend visiting three that opened within the last year or so, to determine those most worthy of the public's hard-earned bucks.

Anthony Pidgeon

Location Info

Map

Tokyo Go Go

3174 16th St.
San Francisco, CA 94110

Category: Restaurant > Asian

Region: Mission/ Bernal Heights

Details

Tokyo Go Go
3174 16th St. (at Guerrero), 864-2288. Open Tuesday through Thursday 5:30 to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5:30 to 11 p.m., Sunday 5 to 10 p.m. Reservations accepted for parties of four or more. Parking: difficult. Muni: 22, 26. Wheelchair accessible. Noise level: loud.

200 23rd Ave. (at California), 876-1834. Open every day except Tuesday from 5:30 to 10 p.m. (10:30 on weekends). Reservations: not needed. Parking: can be tricky. Muni: 1. Wheelchair accessible. Noise level: low.

Moki's Sushi and Pacific Grill
830 Cortland (at Gates), 970-9336. Open daily from 5 to 10 p.m. Reservations accepted for parties of five or more. Parking: not too hard. Wheelchair accessible. Muni: 24. Noise level: low to moderate

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For the sake of comparison, I rated the restaurants on a scale of 1 to 10, designating the very adequate We Be Sushi on Valencia and 22nd as a 5. A 1 represents Fred's Sushi in North Platte, Neb. (stay away from the Bass Roll), a 10 the mythical Best Sushi in San Francisco. Which I may have found, or, then again, may not have. And if I did, I might not tell anyone about it, since that would be a secret worth keeping. See, isn't sushi fun?

I began at Tokyo Go Go, where everything, put simply, is beautiful. The décor -- a sort of Austin Powers-looking setup -- is gorgeous. The waitstaff is ravishing. The patrons are quite fetching. My date shimmered with loveliness. Hell, even I was feeling pretty. Located on the Mission District's über-trendy 16th Street, Go Go was packed to the rafters when we arrived at 9 p.m. The wait for two seats took exactly the amount of time needed to down a pair of margaritas at Dalva across the street, then order a third from Go Go's full bar. How convenient.

With its upbeat soundtrack (house, rock, and salsa) and eclectic menu, Tokyo Go Go isn't exactly your traditional sushi house. For example, our first dish, the salmon salad ($5.50), featured smoked salmon, capers, red onions, and baby spinach over a crispy potato cake, which was quite tasty, but more Californian than Japanese. The sashimi combination ($12.95) proved a step above average -- three slices each of fresh salmon garnished with lemon, the always exhilarating yellowtail, and dark red trapezoids of ahi, as well as a roll of thin-sliced halibut garnished with diced scallions and a very pretty sprinkling of tobiko (flying fish roe).

Tokyo Go Go has been packed both times I've visited -- a Tuesday and a Friday -- which causes the service and consistency to suffer. The first time I ordered the miso-marinated Chilean sea bass ($12.50) with pickled potatoes, the dish was as salty as a Dead Sea mackerel (which I kind of liked), while on this occasion it needed a touch of soy sauce to achieve the same effect. Though the sea bass was still good, we preferred the soft-shelled crab stuffed with tiger shrimp ($8.95) -- four ample halves of that most naked of crustaceans, accompanied by dollops of sweet mango chutney.

As for the sushi: The Dynamite Roll (baked scallops with wasabi tobiko, $4) was interesting, though not as spicy as the name implied, while the Tuscan Roll (salmon, basil, sun-dried tomato, cucumber, and capers, $4) could as easily have been a salmon roll, since the seasonings didn't really come through. The vegetable futomaki (asparagus, shiitake, cucumber, burdock, and, my personal favorite, gourd, $4) proved delightfully crunchy, and would have made a nice end to the meal.

Except we'd also ordered the Go Go Roll (shrimp, cucumber, and garlic croutons, $6.50), which arrived about five ... no, make that 10 ... or, actually, 15 minutes after the veggie roll, by which point we were more than ready to leave. Topped with what appeared to be dabs of ranch dressing, the roll tasted like ... a salad. From Sizzler. Where I could also have piled on some tomatoes for good measure. So while the food was definitely better than mediocre (and the cooked dishes in particular were good), I decided to penalize Go Go a point for poor service and give it a 6. But then I remembered that Sizzler offers all-you-can-eat salads, a much better deal than paying $6.50 for one roll.

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