By Omar Mamoon
By Kate Williams
By Pete Kane
By Molly Gore
By Lou Bustamante
By Anna Roth
Make it a 5.
Yoshi-san's Monkichi proved a bit more low-key, a quiet, very brightly lit beacon of sushi happiness set amid the Richmond District's dark and tranquil avenues. You won't wait long to get into the as-yet-undiscovered Monkichi -- only two other tables were occupied when we arrived. After two hearty bowls of miso soup with tofu, carrots, and sliced daikon radish ($1.50), we began with the one dish that had me quaking in my boots going in: the monkfish liver ($6), which a higher-up had advised me to order upon suggesting Monkichi. Fortunately, the liver proved exquisite -- a sort of cool, creamy pâté that tasted a bit like smoked salmon and was bathed in a tangy soy-vinegar sauce.
3174 16th St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
Region: Mission/ Bernal Heights
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
I had also been advised to try the white tuna tataki ($10.50), which is some of the best counsel I've ever received. Featuring lightly seared strips of albacore over shredded daikon, sprinkled with scallions, sesame, and brilliantly luminescent tobiko, the tataki was bathed in a light special sauce so impeccable it made me want to leap up, seize the gentleman behind the sushi bar (Yoshi himself), and proclaim that dear man Yoshi-sama!
No one advised me to order the seafood and vegetable tempura ($12.75), though someone should have. In addition to a perfectly cooked medley of vegetables (broccoli, green peppers, onion) and the ubiquitous shrimp, the tempura also came with a few unidentifiable bits of seafood, forcing us to put our faith in the chef and bite. Our trust was rewarded each time, however, as we cooed, "Oh ... salmon! Ah ... squid!"
Monkichi offers exactly 20 "special rolls." The Boston Roll (crab with mayonnaise and salmon, $4.75) was hearty, the Canadian Roll (salmon and asparagus, $4.50) quite austere, and the Dragon Roll (shrimp tempura, eel, crab, avocado, and tobiko) downright spectacular. My favorite, however, was the very intriguingly named My Back Yard Roll (asparagus, cucumber, carrot, and avocado, $3.80), whose ends were left untrimmed so that this fine, fine maki really did resemble someone's back yard.
All in all, the service at Monkichi was polite and well-paced, the atmosphere relaxing, and every dish well-prepared, warranting a score of a definite 8. Which I upgraded to 8 1/2 because of the list of appetizers as long as my forearm (hamachi cheek, "dinosaur feet," clam butter soup) and the very creative names given to rolls I'll have to try when I go back: the Tootsie Roll, the Swamp Roll, and the Poison Caterpillar Roll, certainly the most interesting use of words I've seen for some time.
Until I got to Moki's Sushi and Pacific Grill, that is. After taking a day off (a person can only eat so much sushi), I followed up on the suggestion of one of our readers, who recently asked how this newspaper could be "blind to the best sushi in the city." Well, when an assertion like that hits SF Weekly's offices, all hell breaks loose -- emergency meetings are called, attorneys consulted, crack teams of experts flown in from around the globe, and with a swiftness that amazed even me (OK, I did visit the other two places first), I slid down my bat pole and sped toward Bernal Heights' increasingly Noe Valley-like Cortland Avenue.
As its name implies, the smallish, somewhat tiki-themed Moki's offers more than just sushi. Though the Thai-style crab cakes with red curry ($7.95) were unforgivably mushy, the spicy corn fritters ($5) with Indonesian soy sauce were magnificent, as were the dayboat scallops with sour-mango coleslaw ($7.50), the scallops seared to an elegant crispness.
The specialty rolls were likewise well- prepared and brilliantly named -- the Tahitian Sunrise Roll (salmon and avocado, tempura'd, with scallions, $6.50), the J.D. Roll (salmon skin, shrimp, scallions, cream cheese, and mintlike shiso, $5.75, and OK, maybe that name isn't so slick), and the very clever Salmon Reunion Roll (salmon skin, salmon, shiso, daikon sprouts, topped with salmon roe, $6.75). As alluring as these maki were, however, they couldn't compare to the Ecstasy Roll (ahi, albacore, avocado, tobiko, and scallions, $7.75), which was tempura-fried, whole, for what must have been about three seconds, giving it a delicate, golden skin that made it the best of the dozen rolls I'd consumed over the course of three nights.
The sashimi combination ($17.25) was beautifully arranged, and featured salmon, mackerel, ahi, yellowtail, a lone sweet shrimp, and three gorgeous slices of octopus. And the sterling salmon ($10.75) was even better -- an ample slice of the above, topped with mango-cucumber sambal, served with macadamia pilaf and a side of sautéed spinach.
To top it off, our hot sake was served in charming glass decanters, and the check came with, to my delight, a pair of Hershey's kisses. So I guess what I'm saying is, Moki's beat Tokyo Go Go like an old, dusty rug, and edged out Monkichi by the slightest of margins. An 8 1/2, plus the tip of a single grain of rice. As for that "best in the city" claim -- well, I'm not going to stick my neck out that far, though I do hope to keep investigating, and reader suggestions are, of course, welcome.