By Pete Kane
By Anna Roth
By Lou Bustamante
By Anna Roth
By Max A. Cherney
By Anna Roth
By Alex Hochman
By Anna Roth
Within seconds, my date and I were fucking with wild abandon.
Or maybe not, but still, it was really that good.
3174 16th St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
Region: Mission/ Bernal Heights
Sanraku Four Seasons Japanese Restaurant
704 Sutter (at Taylor), 771-0803. Open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., weekends from 4 to 10 p.m. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: $6 for three hours at 840 Sutter with validation; otherwise, circle aimlessly until someone leaves. Muni: 2, 3, 4. Noise level: loud.
2030 Lombard (at Fillmore), 440-1505. Open every day from 5:30 to 10 p.m. (midnight Thursday through Saturday). Reservations accepted for parties of five or more. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: available across the street, otherwise difficult. Muni: 76. Noise level: moderate.
5116 Geary (at 15th Avenue), 752-5652. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 5:30 to 11 p.m. (10 p.m. on Sundays). Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 38. Noise level: low to moderate.
In fact, only one thing fell flat here, the goma ae ($3.50), a small, organic spinach salad with a blandish miso paste. Apart from that, eating at Sanraku seemed a study in how Japanese food should be prepared. The special tempura (chicken, shrimp, and vegetables, $8.95) was so crisp it rustled like dry leaves, while the sashimi deluxe ($22.95) -- three pieces each of hamachi, tuna, kingfish, sea bass, octopus, mackerel, and gorgeously marbled sheets of salmon -- burned with life from the first piece to the last. Vegetable dishes such as the pleasantly deceptive Ume Q Roll (pickled plum and cucumber, $3.50) showed the same mastery. Though it looked like sushi, the Ume Q's razor-sharp tartness reminded us more of a super-potent tangerine. Also, a trip to Sanraku would seem wasted without ordering traditional oshinko (assorted pickles, $3.50) -- Japanese cucumber and eggplant, Chinese cabbage, carrots, and daikon radish, each pickled to a different, very precise degree of piquancy. Normally, I tape-record reviews, to better relive the moment. When I played this particular recording back, during the pickle section all I heard were moans and the sharp, poignant crunch of vegetables.
In fact, one meal barely scratched the surface of Sanraku's impressively deep menu (shabu shabu, udon, donburi, teriyaki, a vegetarian section, and, of course, daily specials). Still, I feel confident summing the place up as follows: As we finished, people were waiting in the doorway at 9 p.m., and, after offering us tea (we refused, because people were waiting), our waitress packed our leftovers into a neat box, and we were off. Later, for a variety of reasons, I opened that box, and was greeted by an overwhelming bouquet of freshness -- the essence of Japanese cooking, of course, and the undeniable scent of a Moki.
In retrospect, it probably wasn't fair to run the Marina District's Mas Sake (Spanish for "more sake") through the unforgiving gauntlet of Moki-liciousness. But when I heard about Mas Sake's "freestyle sushi," I figured the place would make a nice contrast. I'll start with the positive, which won't take long: The semicircular bar looked nice, the waitresses seemed friendly, and the hamachi approached the heavenliness of Amberjack's.
Also, the tempura batter was unique -- a shade lighter than normal, which made it taste like pastry -- and made a fine coating for the gooey-rich, tempura'd Intergalactic Roll (smoked salmon, cream cheese, avocado, and cucumber, $9.25). Beyond that, the dishes we tried spoke of a place people go when they don't care what they eat, nor how much it costs. The cucumber salad with tiny nubs of octopus ($5.95) was flavorless, while the tuna poke ($8.95) with chili pepper soy sauce tasted entirely of sesame, a sad imitation of the poke I enjoy every summer in Hawaii. The shrimp tempura ($7.95) was limp, the Mack Roll (tiny scraps of Cajun shrimp, avocado, and cucumber, $6.95) the epitome of cost-consciousness, while the "chef's choice" sashimi combination -- three pieces each of hamachi, brownish tuna, and mushy cubes of salmon -- was, for $14.95, an insult.
But enough of that. We'd come for freestyle sushi; a fusion, as it turned out, of Mexican and Japanese cuisine, hence our rolls and sushi tacos. Technically, neither of these is sushi (no vinegared rice), but whatever. The grilled chicken roll (lettuce, avocado, cheese, and chicken, $5.95), sliced to resemble a maki, tasted more like a burrito without beans, rice, moisture, or sour cream, while the freestyle sushi taco -- middling bits of tuna with cilantro, onions, and lettuce ($7.95 for two) -- fell victim to the tough, apparently store-bought tortilla it was wrapped in. Granted, I didn't try everything, and the tempura-fried ice cream ($2.50) was nice. All the same, these guys couldn't spell Moki if you spotted them the M, O, and K.
Luckily, there is a cure for such madness: Kabuto, a place that, like La Rondalla, Khan Toke, and Boulevard, to name a few, exudes the utterly invincible aura of a well-established San Francisco restaurant.
After nearly two decades serving what is often regarded as the best selection of fresh fish in the city, Kabuto seems beyond any concept of Moki-ness. If Kabuto would like a Moki, however, it can have one. Hospitality here begins with hot, steamed towels and runs like a vein through every meal. And as with any good sushi house, the way to really do Kabuto is to sit at the bar and ask for whatever's fresh. Beyond that, a darkish, understated dining room and small, bright tatami mat section seem welcoming places to peruse an elaborate, three-volume menu and daily specials boards.
A short review could never do Kabuto justice, so let's focus on sashimi. For $20, Kabuto had, by far, the best sashimi combination I encountered: approximately 25 slices, quivering fresh, served with a special, reduced soy sauce that made the regular stuff taste like water. If God ever forgets what color tuna should be -- a combination of blood-red sunrise and purified starlight -- he need only visit Kabuto to remember. We got five slices of this, four slices of hamachi, a variety of seasonal, pale-fleshed fish, plus three chunks of octopus so bursting with juice eating them was like biting into slices of navel orange.
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