Akaoni means fresh fish and abundant sake in serene surroundings.
Thursday, September 28, 2000
One thing that''s cool about the whole human gumbo is that even though we really need each other, sometimes, when it comes down to it, the world''s people are worlds apart. Take raw fish, for example. The Japanese people, certainly as fine an example of the human species as exists, are born and raised eating raw fish. Obviously, over generations of selective evolution, their entire metabolic machinery had become geared for it.
Me, I''m a first-generation (and late in life) raw fish guy. Where I grew up (chronologically speaking) there were no Japanese restaurants. And if there were, I didn''t know about ''em, nor did my friends. Back then (how far is anybody''s guess) they used to cook fish all the way. Consequently, my gastronomic gestalt calls for the application of fire to the raw materials that comprise my fish meals.
By now, I have experienced raw fish many, many times, enough to understand my own body''s ability/inability to digest it. I am one who tolerates small quantities of only certain varieties.
Now Abbott, she gets down. She''s like one of those cartoon cats that picks up the fish by the tail, pops the whole thing in its mouth and out slides the skeleton. So "Abbott and Costello Hit the Sushi Joints" is not an uncommon theme in our lives.
Well, this Akaoni is no simple sushi joint. This is a big-time, serious-business Japanese restaurant that hits a lot of different marks. Of course, it has a sushi bar. As you walk through the front door, assuming you''ve found the place--Akaoni is located in Carmel, on Dolores, between 6th and 5th, more toward the 5th end, down a flight of stairs, with only a big Japanese lantern marking the spot--the sushi bar is in the room to your left. This room also contains what was once a bar (now used as a service station) and a few tables for casual dining.
To your right lies the main dining room, or rooms. As in a traditional Japanese restaurant, there are separate little semi-private rooms in which to enjoy your meal. You remove your shoes (easily one of the most civilized habits among humans) and step up into your little Japanese box of serenity. Handsome pillows await your posterior along with a pleasant surprise for stiff-jointed Americans: a cut-out below the table to allow a normal (Western "normal") seating posture.
Okay, it''s sake time. The first page of the menu (which is Japanese first, English translation second) contains a lovely sake selection. Each choice is available by the glass, small vase, large vase or bottle and comes with a grade indicating the level of dryness--way cool. We started with a large vase of Otoko-yama ($11). Another of the many particularly civilized habits of the Japanese is the hot towel before the meal to wipe off the grime of the outside world. The sake, along with a small bowl of delightful pickled onions and delicate nibblets of poached tuna, was brought by Kamiko, our agreeable, humble, efficient server, and in two swipes of a Samurai sword we were floating on pillows of pure pleasure.
Akaoni has a great menu. If the last thing on Earth you want to see is raw fish, you can order from a large variety of fully cooked meals ranging from fish to chicken, pork, beef or vegetarian. And if sashimi swings your saliva sacks and sushi satisfies your soul, stay right here because you''ve landed in the right spot. You can mix and match from a myriad of inexpensive items from all across the spectrum, knock back a few house sakes and get out with the rent still in your pocket; or you can also bring in that group of Japanese businessmen and let them rock the joint like they''re holding the mortgage. Great range.
Here''s what we ate: Sweet yam tempura ($3.80), soft-shell crab with ponzu sauce ($6.80), and clams with garlic butter sauce ($6.80)--all appetizers. The yams were perfect tempura, light, tender and delicious. The crab, bless its heart, nobly sacrificed (with the help of some enterprising crabber) its tender body for our enjoyment. It was alternatingly crunchy and delicate and bolstered by a pungent, dark soy-based sauce. The clams were exquisite. They sat in their pool of garlic broth like little mouths waiting to feed rather than be fed. The broth, which would have been great, was tainted by the metallic, wet-dog stink of our local water. All restaurants should be required to filter that malodorous liquid, and until that''s the law, all restaurants should do so on their own.
For the finale, we went with spicy tuna roll ($4.80) and henna roll ($6.80) from the sushi menu, along with the fresh yellowtail sashimi ($11.80) from the app menu. An order of steamed rice rounded it out.
Here''s the quote from Abbott: "The best yellowtail I''ve had since I was in Kyoto. On the sushi, even the cucumber and seaweed are super fresh. Everything is fresh, fresh, fresh."
Find this underground Japanese hideaway soon for a happening authentic experience.
Dolores and 5th, Carmel, 620-1028. Lunch Wednesday-Saturday 11:30am-3:30pm; dinner Wednesday-Monday 5:30-9pm. Closed Tuesdays.