Thursday, March 19, 2009

Review: Aki

Back in the days when I was a-courtin' L and she was still in college, a spot she introduced me to was the sushi joint Aoi (ah-OH-ee, not A-O-I, as I'd tell her over and over) on Walnut Street. The primary draw here was the $20 all-you-can-eat-sushi. Part of the fun of this was the tension caused by the all-you-can-eat policy: no sharing, no doggy-bags, and finish everything on your plate, or you pay for the uneaten pieces. I understand this led to some comical incidents of things getting stuffed in napkins and handbags, and I only pray these stray items were found before they became catastrophically stinky. Anyway, despite the low price, the sushi could best be described as "workmanlike", and the interior was quite accurately described by one of my co-workers as "Filipino strip club". (Not that I would know - but he has been to several.) 

After a slow descent from even this barely-respectable level of quality, cheap sushi fans finally said sayonara to Aoi. Now new owners have come in, traded the "O" for a "K" in the restaurant-name Scrabble-letter sack, and emerged with the sparkling new Aki. And wouldn't you know it, it was another all-you-can-eat-deal that brought us back to try it out.

Now $25, the extra five bucks goes towards a modern atmosphere, with pleasant red and brown tones on the wall, fountains, paper lamps hanging from the ceiling, and no front end of a rusted-out car sticking out above the restrooms like Aoi had. Another catch - the AYCE is only on Wednesdays and Sundays. For less gluttonous diners and people stopping by on the other days of the week, the menu looks quite inviting, with several decent-looking sushi combos and a nice variety of cooked dishes for any raw fish-o-phobes you might be eating with.

So, the sushi. The selection for the AYCE is quite wide, with at least a dozen options for maki, nigiri, and hand rolls. Also remarkable is the size of the pieces. Aficionados of Japanese daintiness will be taken aback by the girthsome rolls and almost Twinkie-sized pieces of nigiri. It certainly changes the AYCE equation when each thing you order is 10 to 25% larger than you were expecting - so order wisely, lest you be stuck with still-forbidden leftover pieces.

As enticing as the value proposition is on the quantity of the sushi, I'm afraid quality fell into the less-than-stellar category. Nothing was outright bad, but the flavor of the fish was not as clean as it is in other spots like Raw and Izumi. Fried items, like the shrimp in the tempura rolls, had a time-to-change-the-fryer-oil note to them. The nori wrapper on my eel-and-avocado hand roll was somewhat tough and gummy. Still, again, not a bad value for the money and a definite improvement on the space's former inhabitants.

To do it proper justice, I'd like to do a return visit and try some of the intriguing-sounding special rolls, though I'll be skipping the one that's topped with pineapple salsa.

Is it worth the trip? If you're into sushi and lots of it, definitely. If you're more quality-oriented and don't mind paying a bit more, head to Shiroi Hana a few blocks away. If you want a fantastic lunch deal, go to Raw nearby for one of the bento boxes. But for raising the sushi property values on its block compared to its former tenant, this newcomer deserves praise and thanks.

Aki on Urbanspoon

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