You know that feeling when you discover a restaurant thats really good, super cheap, you know its going to become part of your regular rotation, *and* youve never seen a single review of it? Welcome to my Saturday night. Im still giddy.
The subject of my glee is Akagi, a Japanese restaurant located in a nondescript strip mall just removed from El Camino Real in San Bruno. When we arrived Saturday evening around 8:30 the place was packed (and the clientele was about 90% Asian which seemed like a good sign), and there was a wait to be seated (our wait was about 10 minutes). Eventually, we were led to two seats at the sushi bar. Now at many Japanese restaurants, the sushi bar is the happening spot. At Akagi the sushi bar is a tiny cluster of seats in an alcove barely visible from the main room, and its a little dingy. Actually, in its own way the sushi bar is kind of awesome. And a few minutes after we sat down we had it to ourselves for the rest of the night.
The décor in general reminded me of the narrow restaurants that cater to students that you find in Berkeley on the alleys between Bancroft and Durant and Channing, or in the Northgate food court that is bare bones. And when I mean bare bones décor, I mean bare bones décor - cheap tables and chairs, unadorned white walls, and nothing else. Well, unadorned white walls except for Akagis awesome *not* décor. That is, there were four signs near the waiting area all telling visitors *not* to do something whether it was *not* to seat yourself, *not* to bring in outside food or drink, or *not* to smoke. That last one was posted twice on two directly adjacent signs. But that kind of décor is *not* an issue with me - all I care about is the food. And this was good stuff.
At dinner, a regular combination (choice of 2 items) is $6.75, and a deluxe combination (choice of 3 items) is $7.95. The combos are served with soup, salad, rice, and pickles, and are served bento box style. Items to choose from in the combinations include:
Salmon shioyaki (salted salmon)
Nikunegi (beef, onion, and clear noodles)
Yakizakana (broiled mackerel: plain or teriyaki)
Tonkatsu (pork cutlet)
Chicken katsu (chicken cutlet)
Momiji (beef with vinegar sauce)
Teriyaki short ribs
Unfortunately, the meal started out badly the miso soup was by far the saltiest wed ever tasted, and I didnt even get through half of it. I wondered if the saltiness could be attributed to the pieces of seaweed in the soup. The salad dressing lacked complexity and briefly I wondered if it was just plain, old Italian dressing.
But then we dug into the entrees. We both ordered beef teriyaki as part of our combos. It had a nice grilled flavor, and was cooked a nice medium/medium well. (We werent asked what doneness we preferred, though a little closer to medium would have been preferred.) The meat quality for mine was quite good. The boyfriends beef had a few questionable pieces he ended up spitting out, but overall we were very, very happy with it. I know him spitting parts out seems to be at odds with this, but really, he liked it a lot. After all, wasnt it James Beard who postulated, A meal you only have to spit out twice during is a good meal.
As part of my 2 item combo I got the tempura which consisted of 2 prawns, broccoli, sweet potato, and something else squash? The texture was very slightly rubbery, but the batter was crisp and not very greasy. I was quite pleased.
The boyfriend ordered the 3 item combo, and in addition to his beef teriyaki he got the salmon teriyaki which he liked but declared not as good as the beef. He also had sashimi for the first time (the boyfriend is picky and therefore has led a sheltered life) which he enjoyed and plans to order here again. One nice thing about the low prices for 3 items is that you can try new stuff and not be afraid of having nothing to eat if you dont like it. He ranked his dishes (best to worst): beef teriyaki, sashimi, salmon teriyaki. I also ranked the beef first, but definitely plan to order tempura in the future.
Only chopsticks were offered, and when we asked for silverware we only received plastic forks. That made eating beef teriyaki difficult since it was cut into long strips (some with parts the boyfriend would have liked to cut off), and were not very agile with chopsticks. Ruth Reichl once said something wise about Japanese food and cutlery that held true to our experience: Expect to fish out big pieces of tempura from the dipping sauce if you only have plastic forks.
The combos are offered at lunch as well for the same prices, and individual items (though not everything on the combo list) are available with soup, salad, and rice for $5.25. In general the prices are ridiculously low - for instance an appetizer of edamame is $1.35. A little over half or so of the patrons ordered sushi ura-maki sushi (6 pieces) is $2.75 - $3.50, maki sushi (6 pieces) is $1.75 - $2.25.
Soft drinks are only $.95! At a sit-down restaurant no less! The beverage menu also includes Japanese beer, white and plum wines, and sake (we generally dont drink so I didnt try what they had to offer).
If you go, beware of the hours! Not only is this place closed Sundays, but it closes earlier on Saturdays than weekdays. They stick to the closing time, too our server came by at 8:50 to tell us the kitchen would be closing. Our service was fine but nothing special Id describe it as efficient.
Oddly enough theres another Japanese restaurant two doors down called Spiral that offers nearly the same combination menu and same prices. Im very interested in trying Spiral so I can compare.
In the meantime Im enthralled that there is a Japanese place on the peninsula that serves the same quality teriyaki combos as our beloved Kamakura in Alameda and at 61.41947% the price! (Can you tell I took out my trusty swag calculator?)
713 Camino Plaza
(El Camino Real & Kains removed slightly from street)
San Bruno, CA 94066
M-F: 11:30 a.m. 1:55 p.m.
5:00 p.m. 9:50 p.m.
Sat.: 11:30 a.m. 1:55 p.m.
5:00 p.m. 8:50 p.m.