Trill's recent response to my post inquiring about downtown Los Altos good eats (linked below) prompted me to check out Akane for the very first time this week.
For 9 years I always confused Akane with Mikado, which was the more visible restaurant on Main Street. Akane is tucked away about 3/4 block off Main, right across from Comerica bank. As I walked in, I noticed the older looking decor, hinting that this place has been around quite some time.
Size-wise the restaurant at first glance seems comparable to Sushi Tomi, though they only have 8 seats at the sushi bar. This also made for a shorter length counter to hold potentially more fishies or sushi neta (toppings for nigiri), but that really didn't stop them from performing overall. Two chefs manned the bar, with the head chef behind the counter on the right side. There was a TV hanging on the wall in the corner and they had the volume turned low enough to hear, but not too loud that it distracted from the dining experience.
After I was escorted to my seat at the bar, I asked to see a sushi menu (to get an idea of prices). At a first glance, most sushi nigiri were averaging $4 a pair, with the higher end items like mirugai, uni, amaebi being $6. Compared to other places, this is right about average. I would say Sushi Tomi's prices comes close to this. The sushi menu had a decent variety of nigiri, and quite a lot of fancy rolls. The guy to my right had a very nicely made dragon roll, and I noticed the "head" of the "dragon" was accented with triangular cuts of nori on the side, so it looked like ears or horns. Very cool.
Though I was not there for the rolls, but to test their traditional Edomae sushi skills of the chef and restaurant. So here's what I had in order:
Tai (red snapper) $4 - a very beautiful, elegant, curvy and shiny piece of white fish that was molded and pressed to a snug fit. I should have asked what variety of snapper this was and taken a photo. It looked more beautiful than it tasted (not to say it was bad on anything). The chef molded a shiso leaf along with the curvy snapper. The snapper was soft and light, but missing that natural sweetness like the madai I had at Fuki Sushi. Overall it was still pleasant. Visually this was the sexiest piece of nigiri preparation I've ever seen.
Hirame (halibut) $4 - this was served with ponzu sauce, mined orange ginger, and a wee bit of diced green onion. Not bad, but I have a feeling that the hirame itself may have lacked flavor or was on the dry side. Really good hirame shouldn't need all these condiments, but they can work to an advantage. However the drier varieties (naturally or from preparation/handling) won't be enhanced greatly with sauce/condiments.
Aji (Spanish or horse mackeral) $4 - I was going to order saba to test the chef's marination skills, but had a stronger craving for this fish. It was garnished with minced ginger and green onion, very typical condiments. Texture wise this was as good as Sushi Tomi and the higher end places, but flavor wise was severly lacking. The fish itself was mysteriously bland despite the soy sauce + ginger + green onion. Some preparations of aji call for very light soaking of aji in a salt water mixture, but I couldn't tell if that was done or not. Or perhaps this was not a good batch of fish.
Maguro $4 - I was pretty excited when I saw this, as it looked nice and soft and had that rich redness like blue fin tuna. Unfortunately I couldn't say the same about the taste. Texture wise it was as described, really soft and tender, almost melt in the mouth. Taste wise something was missing. Blandness again. I'm noticing a pattern of beautiful fish, great texture, but not much flavor. Am I spoilt or too used to sweet tasting fish as a result of additional chef's preparation and contrast with well prepared vinegared rice, or was something missing here? Another thing to ponder.
Tombo - $4 - This is also known as bincho (perhaps white tuna belly) and/or shiro maguro. Either way this was definitely a highlight of the meal. The albacore was seared to perfection, well prepared and looked and tasted beautiful (and the usual condiments of some ponzu sauce + green onion and orange ginger). I agree 120% with Trill that their preparation is better than Sushi Tomi's and thanks for that! I would definitely order this again, and I'm sure this would be fab for spicy albacore fancy rolls or handrolls.
Tamago (less than $4) - Another taste test for me. I asked for no rice, and received two nicely cut pieces, almost like an origami configuration. Very light, though not too much egg flavor, but moist enough. Very similar to Ino Sushi's version and ditto with Kitayama in Cupertino/San Jose (on De Anza). A decent version especially for the area, but I would not order this again.
Uni $6 - Uni was not sweet, but very creamy in texture and had no briny taste at all.
Anago $4 - very similar to Sushi Tomi's version, except a wee bit more dry and a much bigger piece that tasted meatier. It could be a Chinese variety of sea eel (ones from Japan seem to taste more soft).
I still liked the meal overall, and I would say portions wise they weren't skimpy, but not big. Price wise for nigiri they are standard, which is quite a little surprise considering the area (Fuki charges more for a similar meal). Perhaps it was an off day, but this visit doesn't rank them in the top tier in my opinion, but they do come pretty close. Perhaps a 2nd visit much later may change my mind.
I forgot about the other recommendation to try the smoked shitakes, maybe next time. The fancy rolls looked interesting, so perhaps those are the ones to get. Anyone knows what Steve Young likes to eat there? :-)