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Sakana

March 7, 2007

Sakana is a Japanese restaurant located on Post Street in the Theater District/Lower Nob area, with a clean, modern feel reminding us that we are only a couple blocks from Union Square. The menu contains many of the standard nigiri options, as well as a handful of specials, and the usual assortment of rolls. There are a couple dozen appetizers and salads, along with a few standard cooked items from the kitchen, such as donburi. However, since sakana is the Japanese word for “fish”, we figured that we would stick to the fish.

Unfortunately, this did not turn out to be a great idea. But hindsight is 20/20, isn’t it?

Short Exact got things rolling with a classic appetizer, the ankimo ponzu,

tb_sakana_ankimo.JPG

which featured five lobes of monkfish liver sitting atop a pool of the citrus-based ponzu sauce. It doesn’t look bad in the picture, but it just goes to show that even though we may “eat with our eyes first”, we still eat mostly with our taste buds. This dish was not impressive in the least. Excellent ankimo has a rich flavor, along with a smooth, creamy, yet dense texture, and when this particular dish is executed well, the ponzu provides subtle notes of bright citrus to helps to cut the richer liver. The ankimo in our dish, however, had a slightly unpleasant, grainy texture. The flavor was very flat, short-lived, and really only had one overriding characteristic — sickeningly sweet — so it’s probably a good thing that it was short-lived. In addition, the ponzu (which should have a very light, thin quality that complements other ingredients, rather than overpowering them) was too strong, and literally obliterated the ankimo. When we first sat down at Sakana’s sushi bar, we were excited to see ankimo with ponzu on the menu, but needless to say, this appetizer turned out to be a disappointing start to the meal.

Fortunately, the orders immediately following this appetizer fared better. First up were the mirugai and uni:

tb_sakana_uni_mirugai.JPG

The mirugai we had at Sakana was fine — it did not have that wonderfully subtle sweetness, but it was pretty good. The Santa Barbara uni was quite good, though, and easily the best item of the night. These sweet, creamy gonads of the sea urchin (yes, that is actually what uni is) were generously piled atop a bed of rice, and wrapped in nori, in the typical gunkan style. Santa Barbara uni is capable of delivering a wonderfully subtle yet sweet flavor which this particular specimen did not fully exhibit, but this was still a good example, as it was pleasantly sweet, without a hint of bitterness. Though we couldn’t have known it at the time, in retrospect, we probably should’ve just ordered this a few more times and called it a night.

Our last three orders for the night were awabi (abalone), aji (Spanish mackerel), and kohada (gizzard shad):

tb_sakana_awabi.JPG

The awabi — which had an unusually tough texture and was quite bitter — was definitely the disappointment of this order. Neither the aji nor the kohada were great, though. Upon ordering the kohada, we were told that only one piece was available, so apparently the sushi chef’s kohada supply was getting to the end. Our one piece of kohada was quite dry and possessed an almost mealy texture. In any case, we were not charged for this piece of sushi, so we won’t complain too much about it. The aji was better than the kohada, but still on the dry side. In all cases, the flavor of the fish was flat, and whatever flavor the fish had was masked by the excessive wasabi spreads that the chef had applied.

To sum up, out of the six items we ordered, we could only call the uni “good to very good.” Three orders (kohada, aji, mirugai) fell into the “average to pretty good” category, and the remaining two orders (awabi, ankimo) were disappointing– not unsafe or unfresh in any way, but definitely lacking in quality and flavor. It seems that “exotic fish” (i.e. fish other than maguro, hamachi, sake, unagi, et al) is not Sakana’s strength, but possibly the rolls or more standard nigiri would be prove to be more successful. (For what it’s worth, when Short Exact visited Sakana, only two people were ordering anything other than rolls: yours truly, and the Japanese man sitting next to us at the bar.)

The service at Sakana is decent: not effusive, but relatively attentive, as our tea cup was kept filled without having to ask. Then again, only a handful of tables were full at the time, so we cannot be sure whether or not this level of service is maintained during busier stretches. The sushi chef did check in with us periodically to see if we wanted to place any more orders, but other than that, he pretty much stuck to making sushi, mostly for the tables. He doesn’t seem to be the talkative type, which is too bad, because one of the main reasons to sit at the sushi bar is to converse with the chef.

Even though we were hoping that Sakana would be more impressive than it turned out to be, we couldn’t call it bad exactly, and we do plan on returning at some point to see if our visit here was a random fluke (no pun intended?) or not. Sakana is not worth going out of your way for, but it does have a very convenient location going for it. Also, the restaurant’s prompt service, the availability of tables without a wait (at least in the early evening hours), and its proximity to several theaters in the immediate vicinity make it a convenient choice for pre-theater dining. Still, if you’re in search of a serious sushi destination, we would recommend looking the other direction.

RATING:

COST:

605 Post Street (near Taylor St.)
San Francisco, CA 94109
Phone: 415.775.7644
Hours: Mon-Thurs, 11:30 am – 2:30 pm, 5:00 pm – 12:00 midnight; Fri, 11:30 am – 2:30 pm, 5:00 pm – 1:00 am; Sat, 5:00 pm – 1:00 am; Sun, 5:00 pm – 12:00 midnight.

Cuisine: Japanese
Neighborhood: Nob Hill, Union Square

How to get there: Convenient access via Muni bus lines 2, 3, 4, 27, 30, 45, 38, and 76, or the cable car lines on Powell Street. Sakana is six blocks from the Powell BART/Muni Metro station (Muni lines F, J, K, L, M, N, and T).

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3 comments

  1. That sounds disappointing, but hopefully the disappointment will get remedied the next time you visit. Till then, we’ll have to visit Murasaki and Sebo instead.


  2. Aye, so true!


  3. Sounds like a mediocre experience. Given the prices charged for sushi in NorCal, you’re 100% correct in passing on future visits.

    The name amuses me, since “sakana” is Japanese for “fish”.



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