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Review by

Brage Green-Thomas

  There's nothing like a good piece of sushi sitting on your tongue as you take your first bite. Ask any sushi lover, and they'll tell you the same thing. Whether it be a fresh piece of maguro (tuna) or a sweet piece of ebi (shrimp), it's always a delicious experience. However, in a city heavily populated with sushi bars and Japanese restaurants, it's hard to distinguish which are the truly good ones, and which are tourist traps. So, for the next few moments, let me be your tour guide to San Francisco's best kept sushi secret: Akiko's Sushi Bar (542 A Mason Street at Sutter).  
  There are two tables and a booth in this intimate sushi bar, but the optimum place to sit is at one of the four stools at the bar, where you have a clear view of the fresh fish and the ear of Joe and Mary, your generous hosts. Begin your meal with a cold Sapporo beer. Get a large. Share it with a friend. Don't worry, Mary will pour it for you. While you're sipping your beer and boasting about the prime parking spot you just scored on Nob Hill, you've decided to order a bowl of miso soup, and you scan the menu briefly to refresh your memory with the names of the fish before you order.  
  Joe smiles at you as you swig the last of your miso soup. Your friend is eyeing you hungrily, making the decision to begin ordering. Maguro (tuna), hamachi (yellowtail), saki (salmon), ebi ( shrimp), kani (crab), and your favorite, unagi (freshwater eel). Oh wait, you interject, how about a spider roll and a hot spicy tuna roll? Joe nods. He's done this before.

  He sets down the first of your sushi. The maguro is a velvety red, and melts in your mouth as you take your first bite. Joe put just the right amount of wasabi under the fresh tuna. The rice is packed just perfectly. You pop the remainder in your mouth and eye your friend's piece. Just as you're prepared to do battle for the other piece of maguro, Joe saves you from yourself and sets down the hamachi.  
  You savor each piece of sushi that is put before you. The shrimp is boiled perfectly. The eel is warm and sweet. Crab falls on the counter as you try gracefully to eat it in two bites. You're getting a little full, but you're looking forward to the spicy tuna roll and spider roll. Joe adds more ginger to your block while you take a break and sip more beer. He sets down six pieces of spicy tuna perfectly nestled beside fresh avocado.  
  The spice hits the back part of your mouth, immediately invoking the familiar twinge that only comes from spicy food. You reach for your beer. And another piece of spicy tuna roll.  
  Akiko's has filled up since you first arrived and Joe is busy behind the counter delicately slicing off pieces from the squid tentacle. You laugh at the suction cups, but notice it looks good enough to eat. He just received a delivery today, though the deliveries of fish vary from day to day. Everything prepared is fresh, and always delicious.

  Your friend eats the first piece of the spider roll. The legs of the soft shell crab stick out of two of the pieces. You are saving that for last. There is a sweet sauce mixed in with the crab, avocado and asparagus, though you're not sure what it is. All you know is that it tastes like a bit of heaven, and you don't care that your stomach is rapidly expanding. All that matters is that you get your share of this extraordinary combination.  
  You finish your beer, place your hand over your now protruding belly and smile.  
  If sushi is your pleasure, then Akiko's is the right place. If you want only a few pieces, then you can order a combination sushi for either lunch or dinner. The lunch combination is $7.00 and the dinner combination is $10.00. Individual sushi orders come with two pieces per order and range from $2.00 to $4.25 (the sea urchin). Dinner for two is a mere $30.00. Lunch is even less.  
  Drop by any time. Hours: Mon.-Thur. 11:30 am to 9:30 pm; Fri.-Sat. 11:30 am to 10:00 pm.