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Apr 27, 2010 10:22 PM

Sushi Aka Tombo - the new game in town... [San Francisco]

I like to delude myself that I have a pretty decent palate. And for some things, I think I do. But when it comes to sushi, I can’t hold a candle to my buddy, Lisa. This is a woman who — if money were no object — could eat at the likes of Urasawa six days a week and not grow tired of it. So it was sort of ironic when we went out to dinner one evening at a favorite noodle joint, Tampopo, that after we left (with full bellies, mind you!), we saw the newly-opened Sushi Aka Tombo with only a few people inside. Well Lisa rates every sushi restaurant on their Uni so I suggested we go in just for a single order; sort of to determine if there was a reason to go back. Let me tell you, not only do I have a reason to go back, but I am not sure I can find better sushi in San Francisco.

This review is, in fact, two separate visits. The first was Lisa and Cassy and I, sauntering in at almost ten in the evening, ostensibly to just try the Uni which, elegantly bedecked with 24k gold leaf was astonishingly fresh. But there were a few other treats being offered so we just *had* to stay. Baby Octopus were tender and bright.

While Lisa judges her sushi restaurants on Uni, I rate them on their Ama Ebi. The sweet shrimp was delicately decorated with a bit of tobiko and my only minor fault of the evening was with frying of the heads; some of the longer antenna were broken off in the process and I particularly like those crunchy bits. But that is a minor complaint.

Our last taste of the evening was a special roll-up that Chef Yoji prepared; mackerel, nori, lettuce, jalapeño, garlic, and a bit of sesame. The saltiness of the fish complemented the fresh, spicy chili and clean crisp lettuce leaf. Watching the chef prepare an omakase for another table is what brought me back, this time solo.

My single visit occurred right after the Cherry Blossom Festival and while my first visit included a lot of face-time with the chef, after the festival closes in the evenings, it is often impossible to get a table at any restaurant in Japantown. I was lucky to be dining solo and be able to snag the end spot on the sushi bar. The staff were obviously overwhelmed, but were extremely accommodating. Upon sitting down, they pre- apologized profusely for any possible delays I might experience due to the crowd.

I didn’t need to look at the menu and quickly ordered the sashimi omakase platter I had seen the chef preparing during my last visit. While the fish was being prepared, I was served edamame, chawanmushi, and a very clear, light dashi broth (sans miso) that contained some nori and mushrooms. The chawanmushi was warm and rich, with perfectly square brunoise of carrots in the brothy bottom of the bowl and tiny bits of shrimp encased with the custard.

Then my sashimi platter arrived. At $30.00, this has to be the deal of the city; ten different kinds of fish. I received one of the most impressive servings that included baby octopus, maguro, toro, nori-wrapped uni, scallop, yellow tail, amberjack, red snapper, and sweet shrimp. All served with fresh wasabi, fresh shiso, and shredded daikon. I had all this with a small serving of Dassai Migaki Niwari Sanbu, a clean polished sake that showed hints of green apple and honeydew melon.

This is now my sushi bar of choice and I couldn’t be happier that it is within walking distance. Pics on

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  1. Those baby octopus look adorable, but is that really fresh wasabi? It's very expensive and unlikely to be included in a $30 omakase platter.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Cicely

      It doesn't look like honwasabi. Too thick and the color is a bit dark.

      Chef Ryoji is one of the very few sushi chefs in the city who were trained in japan the old fashioned way. I think he has more sushi knowledge in his mustache than the majority of chefs in the city combined.

      1. re: monkutaro

        Sushi Aka Tombo is indeed amazing, even more so when you take its prices into consideration. Chef Ryoji told me he had a tempura restaurant in Japan though, and so maybe he wasn't a sushi chef before?!

        Sushi Aka Tombo
        1737 Buchanan St, San Francisco, CA 94115

        1. re: vincentlo

          Maybe not? From the stories he's told me and the stuff he taught a friend I got the impression it was sushi training. sushiprenticing! yep, just call me portmantaro.

    2. The 2nd pic is (and ditto for the trio sitting next to the scallops on the shell in the sashimi pic) actually not baby octopus, but baby squid (proper name is Japanese firefly squid or hotaru ika) and is currently in season in Japan.

      2 Replies
      1. re: K K

        Ooops - yes, thank you. Writing under the influence of bronchitis and strep and lots of drugs. Will fix on the blog - too late to fix here.

        1. re: K K

          this post inspired me to try baby squid at sushi sam's on friday. they were DELICIOUS, and thanks to the pics i wasn't so surprised to see whole squid, though i could tell that the stranger sitting next to me at the sushi bar was a little icked out.

          thanks carrie for leading me to some great new chow :).

        2. Do you have any idea regarding sourcing (sustainability, fishing practices) pf the fish is that they are serving? For example, do they serve blue fin tuna? I find myself not going out to sushi restaurants very often unless I feel comfortable about their sourcing. I should probably just carry my Monterey Bay Aquarium guide with me, but I often don't have it handy.

          1 Reply
          1. re: farmersdaughter

            You can consistently just go to Tataki on Divisidero; they tout being the only sustainable sushi restaurant in San Francisco. I love it and need to remember to go more often for their crudo offerings versus classic nigiri presentations.

          2. Took me a while, but I finally made it to Sushi AKA Tombo, and what a find this is. Superb selection, exceptional fish, very fair prices, jolly sushi chef. Amaebi rivaled anything I've had at Sebo. Even hamachi shone. Finally, a great place to eat at Japantown.

            The board included five or six different kinds of clams, fresh abalone, Spanish mackerel, and yes, bluefin tuna. I had a yummy nasu dengaku (roasted eggplant with a spoon), the perfect comfort food on a rainy night. Great sake and shoju selection. No fresh wasabi on my plate.

            And enough cooked items to bring someone who (foolishly) doesn't eat sushi. What's good on the cooked list?

            BTW I recently tried the new Tataki on Church, and while I like what they're trying to do (substitute more sustainable bonito for tuna and arctic char for salmon), I was put off by the lack of traditionalism.

            The cuts of fish were clunky and uneven, like I'd chopped them with a dull knife. This is not a Japanese restaurant, and it shows, from the friendly but not terribly well informed server who took my order at the bar, to the Latino(?) chef who called me "lady."

            Even with happy hour prices, I spent as much as I did at Sushi AKA Tombo. It's fine if they don't want to be a Japanese restaurant, and cater to the Blowfish crowd. It's still a cute space. But I'd rather drive across town for a great meal than walk here.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Windy

              Thanks for posting back on this. I need to get back to Sushi Aka Tombo and try the rest of the menu.

              I went a while back with a friend who doesn't eat raw fish, so I tried to limit what I ordered to stay in line with his pricing, but the cooked items struck me as just-right in terms of appropriate flavor combinations, freshness, and price. The cooked food was very much like what I had in Japan in restaurants that served a variety of dishes.


              Sushi Aka Tombo
              1737 Buchanan St, San Francisco, CA 94115

              1. re: SteveG

                Wonderful. Thanks Steve. Maybe next time i'll try the tempura.

                I didn't order any of the rolls (seems like a shame in a place where the fish is so good), but there was a long list of them.

            2. Just a heads up: it looks like sadly Aka Tombo has closed down recently. Tried to go on Sunday only to find a "restaurant closed" sign on the door, with no further details.

              Wondering if anyone knows if Ryoji-san plans on reopening or doing something else?

              1 Reply
              1. re: od_sf

                Just found out that Ryoji-san passed away from cancer last year. I thought I'd pass this info on to chowhounders, as I know he was friends with many of his regular customers. Such a shame. He was a great itamae, and a truly, genuinely good guy.