From sizzling scallops to pickles, Akasaka offers it all
By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic
But once you're inside this tiny Japanese restaurant (six tables in the dining room, plus a sushi counter, and a two-table tatami room), it's easy to forget the outside world. The decor is easy on the eyes, and the staff is quietly helpful, electing not to shout out a welcome as is the custom in many Japanese restaurants, but to greet you more sedately.
Akasaka is a longtime favorite of knowledgeable locals and resident Japanese nationals. A friend recommended one of their specialty items, sizzling scallops, called scallop butteryaki ($9.95), and I wasn't disappointed. On a super-hot cast-iron platter, a collection of the sea treats sits, slightly coated (with a dusting of flour or cornstarch to seal in the juices), while performing the sizzling serenade. Our waitress squeezed a wedge of fresh lemon over the scallops and then proceeded to drape them with a creamy mayo-based sauce. It's one of those dishes that you could return for again and again. They also do a bang-up job on their other broiled specialties, including the New York steak ($15.50), unagi (eel) kabayaki ($14.50), and hamachi (yellowtail) shiyoyaki ($13.95).
Rarely is a Japanese meal served without tsukemono (pickles). Tsukemono offer color, texture and aroma to a meal; the earliest-known tsukemono were called konomono, or "fragrant things." Tsukemono is offered on all the teishoku (set meals) at Akasaka; the meals also include miso soup and rice. The butterfish misoyaki ($12.95), salmon ($9.95), ahi teriyaki ($11.75), and chicken cutlet ($8.95) are all quite good. You can double or triple up by choosing a combination teishoku with two choices ($18.95) or three ($24.95).
It may come as a surprise to learn that tempura owes its origins to 16th-century Portuguese missionaries. However, tempura, like many other imported ideas, gradually was adapted to fit Japanese needs and tastes. At Akasaka, the tempura and fried offerings are prepared with an artful touch, arriving at your table hot and crunchy. Among the choices: shrimp tempura (five large pieces, $9.95), shrimp and vegetable ($8.95), vegetable ($6.95), fish ($8.95), ika (squid, $9.95), scallops ($9.95) and chicken cutlet ($7.95). The dipping sauce is a good one, balancing salty with sweet.
When Akasaka gets busy a bit later at night, the sushi bar does a brisk business. You can get a nigiri combination or the chirashi zushi combo ($15.50 regular, $17.50 deluxe) with a generous selection of fish.
Noodle lovers can get their fix with a selection of udon and soba ($6.75-$8.95). Rice lovers can get their beloved donburi and chazuke dishes. There's something for everyone. Lunchtime prices are lower on almost all items.
About 95 percent of Akasaka's business is from repeat customers, according to manager Mimi Allgire. The restaurant has built a following in its 20 years of business, and it's easy to see why. There's nothing fancy or out of the ordinary here: just honest standards, served with a smile.
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