Big flavor in small bites
Unassuming Akane excels at seafood, Japanese classics
Downtown Los Altos is rife with cafes and eateries of all kinds, but walk a bit off the main drag and down a mid-block walkway, and you will find Akane, a quiet and unassuming Japanese restaurant that really does things right.
The restaurant is certainly no secret — it's been in business for 23 years, and tables fill up quickly both at lunch and dinner. Decor is low-key and tasteful, with a cinnabar-colored beamed ceiling and framed scenic photographs here and there. Blond wooden tables are well-spaced and unadorned. A lacquered openwork divider separates the sushi bar from the main dining area; an adjacent side room can accommodate small parties.
Though the menu offers a little bit of everything, from soba noodles to sukiyaki, seafood is the real reason to dine at Akane. Fish is immaculate and glisteningly fresh. Most sushi selections are pretty traditional: sashimi plates of yellowtail, salmon or tuna ($16-$18); nigiri ($4-$8 for two) of yellowtail, squid, roe, scallop, salmon and mackerel. A handwritten whiteboard lists the daily specials.
We chose to sample some small plates for a recent midweek dinner. With more than 50 selections on the appetizer menu alone, you can play it safe or be adventurous, with options including potstickers, beef tongue, potato croquettes, grilled sand dabs, skewered beef and green onion, and sauteed mushrooms.
Taking our server's suggestion, we started with the seafood tartar appetizer ($12.50), a disc of cubed salmon, tuna and avocado that is dashed with a tangy sauce when it is brought to the table. Served with a side dish of rippled potato chips, it combines sweet and salty, smooth and crunchy, spicy and savory in each bite. With a glass of sauvignon blanc ($8.50) and a few pieces from the sushi bar, this appetizer is satisfying enough to easily make a meal.
The eggplant in ginger sauce ($6) is a sharp broth loaded with thick slices of grilled vegetable and studded with lots of green onion.
The 30 varieties of makimono rolls ($4-$12) feature some more unusual combinations as well as several vegetarian options, such as cucumber and plum paste, pickled radish and avocado. The eel with avocado was loaded with deep flavor, and the spider roll (breaded soft-shell crab) was generous to the point of being difficult to eat. Akane also does its sushi rice properly. The texture is chewy without being gummy — an all-too-common downfall at many sushi restaurants.
Weekday lunches feature a number of very economical specials, including a bento box ($10.95) that comes with a choice of two entrees accompanied by salad, miso soup, rice, lotus root and seaweed. Cooked dishes generally don't fare as well as the seafood. The shrimp and vegetable tempura, while generous in portion, tasted flat and doughy. Salmon shioyaki was cooked properly with sauce that was a bit too sweet for my taste. Specials all come with a tasty miso sprinkled with a few cubes of innocuous tofu.
A lunch splurge was also a highlight. The deluxe sushi plate ($20 and up) was the chef's choice of eight kinds of the day's freshest sushi, which included salmon roe, hamachi (yellowtail), shrimp and unagi (eel), along with a tuna roll. While a bit skimpy size-wise, the dish had a lovely presentation, and flavors were rich and diverse.
Desserts are not a strong point. Mochi ice cream ($2 per piece) was cut into quarters for a pretty presentation, but tasted unnervingly like the kind I buy at Trader Joe's.
Service was friendly and efficient, and our dinner server in particular was extremely patient as an old friend and I caught up before looking at the menu. Her suggestions were spot-on and her timing unrushed despite a room full of tables.
Akane does its sushi right and is a low-key spot to experiment with small plates that you do not usually see in most Japanese restaurants. It's a good place to enjoy tried-and-true tastes while sampling some new presentations and flavors.
250 Third St.
Hours: Lunch: Tue.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Dinner: Tue.-Sun. 5-9 p.m.
Credit cards: yes (over $25)
Parking: adjacent lot
Alcohol: beer, wine, sake
Wheelchair access: yes
Delivery: Limited selection through waiter.com
Outdoor seating: no
Noise level: low
Bathroom cleanliness: excellent