The concept of all-you-can-eat sushi and sake seemed both really good and tragically misguided all at the same time. This was my thought upon preparation to dine at Sushi and Sake in Nob Hill. I, like many others who frequent the area, had originally assumed that A.Y.C.E. sushi meant all you can drink sake, which the restaurant doesn’t offer. The misconception began with the sign out front that states the name of the restaurant, with the A.Y.C.E. information and prices underneath, which upon first glance (without regard for sentence structure) appears to advertise all the booze you can swallow along with raw fish, rice and seaweed.
Sorry kids, no unlimited alcohol. It’s for the best. Not only for the DWI rate in our fair city, but I can speak with some authority about the perils of a drink-and-drown. Waking up two days later in bed with a shaved goat, a riding crop and a strange metallic taste in your mouth is not as much fun as you’d think.
Sushi and Sake does hold up its advertised end of the bargain with unfettered access to an extensive menu of fine sushi, but there are a few rules involved that they will explain once you’re in the door. I brought a friend with me to dine, and as we were seated the server informed us that for the $17.95 lunch price (per person) we each could order any sushi from the menu, plus one chef’s special. Rule No. 2: No sharing; we both had to pay $17.95. Rule No. 3: They will charge for any leftover food that is not consumed. So if we ordered it, we’d better eat it. Rule No. 4: We had one hour in which to eat ourselves silly.
That was a lot of info on an empty stomach, so less than five minutes later I had the white paper sushi ticket filled out with our requests. We wanted the yellowtail roll (rolls are five to eight pieces each), unagi (fresh water eel) roll, asparagus roll, two orders of nigiri sushi (two pieces per order), ikura (salmon roe) and hotategai (scallops). The chef’s special sushi rolls looked impressive on the menu, and all of them were represented in large color photos with ingredients clearly listed after each.
We ordered the “Best Friends” sashimi roll and the “Luxury Shrimp” roll, the former seeming artfully prepared with fresh tuna, salmon and red snapper and wrapped in pretty yellow soy paper, and the latter an ornate creation of shrimp tempura and crab meat topped with cooked sliced shrimp, tempura flakes, spicy mayonnaise and sweet unagi sauce.
I decided to stop there because being charged for uneaten sushi could have become a subjective and potentially costly process, especially if we ordered something we ended up not liking. I had a glass of Kinsen plum wine ($5.95) which I liked very much for its rich amber color, syrupy sweetness and hint of spice.
The smaller rolls came to us first. The asparagus rolls were delicious; inside were three stalks (two raw and one tempura-battered and lightly fried). The unagi was OK, but the rolls were light on meat and heavy on rice. The yellowtail was a problem, because neither of us cared for it due to the warm temperature of the fish, and its pungent aroma and taste. Shoot. We either had to eat it or be charged anyway. I scooped up the remaining rolls in my napkin and stuffed them in my purse, hoping like hell that I would remember to discard them later.
The special rolls arrived, and they were even more fantastic-looking than the pictures. The "Best Friends" roll was filled with fish so tender and fresh that it was positively melting. The second shrimp roll was laced all over with a delicious pink mayo sauce and dusted with crunchy tempura, giving it a unique texture and wonderful taste. We were starting to get full, so by the time the nigiri arrived I was glad for my earlier restraint.
I think there was some ambiguity when I ordered the ikura, because instead of large, pearly salmon eggs I received an order of tiny masago eggs, or smelt roe. I like both, so I didn’t correct the mistake. The rolls were good, and our order of scallops were minced in a creamy mayonnaise sauce that we both thought was a nice touch.
We hit the hour deadline with all food duly consumed (not counting the hidden yellowtail roll). Our bill came out to $57.92 with alcohol, tax and tip. I went a step further and did the math on how much the sushi would have cost à la cart: Had we not ordered it as an A.Y.C.E. special it would have been only $2 more. Hmm. We hadn’t really saved money, we just barely broke even.
Overall I’d say the service was good, the sushi was creative and aside from my smelly purse, our overall experience was positive. It wasn’t the best sushi I’ve ever eaten, but it was pretty far from being the worst. It was too bad I didn’t save any money, though, because I should probably buy a new purse.
The Alibi Recommends:
Best friends roll
Luxury shrimp roll
Sushi and Sake, 3200 Central SE, 338-2424. Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Dinner Mon-Thu 4:30-9:30 p.m., Fri and Sat 4:30-10 p.m. Closed Sun. Price range: Moderate to expensive. No smoking, credit cards accepted, booze.