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Akasaka has the best in town

click to enlarge The art of sushi as practiced at Akasaka - SEAN CAYTON

I have a confession to make. I am a sushi snob. This is a snobbery born of experience, as I have had the good fortune to spend many moons on the shores of the blue Pacific. Consequently, I am a spoiled sushi brat. Since I moved to the Springs, I've been to the most popular sushi places, and I've been unimpressed. Only recently did I discover one spot with reliably good fish. Now I have found another. Set back in the Flintridge Mall on Academy just south of Union, Akasaka may have the highest quality fish in all of Colorado Springs.

Their painted and cheerful space offers diners three seating choices, all finished in light woods and marked by geometric cutouts. Tables feature low-backed chairs that are surprisingly comfortable. Three private rooms, elevated and separated by screens, are available for an intimate evening. Of course, the best seat in the house is at the sushi bar. Inside its peek-a-boo case reside Akasaka's crown jewels, from the familiar tuna (maguro) and salmon (sake) to the exotic, including halibut (hirame) and toro (fatty tuna). Reinforcements arrive fresh daily, flown in from vendors in Chicago and Japan. Now in their third year, Akasaka has the potential to achieve sushi stardom.

Fresh fish alone does not make for good sushi; it must also have good flavor and texture. Excellence in two of these categories already raises Akasaka above its peers. The cleanly flavored tuna nigiri (a slice of raw tuna, lightly slathered with wasabi, served over rice and meant to be eaten in one bite) was deeply red and meaty on the tooth. If you think of tuna as a side of beef, consider toro the filet mignon -- a luxury cut characterized by a buttery texture and subtle flavor. Akasaka's toro ($6.95) is prime grade, so order some and indulge a little. Japanese mackerel (saba, $3) carried the ocean's salt to the table, while salmon ($3.75) and yellowtail (hamachi, $5.95) were rich, creamy and delicious.

Although very tasty, the sushi at Akasaka could be even better on the palate. Without getting too technical, sushi's texture is not determined by the fish alone. The actual cut makes a real difference. Improperly sliced fish can break into pieces or become too chewy, wreaking havoc on the experience. More consistent technique would further showcase the quality of Akasaka's fish, and further enhance the sensual side of eating sushi.

Rolls at Akasaka are as pleasing as the nigiri. Our rainbow roll ($11.25) featured alternating slices of tuna, salmon, red snapper (tai) and avocado, atop a surprisingly good California roll. Standbys of most sushi eaters' repertoires, spicy rolls, lived up to their name at Akasaka. Spicy tuna ($5) and spicy yellowtail rolls ($7.50) brought solid heat and also boasted big chunks of fish. This is a nice touch, as many sushi bars use scrapings from less desirable parts of the loin as fodder for these rolls.

Rice may be the most frequently overlooked factor in Japanese food, but it can make or break rolls and nigiri. Akasaka's moist and tangy rice contributes nicely to the flavor and mouth-feel of their offerings.

Not into raw fish? No problem. Order the scallop butteryaki ($8.95), six seared sea scallops served sizzling on a skillet. The dish is hard to perfect because the scallops continue to cook as they are served, but the kitchen got it just right. Coming off the hot iron, the scallops had a salty crust on the outside and a sweet, tender interior. Other items were less successful. Although Akasaka makes one of the best tempura sauces I have ever tasted, (adding ground daikon radish, ginger and dashi to the usual mixture), the tempura itself ($8.50) did not make the grade. A thinner tempura batter, sparingly applied, would make a better match for the food within and the sauce. Chicken teriyaki ($8.25) righted the ship, thanks to a great sauce that was more complex and less sticky than most. At lunch, you can get this favorite in a bento box with grilled mackerel, a sushi roll, rice, and salad for only $6.95. Most orders come with miso soup and a small appetizer, such as house-made fish salad or edamame (soy beans).

Even though minor improvements would make a very good meal even better, they are doing most things very well at Akasaka. This is especially true of their excellent service, undoubtedly a key to their successs. Everyone on staff is friendly, knowledgeable and happy to recommend certain dishes and explain others. They know many of their customers by name and take time to talk to everyone. And their rewards program, offering diners $10 credit on every $100 spent, is a great deal. If you like great fish, creativity in the kitchen, and a warm environment, give Akasaka a try. You just might see me there ogling the luscious yellowtail.

Mmmmmmm ... yellowtail ...

capsule

Akasaka

4737 N. Academy Blvd. (in the Flintridge Center)

Lunch: Mon. Sat., 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Sun. Thurs., 5-9 p.m., Fri. and Sat., 5-10 p.m.

272-7301

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