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Domo Sushi

Hayes Valley Wins a Casual-Chic Sushi Counter

Hot trend of late: the casual, Japanese bar food scene. (Think O Izakaya and Sebo.) While the sushi offerings in these "Japanese tapas" bars are of the familiar, Americanized kind -- with ingredient flair and additions that seem to have no business in sushi -- the feel is Tokyo intimate. Domo joins the club, offering a chic, casual, and reasonably priced option for a quick sushi fix in Hayes Valley, just around the corner from sushi purist zone Sebo.

A collaboration between Luke and Kitty Sung (of long-lived Asian fusion distinction at Isa) and good friend Kuo Wha, Domo trumps O Izakaya and Sebo in intimacy, seating a mere 15 patrons at once. The pint-sized, counter-only spot contains a spare, low-lit sushi bar and L-shaped counter along the window (affording flattering lighting to those on dates), and floor-to-ceiling natural wood panels warm up the space.

On a recent evening, we were first seated in the crack between the sushi bar and the window counter, where we were both held hostage -- stuck between couples on either side -- until the window spot next to us opened up and we scooted down. Domo is not for the claustrophobic. Be prepared to get cozy with your neighbors -- literally.

Others have noted that the variety of sushi here is smaller than Seboís, but all agree that itís far more value for the bill -- rolls range mostly between $3.95-$7.95, topping out at $12.95, and standard nigiri like maguro and sake ring up at $4.25. Throw in a half bottle of cold, unfiltered (and unfancy) nigiri sake for around $10 bucks, and you're left scratching your head that dinner didnít cost more.

A selection of small crudos (2 orders for $5.95) come as two-spoonful bites of dressed raw seafood, a stylish start. Spicy tuna is seasoned with sriracha, sesame oil, cilantro, avocado, and a dash of daikon ó we could easily have ordered six more. A monkfish liver with ponzu sauce and scallions was less interesting, however.

Fish in every dish was extremely fresh and silky to the taste, but in the Hawaiian style tuna poke ($9.50), the quality of the fish and octopus were masked with a heavy pour of soy sauce. Slivers of sweet onions didnít do much to complement the dish either. A light, seared albacore tataki with spicy radish and ponzu ($9.95) was more successful.

While anything fried usually makes me happy, buyer's remorse struck immediately with the visually heavy-handed firecracker balls ($9.95), fried bundles of spicy tuna, drizzled with a spicy aioli and ponzu sauce. The preparation did a disservice to the delicate raw tuna inside, jumbling it into an oversauced glob. A more simply broiled salmon belly ($5.50), on the other hand, came with perfectly crispy skin.

Other reviews have commented on the sexiness of the Sexy Mama ($11.95) roll, which tops broiled asparagus and tobiko with lemon, salmon, and yuzu cucumber. We agree, except on our visit the lemon slices were not sliced thin enough to eliminate the peel's pithy bitterness. However, the pickled yuzu cucumber and tobiko added texture and are brilliant complements to the roll. A jalapeno hamachi ($5.50) roll received similarly mixed reviews from us. The jalapeno slices could have been more finely sliced (others agree), but that was our only complaint.

The beverage list is short and sweet with six reasonably priced sakes and some Japanese microbrew beers like Echigo and Orion ($7.00 large) that are quickly finding their way into sushi restaurants.

It is obvious to any sushi lover that the quality of the fish here is superb, but some of the fixings are a little rough around the edges. If the details get polished up, Domo should live long as a dependable neighborhood spot.

Hayes Valley

No Reservations.