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Kabuto Sushi Reopens in the Richmond

Lease problems forced Kabuto to close their doors and relocate in April 2003, and though only scheduled to close for a couple of weeks, four months passed before they opened again. In San Francisco, where one can hardly walk two blocks without encountering a raw fish vendor, the extended absence of one sushi place wouldn't receive a second thought. However, the unassuming Kabuto, located on the somewhat unfashionable corner of Geary Street and 15th Avenue in the Richmond, serves some of the best and most creative sushi to be found anywhere, and its return is a welcome sight.

The simple appointments, a handful of small tables surrounding a sushi bar that seats a dozen, befit Kabuto's neighborhood setting. Lights shine a bit brighter at the new location, and the pale yellow walls give the place a sunny disposition that matches the cheerful manner of the staff. It all gives the feeling of a family establishment, including the cozy (read: small) interior that seats just 32 before causing a fire hazard. Evenings and weekends can draw the crowds, so either reservations or patience will be necessary.

If one can eschew the comforts of a private table, a seat at the sushi bar will reward you with an improved dining experience. There, a glass display showcases the variety of fish available today, where even the most seasoned of sushi diners will likely not recognize some of the offerings. But fear not, any of the sushi chefs behind the bar will happily point out which filet in the glass case is shima aji (amber jack) and which is kanpaci (yellow jack) or recommend one of their numerous specialty rolls.

On this day, we began with an old favorite. Toro (fatty tuna) ($4), always a treat, exceeded our own lofty expectations as it dissolved in our mouths without an ounce of effort. And the shima aji ($4), of a similar texture to the toro, will likely become a regular order for those trying it for the first time. No trip to Kabuto would be complete without an order of one of their signature rolls, and after a difficult deliberation we chose the delectable toro tartare ($8). All of the nigiri is priced by the piece, which allows diners to sample a large variety of the impressive selection. The specials still come as a traditional pair.

For those not in the mood for raw fish, a variety of grilled and fried items are available to choose from. The tori niku ($7), a grilled chicken served in a mustard miso sauce, was satisfying, although the powerful sauce made the taste one-dimensional. Tsuboyaki ($7), conch and bamboo shoots served in a dashi broth, was also tasty, though not remarkable. Among the desserts, the macha (green tea) cheesecake ($4) sounded the most appealing. Unfortunately, its consistency tended towards pasty and lacked the requisite richness of a great cheesecake.

On any given day, Kabuto has seven varieties of clam to choose from, including such esoteric mollusks such as mategai (razor clam) and akagai (red clam), and roes ranging from the ubiquitous ikura (salmon eggs) to the not commonly encountered mentaiko (cod eggs). This should provide a clue as to why to dine at Kabuto. The skillful hands of the knife wielding Kojima sushi chefs are impressive and the staff is friendly and attentive, but clearly the sushi stars here.