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Moki's Sushi and Pacific Grill

Fresh Fusion and Innovative Ingredients

Dressed up with a casual luau ambience, Moki's has the perfect energy for a neighborhood sushi and island seafood restaurant. The menu is extensive and eclectic, including an array of traditional sushi and nigiri options as well as incredibly innovative, Hawaiian-inspired rolls and mouth-watering appetizers, small plates, and entrees.

Vegetarians gravitate toward Moki's for the huge selection of veggie options, and foodies worship the Bernal Heights mainstay for its creative menu and reasonable pricing -- you actually can get out of there for roughly $30-$35 a head, including drinks.

The chef, Darren Samuelson (a Californian), works magic in the kitchen. The most creative and intense flavors come out in the maki options. Although they might offend the conservative sushi lover, they rank high in the new-ish world of exploratory fusion sushi.

Rolls range from the classic spicy tuna ($6.25) to the bursting flavors in the Moki roll: tempura shrimp, jalapeno, coconut, macadamia nuts, and sweet and sour sauce ($7.50). This self-named roll combines flavors that the average sushi lover would never dream of.

Of course, there is also the famous Ecstasy roll with maguro, bincho, avocado, tobiko and scallions, entirely tempura'd ($7.95) and sliced into just-manageable pieces. Its delicate flavors and lightly crunchy texture live true to its name; the Ecstasy roll is the number one draft pick of many Moki's fans. Others swear by the Drum roll with snow crab, mango and mint ($5.50), while some can't go without ordering the Salmon Reunion roll, a palate-stunner with fresh salmon, crispy salmon skin, shiso leaf, peppery daikon sprouts, and ikura ($6.75).

While the rolls are experimental bordering on astonishing, there are others that might make you want to stick to something a bit more traditional. For example, the Salmon Ceviche roll ($7.50) is a succulent salmon ceviche with marinated sake, avocado, scallions and cilantro that would probably be tastier if it wasn't served in a sushi roll.

The menu continues with an array of starters -- mostly salads, soups and spring rolls. Again, the cooks take traditional dishes and completely reinvent them -- albeit within a Pacific Rim comfort zone. The seared Ahi-Mango Spring roll ($6.50) is a great appetizer that comes out right away and serves as a good introduction to the rest of the meal.

Though it seems strange to order a bistro-style mixed green salad at a sushi place, folks we know can't resist Moki's baby greens with grapefruit, candied pecans, and roasted garlic-miso dressing ($5.75); there's something about that dressing that makes the salad positively addictive.

The menu also offers small plates, flowing with the tapas-inspired trends of the last decade. Again, infused with island flavors, dishes such as the spicy corn fritters ($6.00), and the coconut fried tofu with ginger-lime sauce ($7.25) are mastered by Moki's. The baby back ribs, served over wasabi mashed potatoes with bok choy ($8.95), are worth a visit or two on their own.

There are a few heavier entrees offered, such as the Haleiwa Chicken ($12.25), cooked in a tomato-pineapple bbq sauce and served with wasabi mashed potatoes and bok choy. A grilled flank steak and a salmon dish round out the regular offerings. Moki's chefs offer various nightly specials as well. They also serve over ten imported sakes; if you can't decide which one to get, you can test a few in the sake sampler ($12).

The attractive wait staff is young, city-savvy, and extremely knowledgeable about the food. When the menu looks too good to choose dishes, they're happy to offer tips while bustling about the intimate space. If you appreciate solid, fresh and beautiful traditional sushi -- but have that intense craving for exciting and innovative fusions of flavors -- head over to Bernal Heights, because Moki's will deliver the culinary delights.

Bernal Heights

Note: At time of review, Moki's had not yet moved from 830 Cortland to their new location, two blocks down the street at 615 Cortland. However, word is that Moki's reopens this weekend, May 5 and 6, 2006. Call ahead to make sure they're actually open before you go!