It's kind of hard for me to write about this "hidden gem" of a Japanese restaurant because Aki is possibly my overall favorite dining establishment ever! I'm not sure why that makes it difficult to write about; I suppose because I feel like I can't do it justice - there's just too much good stuff to say about it but you really have to actually go and eat somewhere to actually know what it's like.
Black Sesame Ogura Ice Cream
Despite being located in an underground plaza with essentially no recognizable or obvious street level signage, Aki always has a steady stream of customers (some regulars who have likely been coming here for decades), its very large floorspace and private rooms always seem to be just comfortably below capacity most nights of the week. I've never been to Japan but apparently Aki feels like a traditional "classic" izakaya of Tokyo in the 1960s/70s. It definitely seems more authentic than most Japanese restaurants I've eaten at; the kind of Japanese food that Japanese people actually eat and an unpretentious, almost rustic atmosphere. As well as a large kitchen in the back, Aki's front kitchen areas include a sushi bar with two dedicated sushi chefs, multiple grills and a chef (and his assistants) for the robata/BBQ portion of the menu. I think Aki was the first real Japanese restaurant I went to - a classmate brought me when I moved to Vancouver to go to school in 2005 - the first Japanese restaurant that wasn't primarily a sushi restaurant or a hole in the wall teriyaki donburi joint without a single actual Japanese chef.
The menu is huge and changes often, cycling seasonal items like the unearthly, ethereal Matsutake Dobin-mushi. I've sampled pretty extensively from Aki's varied menu but there are still some items of which I'm entirely unsure of the contents, though almost every single choice has been a good one. The only technical exception that comes to mind is the Uni Tororo, which I wasn't familiar with but ordered because I wanted to try uni...the uni is delicious but the rest of the dish consists of grated yam that has, through some curious ritual, taken on a consistency not unlike a thick, slimy nasal mucous. My apparently infantile, Western palate wasn't very welcoming to that texture but other than that slight misadventure, everything I've ordered at Aki has been very pleasant and very delicious. The staff are incredibly friendly and warm, even more so than is to be expected of an izakaya or other Japanese restaurant and I'm always surprised to see how much lower the price is than I expected when the bill arrives.
Aki is a great place to come with a group of friends; bring friends from out of town - especially if they think "Japanese food" means sushi or teriyaki beef - you can order from the traditional menu, robata menu, get sukiyaki, sashimi or rolls or check the current specials for something seasonal or try something you've never had before and share a variety of impressive, affordable, delicious Japanese food.