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Meet pure joy



Like the tide, lunch rolls along in waves, interrupted only by our wonderful server popping in and out, producing more order sheets for us to mark. We start with the inspired Yummy Crunch, two small crisp wonton skin rounds piled with spicy tuna and diced scallions in a tangy, light orange, mayonnaise-based sauce. Four pieces of tender, dumpling-like gyoza follow, and then we're on to the sushi, and almost nothing but.

It's afternoon at Sushi Rakkyo ("joyful meeting") where endless sushi, including options like the aforementioned, comes for the low price of $14.95 per person ($24.95 at dinner). All-you-can-eat always brings to mind a mass offering of low-quality movers, but at Rakkyo it's an incredibly impressive array of clean, creamy and choice.

For instance, the gorgeous nigiri. Cuts of pink salmon glisten on individual rice beds, while slices of grilled unagi (freshwater eel) rival any beef cutlet in richness. In the kaibashira, small piles of sweet baby scallop meat in a spicy pastel orange sauce get wrapped in nori (seaweed) on a round bed of rice.

Rolls spill over with masago (smelt egg), tasting mildly of shrimp and looking like cones of neon orange snow; actual butterflied shrimp; and tako (fresh, sliced white octopus meat) edged in purple, betraying just a hint of chewiness and mild sea flavor.

And as addicting as these rolls are — we order way more than we thought we would, some $100 worth at regular price anywhere — they're nothing compared to the White Fish Volcano. That warmed bundle of red snapper nigiri sports tiny minces of mango, radish and cucumber over a mound of toasted rice. (A note: Even the sticky rice is great, sparing you the common starchy, roof-of-mouth buildup.)

There's also chopped beef bulgogi, not as candied and sweet as its Korean cousin, yet ever as succulent ... but let's take a breath, and step back from the food for a minute.

Korean owner/sushi chef Young Hong's restaurant is located at the southwest corner of the Marketplace at Briargate, in a well-to-do northeastern neighborhood. The interior is that very Japanese mix of modern and classic: the gold, stamped ceiling and paper lanterns next to exposed brick and wood floors, beside warm paint tones and mini track lights.

OK, then, back to the food.

During our dinner visit, I get my first taste of ankimo ($9.95): steamed monkfish liver with a flavor reminiscent of fresh tuna and the consistency of good foie gras. I guiltily love every bite, as the sea creature is over-fished and labeled "avoid" by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.

Away from morally dubious territory, six thick rectangles of gorgeous salmon sashimi ($9) arrive with wasabi in the shape of a jalapeño, plus ginger and artfully trimmed slices of lemon and strawberries. The Ultimate Orgasm ($12.95) is a luscious mix of avocado, cucumber, smoked salmon and crab, topped with tempura crawfish chunks.

Partway through a bite of the ridiculously rich Rakkyo Roll ($11.95; tuna, salmon, crab, shrimp tempura and smelt eggs mixed with onion, mayo, cucumber and avocado), one last delight appears — an orange that's been sliced and reshaped into a teddy bear, topped with whipped cream. Compliments of the chef, it's all artful craftsmanship, effortlessly executed and delightful — a perfect summary.

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