Sunday, November 20, 2011

Color, Sauce, Sushi!

Sushi resembles a prismatic palette at Sakana of Montecito.

With its sauces of vibrant hues and brilliant flavors, Sakana, a cozy yet upscale little restaurant tucked away in a shopping plaza, serves artistic concoctions with sauces made with everything from red beets to parsley, from habanero to white truffle.

Lured by the creative names on the seashell-embellished menu outside this eatery, I decided to give it a shot. After all, Sakana has garnered many rave reviews online, and so far, with my positive dining experiences at Ahi Sushi in the vicinity, I’ve had nothing but a good impression of sushi in the Santa Barbara area.

An oversize flatscreen behind the sushi bar displays ever-changing underwater scenes—it’s a digital aquarium, really, showing colorful reefs, darting tropical fish. Large sake bottles line the opposite wall, and a blue glow radiates, reflecting the oceanic theme.

Prices may be slightly on the extravagant side, but that doesn’t keep locals or tourists from packing this modest-sized joint on a nightly basis. Expect to pay $12 for the impeccable Aburi Toro nigiri, which is topped with roasted ginger, garlic, and balsamic ponzu vinaigrette; $9 for the Champagne Crab sushi (champagne yuzu vinaigrette and caviar inclusive); and $8.50 for the M.S.C. (Monkfish, Scallop, Caviar) sushi, which is served with a creamy “sea urchin lobster sauce.”

Other nigiri may be more moderately priced, but the plates quickly add up because you find yourself indulging in one item after another after another. The sashimi menu and the sushi roll menu also feature many of the same ingredients and sauces as the nigiri choices, so for the sake of maximizing your opportunity to sample as many varieties in one sitting as possible, it might be wise to stay on the two-piece sushi side.

The Basil Fluke, along with the Aburi Toro and Kobe Beef, may well be one of my favorite sushi choices at Sakana. With a dressing of basil oil, habanero sauce, truffle yuzu vinaigrette, and cilantro leaves, the Basil Fluke is a grand explosion of flavors. Being a member of the truffle craze, I find that I am also partial to the Yaki Shiitake sushi, with its white truffle soy and habanero sauces. At only $5, the shiitake selection is the least expensive of the nigiri here.

The “Red Wine Eel” sushi sounded rather exotic, but in reality this unagi, with its edible adornments of tempura shiso leaf and yellow soy paper strips, was simply paired with a red wine balsamic sauce. It was quite tasty, but like the Champagne Crab, it might have been better (although certainly less colorful) if regular nori had been used in place of the yellow soy paper. The "Green Tea Smoked Scallop," which came with dijon smoked paprika sauce and scallions, was indeed aromatic, but the scallops tasted less like shellfish than they did like smoky fishcake.

Splashes of red from the beet sauce, green from the parsley mixed with olive oil, and brown from the balsamic vinagrette streak the basic canvas of almost every plate, and for good reason: each offers its own essence—the red one is slightly tangy, the green a bit salty, and the brown syrupy-sweet. Swirl the three together on the plate and you have the most perfect blending of flavors.

Sakana
1046 Coast Village Rd., Montecito
805-565-2014

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