We were up to do more wedding planning and paying, a nice break, really, becasue my fiancee's parents were in New Zealand and let us use the house in Summerland , just as long as we gave the house-sitters enough warning to clear out in time.
We had a great day in town and in the hot tub, and then headed over to Sakana in the Vons Shopping center in Montecito. I had read on Santa barbara.coms restaraunt review are that this was THE best Sushi spot in town since opening. The reviews all said words like "top", "best", "REAL Sushi!" and the like. I am a sushi and sashimi maniac, loving Asanebo and 4 on 6 down here in LA, as well as Gen, Sassabune and the like, so I figured it was a good bet. Plus, I really wanted sushi, and didn't fancy any of the other SB places, which have all been let downs. Let's face it. For an ocean side rich town, Santa Barbara sushi has little to offer.
So I set my hopes on Sakana. We arrived at about 7 to a 20-30 minute wait, would I please give them my cel #? Sakana is small, and obviously very popular. I had been told when calling ahead that waits were minimal. Well, 30 minutes isn't "minimal", but this IS Montecito, where 4 mil is an "average" price, if not a downright bargain. We wandered down to a post office/book/magazine store to browse and wait. the proprietor must be thrilled about Sakana, because everyone in there was waiting for a Sakana table.
After a half hour, we wandered back just in time to wait 10 more minutes for a place at the bar. Whee. We finally sat, and I introduced myself to the chef, as is my custom, and really the point of the bar, to deal with the preparer of your food, that's half the fun. He looked up from where he was preparing 6 plates of intricate pecial sushi and said "can you wait? I'll be with you when I finish all these?"
A-ha..Montecito...riiiiiigggghhht. We waited. Someone eventually took a drink order, which is futile, since I can't drink sake wthout food and not be silly. We waited. Whatever he was doing must be seriously special. We waited. Finally a waiter came over, took pity on customers he saw waiting for 15 minutes and buiding up steam, and took our sushi order, as well as an order for edamame, which I normally don't bother with, but by then was starving for.
They must have had to grow it first, becasue that took another 10 minutes or more to come out. It was edaamame, what can I say. Hard to screw up.
A word on the Sake: Sakana supposedly has the best sake selection in town, and it very well might. It just is sort of regualar compared to places I've been, but they're all in LA. But it is good sake. Never order warm sake, it is a western thing, really. the best sake is always cold. Whatever my fiance ordered (he never told me) was pretty good. I think it was Kaori.
Finally, about 45 minutes after being seated, our first orders came out:
Kohada nigiri I always go for kohada when I see it. this was good-but not spectacular, and the chef place a sweet layer of seaveed or pickled something on top-just a slice.
Good, but again, not spectacular.
Now, Sakara does something I really like. they mix brown and white rice together. I always prefer my sushi gen mai when I get rice, I prefer the flavor, and it's healthier. The mix was very nice.
I tried again to talk to the chef, asking him where he had studied. He briefly said "Japan" and went back to another complex preparation.
Sakana has a HUGE menu with special rolls, familiar rolls, special sushi, familiar sushi, press-box sushi (I love press box, and it isn't easy to find!), special appetizers, familiar appetizers as well as entrees.
These special rolls and sushi preps seemed to take a long time, and there were only two chefs serving around 12 tables and a full sushi bar. No wonder he didn't have time to talk, and no wonder we had to keep waiting. He could have been a little more polite.
Our next order, the black dragon press box, with eel (YUM, I LOVE eel) and more came out. I soon leaner the basis of sakana's "special" everything. oodles and oodles of sauces. YUCK! I liked thr black dragon, and the sauces went well, but I really prefer SUSHI when I go for Sushi, not a fushion of sushi/french themes. I want to taste the fish. In my experience, a sushi place that uses an abundance of spicy or flavored creamy sauces is trying to hide the edium or low quality of it's fish. But I have to say, the sauces were unique and very flavorful, and the presentation was well done-very intricate. Just out of place.
and silly. Montecito....riiiiiiiggghhhht.
My Ankimo and Uni sushi came out, narrow and wrapped artistically, with the ends of the seaweek sort of sticking out jauntily. How very chi-chi, and how stupid. the ends stuck and got in the way, the narrow build made the pieces fall over. The chopped ankimo tumbled out, the uni tumbled over. How annoying. The uni was just "eh", not creamy and spectacular like I've had before. the ankimo was not very good.
My fiance had ordered something called yellowtail aburi sashimi, but was handed a huge bowl of ice with yellowtail belly sashimi on it. It ws confusing, becaue the chef insisted we had ordered it. Our waiter, who of course had been taking our orders all night since the chef himself was so busy slinging sauces, rushed over to help, and the matter was solved. the chef re-made the dish. We should have stuck with the sashimi, I feel. Another plate covered in fewer pieces of fish than the bowl of Ice had contained as well as a dizzying display of, you guessed it MORE SAUCES was plunked in frontof us. UGH. Who could taste the yellow tail. Frankly, I didn't want to try.
I finished off with a grilled vegetable roll and something called a white dragon, which sounded clean and not saucy. How silly of me. The grilled vegetable roll only had a few sauces, maybe three. I scraped most of it off, and it ws an OK vegetable roll. The white dragon, which had been described as something like halibut, crab and tuna in radish paper, however, was attempting to swim away from its own misery in the oodles of sauce on the plate. Perhaps they need bowls. I gave up.
What silly affectations. Why not just serve high-end fish with clean, refreshing and delicate flavor, rather than trying to impress people with huge intricate presentations of disgusting sauce? If I want frou-frou, I'll go fushion or whatever. If you advertise yourself as SUSHI and SASHIMI, and charge big prices, serve SUSHI and SASHIMI dammit. I can get my fill of cheap fast-food theme rolls for the unadvernturous at Something's Fishy.
In the end, Sakara gets a b for attention to detail..the plates and presentation ARE pretty well done.
Sakara earns an A for decor. Nice, clean lines.
Sakara gets an F due to false advertising. This isn't sushi. this is giving nitwit montecitoans (there are smart ones, really there are) what they think they want.
Sakara earns a d for planning. Two chefs doing labor-intensive plating for an ENTIRE restaurant? Are you MAD?!?! I saw both repeatedly have to leave to go back to the kitchen just to keep re-filling sacue squeezy bottled (from the thickness of sauce on plate, I can see why) Each plating took more than 5 mintues!
Also, beginning to take reservations would be a good idea.
Sakara gets a b for service. people were nice, just not super nice, like my waiter at lunch at Sojurner the next day was.
For food, I give Sakana a d-. Average sushi would have earned a c or b-, but the fact that they hid behind an ocean of sace brings them down.
For two, not including tip, but including sake, we paid $104.95. About what we expected, really.
My advice, if you like fusion and sauce, go to Sakana, you will enjoy it. it is pretty good for that.
Don't go expecting nice, clean, delicate, traditional ushi or sashimi. Forget it. Sakana hasn't a clue. They serve it (and I SHOULD have stuck to it!!), but it isn't spectacular.
For that, come down to the San Fernando valley, and go to Asanebo.