You can’t help but notice how the Bay glistens as you drive along Bayshore Boulevard toward Gandy on your way to Sakana. And it’s really fitting that visions of the water are rattling around in your brain as you prepare to embrace the menu, which is a celebration of the sea.
Not only is the food terrific, but the space — despite being part of a nondescript strip on Gandy — is inviting. There’s an airy patio, an attractive bar, a spacious dining room with tables and high-backed booths to give your party a sense of privacy, and even a separate dining room flanked by sliding screens.
Plus, there’s a sushi bar for those who want to see up close and personal how the magic happens. The few silent, closed-captioned flat screen TVs don’t seem out of place, but reinforce the relaxed environment that’s also reflected in the friendly and attentive service.
Miso soup, which is available as a starter or included with any sushi entrée, has nice small chunks of creamy tofu and floating green wisps of wakame seaweed, but somewhere in the process of combining the dashi stock with the miso paste, balance went out the window; the resulting soup is simply too salty, but that’s an easy fix.
Fortunately, the rest of the meal is mostly spot on. The bowl of warm green edamame pods yields delicious steamed soy beans seasoned with sesame oil and kosher salt. This is a nice way to begin a meal and it’s fun to split the pods and let the flavorful warm beans drop into your mouth.
Another surprising starter is the sweet potato tempura; it’s just about perfect. The crisp-fried, but light, batter enrobes large slices of soft and creamy sweet potato that are given even more flavor by a quick dip in the accompanying bowl of warm soy and sesame oil.
Sakana has over 30 different kinds of creative sushi rolls (maki); there’s something for every palate. The red dragon roll lives up to its name with a nori seaweed wrapper topped with spicy mayo and tempura flakes adding heat to a center of shrimp tempura and tuna that’s cooled with rice, cream cheese, and refreshing cucumber. There is a wonderful balance between heat and cool.
The sunshine roll is made with the traditional nori wrapper, but this one has no rice as part of the filling. Instead, tiny sticks of fish are combined with cream cheese, avocado, scallions, asparagus and alfalfa sprouts, then topped with sweet mango and tart kimchi sauce that creates a lively competition on the palate. The whole roll is then wrapped in thin, translucent salmon that gives the fish the first contact with your tongue. Yum.
Sakana also offers sushi combo platters. The “small” entrée includes three pieces of nigiri where the fish is presented on a bed of sticky acidulated rice, seven slices of the chef’s best raw sashimi, and half of the popular maki California roll which wraps fish sticks, cucumber and avocado with rice and sesame. The kinds of fish are chef’s choice based on a variety of the sushi-grade slices. My platter featured yellowtail, ahi, shrimp, and salmon. For those of you reluctant to eat raw seafood, remember that this fish is flash frozen, often on the boats that have just plucked it from the ocean. This assures that the sushi is fresh and free of parasites.
Unlike the mushy and metallic-tasting fish that, sadly, I reported on last year, Sakana’s sushi tastes of the sea, with a firm texture that is luscious on the palate. If you’re careful with your use of condiments, you can create a party in your mouth. A light touch of green wasabi paste provides heat, a thin translucent slice of pickled ginger adds spice, a quick dip of soy sauce provides salt, and the perfect fish is the umami base. You’re able to adjust for your own tastes and experience a multitude of exciting flavors in a single bite.
If you happen to be accompanied by a dining partner who turns a skeptical eye toward sushi, Sakana offers plenty of desirable options and even has high-end Kobe beef served as sashimi or sliders. The kitchen did a great job with pecan-encrusted tilapia. The soft white fillet in a light nutty coating sits on long green asparagus spaced like ceiling beams that hold the fish aloft on top of wasabi-mashed potatoes surrounded by a warm, golden brown pecan sauce to complete the dish.
The key lime cheesecake for dessert is as totally forgettable as the delectable tempura bananas foster is memorable. Sakana’s spin on the flambé classic presents a whole banana split lengthwise, quartered, and fried in tempura batter. The warm and crunchy bananas surround rich vanilla ice cream and a luscious caramel sauce. And even if the caramel gets a bit grainy as it cools, this is a tasty way to add a happy exclamation point to a lovely evening by the Bay.