Usually, I shy away from dining alone at sushi places. There's the uncomfortable situation of ordering avocado rolls and failing at chopstick use, all while a line-up of chefs behind the bar give the side eye and straight up talk about me – because even though they’re speaking Japanese I know it’s about me.
Meanwhile, I'm trying to figure out how people actually fit whole slices of sushi rolls into their mouths in one bite. I make a mess, use far too much soy sauce, and usually don’t understand what anyone is saying to me. It’s not like I’m a country bumpkin new to this. I’ve been eating sushi for years – awkwardly.
At , I felt relaxed and comfortable not knowing anything and having no one with me to act as a buffer. I think it’s because they yelled at me.
Now, I know it’s typical for the sushi chefs, bartenders, servers, hosts, and assorted guests at Japanese restaurants to all stop what they are doing, look toward the front door, and yell welcome in Japanese at everyone who walks in. But at Sakana, it seemed genuine, rather than required.
The space is modern but warm, with funky red glass chandeliers and smooth, light wood. There’s a back room that you think is actually a mirror until you realize it’s not. There's a bar to sit at, and a small patio. It’s classy, well done, and feels like a hip, happening nightspot for an elegant crowd.
Is it strange that the music ranged from country to Josh Groban? A little. And what about the servers wearing jeans and plaid flannel shirts? Unexpected. Is it a bit uncomfortable to a have an aquarium of goldfish next to the sushi bar? Yes. But it’s a fresh take and if there’s one thing Sakana is, it’s fresh.
Instead of relying on a weekly shipment like many restaurants, owner David Bing visits the fish market every other day to hand pick super fresh fish, including organic salmon. And you can taste the difference that bit of attention and dedication makes. Sakana isn’t fishy. And when it comes to sushi, that’s a really good thing. There’s not much you can say to distinguish one restaurant’s sushi from another except the quality. And the quality at Sakana is obviously very high.
Previously Love Sushi, Sakana has kept employees and raised standards. Prices are a little high but reflect what you’re getting – exceptionally good fish. The organic salmon was smooth, velvety, and mild. A spicy tuna roll was not too spicy or complex, the flavors of the fish not hidden by flair.
Deceptively mild at first, after a few chews the zippy kick hits your taste buds. A warm appetizer, the Dynamite, was creamy yet light, full of mushrooms and oysters and filling enough to be an entree on it’s own. The server stopped me from ordering too much and getting too crazy with my choices, which I greatly appreciated. It was obvious that my happiness, not a loftier bill, was most important.
The specialty rolls are creative and, well, kind of big. Manager Jennifer Lee noted that the chefs all come together to think up new creations.
“Our chefs are like little magicians,” she said.
And it’s true. One favorite is the Hot Night Roll, with tempura shrimp, crab, and avocado on the inside and spicy tuna on the outside. The Wok Special roll provides a California roll with snow peas, mushrooms, shrimps, and cashews on the outside. The Yellowtail Basil Roll was unique: Red onions, chives, and avocado are wrapped up in yellowtail and basil. Doused in a lemon sauce, the roll tasted a bit like a salad with the yellowtail cutting through the creamy dressing with pungent punch, and I liked it better when I took the roll apart. Now the Blooming Onion Roll, with fried onion on the outside and asparagus and spicy albacore on the inside - that was a gift of deliciousness.
The servers, who seemed to all be helping one another, politely rearranged the plates on the table, pointed out the soy sauce, and made eye contact as they walked past but never invaded my space. They were all lovely and kind. They brought me complimentary miso soup and offered ice cream on the house. The chefs gave nods and smiles and did not snicker at my inability to eat wasabi without eyes watering. I never felt awkward. The atmosphere was warm and respectful.
Sakana is also a community supporter, regularly donating gift certificates for fundraisers, especially when those events benefit schools. And of course, with the people of Japan on our minds and in our prayers, Lee noted that one of their chefs would be flying back to Japan to help his family.
When you go to Sakana, and you should go, be sure to check out the flashing, funky specials board as you enter. Lee recommends the Master Uni, a roll filled with and covered in the delicate sea urchin.
“It’s so much uni,” she laughed.
Sea urchin. Maybe next time.
2382 Foothill Blvd.
La Cañada-Flintridge, CA 91011
Monday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.