Restaurant review

Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito | Edhat

By Rebecca Horrigan

Michelin stars Sushi by Scratch Restaurants: Sushi|Bar Montecito offers a dining experience like I have never had before. Upon arrival, all notions of mastering the meal must be deliciously liberated; you can rest, sip and “rest assured” that you are in good hands.

Stopping on the easy and windy Coast Village Road already sounds like a treat, but Sushi|Bar Montecito brings an exciting and daring LA vibe that blends the best of both worlds. Check-in takes place at the Montecito Inn, ideally 15 minutes before the reservation, so that guests can linger over a new “welcome cocktail”. Ours was a zinger of Japanese whiskey, ginger and sake, reigniting our taste buds for the delicious road ahead.

Guests are greeted through a discreet doorway with no signage and seated at the 10-seat chef’s counter, with their name on a small board in their designated spot. Special touches like this make the night special, dreamlike and personal.

The speakeasy vibe stems from the origin story of Sushi|Bar Los Angeles. Chef and owner Phillip Frankland Lee explained that they were never supposed to have more than one location. He was already having great success with Pasta Bar (which also received a Michelin star), but always wanted to open a sushi restaurant, so he transformed his small office behind the restaurant into a sushi bar on the evenings when he felt like practice their skills. . The pop-up sushi bar had no name or phone number and started as its own little creative project.

It’s hard to keep a great thing a secret, and Frankland Lee ran with success, opening the original Sushi|Bar in Encino in 2017 and in April 2019 in Montecito. A location in Austin is in the works.

“I wanted to add to the conversation and not just regurgitate the conversation,” Frankland Lee said of the inspiration behind his 17-course “chef’s choice” omakase menu. The selection of perfect bites created by Frankland Lee and Chef Jason Venters (in Montecito) changes frequently and showcases the wealth of beautiful local seafood Santa Barbara has to offer including sea urchin, halibut, spot prawns and more. Each dish is served with an introduction by passionate chefs and prepared before your eyes.

Hokkaido United (Photo by Liam Brown)

“The omakase tradition is about chefs telling the story of their childhood and hometown in flavor profiles and what they’re trying to do,” Frankland Lee said. “How can I do this in a way that celebrates fish and tells the story of my childhood in a way that’s both nostalgic and groundbreaking?”

My favorite dish, the hamachi with sweet corn pudding and sourdough breadcrumbs, perfectly exemplifies Frankland Lee’s philosophy.

“It’s been on the menu since the very first night in my little office in Los Angeles,” Frankland Lee said. “I grew up in the San Fernando Valley eating corn on the cob and sourdough from Nancy Silverton,” he explained. The breadcrumbs on the hamachi come from pastry chef and wife of Phillip, Pasta Bar’s Margarita Kallas-Lee sourdough, which is created from a 57-year-old starter.

Like most great art, beauty is in the details, and Frankland Lee and his team have worked diligently to ensure that every pinch of sea salt is the perfect amount. Other menu highlights include a beautiful black beluga caviar with bluefin tuna, Hokkaido scallop with yuzu koshu, homemade soy sauce, lemon and Balinese sea salt, and a decadent unagi prepared with a kick of poblano kosho and finished live with melted marrow for a mouth-watering bite. Dessert included a delicious Makrut ice cream candy with rice and sesame shortbread dipped in matcha chocolate. I could have eaten a jar of these delicious Kallas-Lee creations.

The warm, festive environment of the amber-hued room is still bubbling with life thanks to their fabulous beverage program by masterminds Jamie Rocha and Gavin Humes. The menu features creative cocktails, rare sake, and thoughtful wine and beer offerings. I chose the mixed pairing option and got to sample the full range of their drinks cleverly matched to the flavors of each dish. Whatever you decide to sip, don’t miss the tangy, sweet, and swoon-worthy Bee’s Japanese, with smoked honey, yuzu, and gin.

Those looking to snag a seat should check online on the first of the month, a month before their ideal reservation. It’s clear that Lee’s declaration that he wanted to be a sushi chef at the age of 13 has already exceeded his dreams. With rave reviews, a great team, and an inspired menu, who knows what this little speakeasy might do next?


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