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Photo by John DarlingChef Ibong Subagdja at Sakana Co.

New restaurant already on a roll

The former site of Pita Pit and Lorella restaurants across from Varsity Theatre has been transformed and greatly enlarged to create a trendy, moderne, upscale-looking sushi palace (and long, swanky bar) called Sakana Co — and the chef, Indonesian-trained Ibong Subagdja, a longtime chef at Kobe, knows what he’s doing.

It’s busy. It’s a beautiful place. The help know every detail of the complex and intriguing menu, whose best-selling rolls are Green Machine (spinach, cucumber, avocado, pickled plum sauce), Green Dragon (tempura shrimp, butterfish, avocado, eel sauce, mirin), Salmon Citrus (avocado, mango, lime, jalapeño marmalade, albacore top, spicy ponzu).

The nigiri, says diner Becky Grebosky, is “simply amazingly delicious.” Her husband Jamie brands the spider roll (soft-shell crab, cucumber, flying fish roe, sweet soy) as “crazy fresh, like sea mist.” They love the sun chokes, too.

Everything is unique, each with different vegetables and each veggie flavorful in its own right, says fellow diner Ann Barton. In addition, and all-important to the Ashland crowd, all veggies are local and organic.

Also in the yum range is the Pickle Roll — that is, pickled fennel and carrot, roasted beet top, chili yuzu and avocado puree.

The dumpling — pork, shrimp or veggie — is exemplary and has potato skin, shaved parsnip and shiitake powder. Ann notes that she could stop right there and eat a big pile of these crunchy, savory things. The Green Machine, she adds, sings of pickles and “bursts with flavor and crunchy vegetables.”

The company is bent on down-to-earth sustainability, aka responsibility to our environment, so, where seafood is called for, for example with eel, you’ll often find black cod of the Pacific Northwest, thinly sliced, says Ibong. Butterfish and sablefish mean black cod.

Hamachi jalapeño is popular, says Ibong, and it features sea salmon from the mouth of the Columbia River.

Partner and co-chef in the enterprise is chef Chaz McKenna, the former chef at Larella. He offers Americanized, normalized dishes such as Mac ‘n’ Cheese and Asian-ized hot dogs.

The restaurant’s name comes from saka (saki, rice wine) and “na” or food. The menu explains it’s an izakaya, which is a hang-out, after-work place like a tapas bar or Irish pub, but with much more refined food.

Sakana has great vibrations and class. The food is beautiful and tastes like it looks. The entry is a bit hard to find, but it’s just to the right of Rogue Valley Runner, centrally located for theater, movies and art walks.

They have the full range of alcoholic beverages and open at 5 daily (maybe expanding to lunch next year), except Mondays.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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