One of Medford’s most enticing restaurant spaces is the downstairs suite at 406 E. Main St.
A new sushi-centric endeavor, Sakana Co. stands to summon more customers to the location, which hasn’t enjoyed heavy traffic since the long-running Deli Down closed about five years ago. In between, a tea room made good use of the spacious, subterranean spot, which comes off as cozy in cold weather and cool on summer evenings.
Sakana’s interior is even more stripped-down since Roundtable Tea Co. removed kitsch collected over decades that the deli was in business. Its burnished woodwork paired with modern metal chairs create a classy but casual vibe. Paper lanterns lend the requisite Asian aesthetic without the clutter of fortune cat figurines or pots of lucky bamboo that gussy up other sushi spots. If the concept isn’t evident, the business website describes the eatery as an “izakaya,” a type of informal Japanese pub, popular for after-work drinking in that country.
Sakana positions itself as an evening hotspot through its affiliation with Jefferson Spirits, located upstairs at 404 E. Main St. Jefferson Spirits’ beverage menu is available to Sakana patrons, who also can choose from a solid saké list, as well as cocktails including several drinks made with the rice-based alcohol.
Favoring cocktails, our group ordered in concert with raw oysters on the half shell, priced at $3 apiece. Our shellfish arrived without much delay, beautifully presented with dollops of flying-fish roe and slivers of scallions, perched atop shredded carrots. Impeccably fresh and deliciously briny, the oysters gave us no reason to nitpick. We remarked, however, on the lapse between the appetizer and drinks that materialized long after we had polished off the oysters, best enjoyed immediately.
The server also misplaced two of the cocktails on the table. My husband and friend finally realized the error when the latter remarked that his drink tasted like tea, despite his expectation of rum. My husband’s highball contained green tea-infused saké. Cocktails are $7 to $8 each, wines by the glass $9 to $10. Rotating beers on tap cost $5.
Reasonably priced sushi is among Sakana’s attributes. I appreciate the selection of basic rolls, from spicy tuna to smoked salmon, for $8. A spider roll, the quintessential concoction with deep-fried soft-shell crab, costs just $12, less than counterparts at many establishments. The most expensive of the bunch feature several types of fish, fruit and other accoutrements for $15.
Sakana also should be commended for offering vegetarian rolls that go beyond the typical pickle or cucumber fillings. The “green machine” ($10), with its spinach and plum sauce, caught my attention. In the end, our group agreed that the house pickles ($6) shouldn’t be passed up.
For sushi, we selected the summer roll ($15), a mango-sweetened maki with spicy crab and cucumber topped with salmon and tuna, along with the hamachi-jalapeno ($9) and salmon-citrus ($14) rolls. We all appreciate the paper-thin lemon slices increasingly seen with salmon maki, dubbed the “tycho” ($15) and complemented at Sakana with deep-fried prawn and flying-fish roe.
For the sushi-averse, Sakana provides rice bowls topped with a pork cutlet, short ribs or fish fillet. There’s also ramen adorned with pork belly. Notably absent are bento boxes and teriyaki-sauced entrees, although miso soup ($3) and seaweed salad ($7) are represented.
Appetizers range from such standard fare as dumplings and pork buns to a few fusion-cuisine surprises, including salmon crudo and deviled eggs. Tempura does not number among the appetizers. Starters are priced from $8 to $11.
Precisely plated and vibrantly colored, the house pickles were easily the most eye-catching dish on the table. Predictable root vegetables provided a backdrop for gold and purple cauliflower florets, subtly sweet fennel stalks, magenta beets and watermelon radish. We could have easily polished off another plate.
The sushi’s fish was fresh and finely textured, although the chef was a bit heavy-handed with sauces, resulting in uneven distribution and a somewhat sloppy presentation. We handily consumed a roll apiece. I prefer maki with an equal ratio of rice to fish, which Sakana delivers, but it also leaves room for a few more slices of sashimi, pieces of poké or other delicacy.
Craving hand rolls, which are not featured on Sakana’s menu, we asked whether the chef could accommodate us. The sushi bar soon bestowed ahi, scallop and hamachi hand rolls, charged at the same rate as small-sized nigiri sushi. Portions of rice and fish cradled in a cone of seaweed were succulent conclusions to our meal. Granting special requests, while operating a bit outside the Rogue Valley’s sushi mainstream, should keep customers coming back.
Sakana Co. is open from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. See sakanaco.com or call 541-622-8149. An Ashland location is forthcoming, according to the restaurant website.