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Let's eat.

From Big Sur's killer cliff-clinging eateries to Salinas' unparalleled produce, this blog aims to sniff out all things Monterey County can stomach, via picture and prose, curiosity and appetite, hand and mouth.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Only in California: Alvarado's Sakana Sushi

Some folks might balk at the sight of Jordanian prepping their sushi.

Those folks would likely miss out on having the superior Sakana Sushi experience, where owner-chef Fadi Nimri often steps in for his main chef, as he did the night some friends and I came in to celebrate a birth-to-be in the family.

The new spot in opened in the high-ceiling space right next to the Golden State Theatre, a space last seen used as a satellite gallery for Alternative Cafe's stirring art exhibits. It's a perfect size for a handful of tables, including a couple of window two-tops.

We sat at the cute little five-seat sushi bar so we could talk with Nimri and see the rolls come together with jewel-like pieces of yellowtail and salmon from Monterey Fish Company.

As Nimri schooled us on how fish is treated on the boat—he says sashimi grade is bled on deck so a purer cut results—we happily grazed on the results.

Like most California sushi dens, specialty rolls, or maki, proliferate here. Like the appropriately prodigious Godzilla ($15.95), with tempura shrimp, avocado, salmon and cucumber, which is all fried, sauced and crowed with tiny slices of green onion.

Or the Elissa ($13.95, left), with blended krab, roe and cucumber, topped by barbecued eel and tare sauce, and the exotic and surprisingly cohesive Rio Roll ($11.95), with eel, avocado, mango, macadamia nuts with a touch of tare sauce. (Of note: each special roll comes with miso soup or a simple salad.)

The Falling Stars ($9.95) starts off with a plate full of spherical fish cakes packed into the best balls on the boulevard, deep-fried and dressed with a sweet reduction and chives...but they disappear quickly.

Given the dearth of Seafood Watch friendly sushi spots around here—coincidentally, October is National Seafood Month (scroll down for the list of local restaurants who honor the Watch)—it's nice to see many maki options that go vegetarian. There's the big "Arti-san Roll" ($9.95, above), for instance, which brings artichoke hearts, goat cheese and sesame seeds to the taste equation. Turns out goat beats cream in pulling things together. Nice idea.

While he whisked together more maki, we suggested that a lot of conscious eaters would flock to the first sustainable sushi spot anywhere near here.

The house blended, unfiltered saki flows happily at $2.95 a tall shot. So does the draft Sapporo or Kirin, albeit less happily given the steep price ($6.50) for a pint—though Nimri says he is open to price adjustments.

A little family history helps put the welcoming ambiance in perspective. Nimri's brothers are involved in two of the genuinely friendliest restaurants between Point Reyes and Pismo, International Cuisine (formerly Chili Great Chili) in Pacific Grove and Dametra Cafe in Carmel.

"Out family just likes to take care of customers," says older brother Faris Nimri, who pulls off his own cross-cultural wonders at International Cuisine. "To be honest, not like we're faking it, it comes naturally, we like people, like the industry and there are a lot of nice people we have as customers."

Seafood Watch Local Partners
Café Fina, Monterey
Courtside Café at The Chamisal Country Club, Salinas
The C Restaurant and Bar at The Clement Hotel, Monterey
Domenico's on the Wharf, Monterey
The Duck Club Grill at the Monterey Plaza Hotel, Monterey
Esteban Restaurant at the Casa Munras Hotel, Monterey
Favaloro's Big Night Bistro, Pacific Grove
The Fish Hopper, Monterey
Hula's Island Grill and Tiki Room, Monterey
Jacks Restaurant at the Portola Hotel And Spa, Monterey
Montrio Bistro, Monterey
Old Fisherman's Grotto, Monterey
Otter Bay Restaurant at California State University Monterey Bay, Seaside
Pacifica Café and Bar at the Embassy Suites, Seaside
Passionfish, Pacific Grove
Peter B's Brewpub at the Portola Hotel And Spa, Monterey
Portola Café and Restaurant at The Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey
The Restaurant Ventana Inn And Spa, Big Sur
Sardine Factory, Monterey
Schooners Bistro at the Monterey Plaza Hotel, Monterey
TusCA Restaurant at the Hyatt Regency, Monterey