An unsual omakase-only experience can be found tucked away behind an obscure door in the back of the Woodley Proper cocktail lounge. Phillip Frankland Lee’s new sushi venture, Sushi|Bar, is the Valley’s hidden trove of seafood treasure. You might have seen or heard of Lee from his winning adventures on Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen, but that is just the tip of a long list of accolades of his culinary career. Lee and his wife own a handful of dining destinations, three which are located in the same Encino strip mall (Sushi|Bar, Scratch|Bar, & Woodley Proper) and others located in the Santa Barbara area.
Photo Credit: Lissa G. from Yelp
When Sushi|Bar first opened, the only way to score yourself a seat at this fishy speakeasy was to arrive earlier and write your name on wooden plank in a narrow hallway. A $50 deposit was required to reserve a seat, but would have later applied towards the dinner. However, they now partner with Tock for online reservations and only require $10/person deposit to make your reservation. Sushi|Bar is open Wednesday to Friday and offers three dinner times with only 8 per seating. My husband figured this would be a fun date to celebrate our anniversary and made our reservation a month in advance without any hiccups. This 17 course omakase experience costs a total of $110. A decent price for a high end omakase meal. I was even more excited to try this place after reading that they ship their seafood overnight straight from Tsukiji Fish Market from Tokyo, Japan.
Before the day of the dinner, we received an e-mail to confirm our appointment along with information and instructions for the night. We were asked to arrive 30 minutes prior to our scheduled dinner time of 5PM. Once checked-in, we were given a Japanese token that we exchanged at the bar for a welcome drink. It was a small, light, and sweet sake cocktail. This was definitely a great way to open our palette for the night. Since we were one of the first to arrive, we got a chance to lounge around and people watch as all the guests funneled in for the night. If you do not care too much for the opening cocktail, I don’t think there is a need to come earlier.
Once everyone was in attendance, we were ushered into a hallway and guided through the entrance of the back kitchen. We maneuvered our way between counters, boxes, and sinks which eventually led our way to a wooden door where the hostess performed a “secret knock”. Seconds later, the door slid open and we were welcomed into a cozy, dimly lit room with a small sushi bar and a small team of 3 smiling behind the counter.
Since I was at the head of the pack, I didn’t have time to take a clear shot of the mini restaurant.
The seats were already pre-assigned. I loved the personal touch they added with our names hand-written in chalk.
We were introduced to the staff for the night and were told that we can add additional $55 for a regular alcohol pairing or $75 for a premium pairing. I opted for just water and the husband ordered his usual IPAs a la carte.
The board behind the chefs included the menu for the night. This was an cool way of displaying the dishes, but I wish they had them listed in detail somewhere else.
An interesting and surprising note, we weren’t given any utensils for the meal. All the sauces were brushed onto the fish and we would eat each piece by hand. Of coure, we were also given wet towels at the start of the meal for us to clean up after each course.
C O U R S E # 1
W E S T C O A S T O Y S T E R
This absolutely DIVINE to eat. This oyster was adorned with Italian sturgeon caviar topped with a whipped sake foam.
C O U R S E # 2
B L U E F I N T U N A T A R T A R E
Yum! Anything blue fin melts in your mouth. I’m also a big lover of salmon roe for its intense salty flavor.
C O U R S E # 3
J A P A N E S E Y E L L O W T A I L
Hamachi topped with corn pudding.
C O U R S E # 4
B L U E F I N O T O R O
This piece is topped with fresh pineapple bruleed in brown sugar.
C O U R S E # 5
T A I S N A P P E R W / C A V I A R
C O U R S E # 6
A K A M I T U N A
The sauce paired with the tuna was a surprise. I wasn’t expecting a sweet and acidic taste, but it paired well with the texture of the fish.
C O U R S E # 7
S H I M A A J I
This one is definitely listed as one of the top favorites. I don’t remember what were the garnishes on top. Perhaps chili peppers? Either way, it was exotic.
C O U R S E # 8
T A Z M A N I A N O C E A N T R O UT
The ocean trout did not have traditional sushi rice, instead the chef used purple rice underneath. This was a refreshing change. I was also enamored smooth texture of the fish.
C O U R S E # 9
L I V E P R A W N
I’m completely biased because I love live prawn. This piece was amazing! I would have loved to eat an additional piece of this, but unfortunately, they only ordered the exact number of live prawn for the night. We were given the option to order other pieces from the night a la carte.
C O U R S E # 1 0
S M O K E D A L B A C O R E
C O U R S E # 1 1
K I N G C R A B
This was king crab with beet mustard sauce topped with quinoa. I appreciate the creativeness, but this dish was a little too different for me. I would have loved to eat the crab as is.
C O U R S E # 1 2
C H U – T O R O W / C A V I A R
C O U R S E # 1 3
B O N E M A R R O W
Probably the ugliest nigiri out of the bunch, but don’t judge a book by its cover. This piece of bone marrow was rich and really packed a punch with its savory flavor!
C O U R S E # 1 4
U N I F O I E G R A S
I think through the progression of the meal, the sushi creations got more and more adventurous. The foie gras was cured in sambuca and absinthe while the uni was sprinkled with what I assumed was matcha powder. Garnished on top were pickled onion and scallions. While the quality of the ingredients were on point, the combination did not amaze me.
C O U R S E # 1 5
S A N T A B A R B A R A S E A U R C H I N
Last but not least, dessert! Lying underneath the piece of sea urchin was a brulee yuzu marshmallow. Visually, this was a really tantalizing piece of uni, but because of the sweetness from the brulee, this course really missed the mark for me. I can’t imagine a world where uni can pair well with sweets (even though I do have a big sweet tooth).
C O U R S E # 1 6
M A T C H A L A T T E W H I T E C H O C O L A T E
C O U R S E # 1 7
M A T C H A G R E E N T E A W / L I Q U O R
The last course is an ode to traditional Japanese tea. Except, the drink was infused with liquor! I was too full to eat or drink anymore, so I gave mine to the hubby and he said enjoyed it.
L A F I N
This meal was a little bit of a roller coaster for me. Some courses were elegant, decadent and had a wow factor while others fell short of expectations. For those planning to make reservations here, come with open mind for trying something new and different. However, I do not regret coming here and my overall experience with Sushi|Bar was a positive one. I can tell each dish was complex and methodically created. Artistry is not perfect and sometimes comes with failures. I love that Lee broke the status quo of what is expected in a traditional Japanese omakase. He breaks boundaries and I only hope he continues to push his limits to create an experience that will make people come back curious for more.
RSVP at: https://www.exploretock.com/sushibar/