I had an opening in my schedule today and decided to give SUGARFISH Santa Monica another chance, after the awful shari I had had last time. I ordered The Nozawa again, and today’s special was halibut sashimi. I also ordered the large scallops a la carte so I could compare it to the scallops I had last time. Despite liking the albacore belly on my first visit, I decided to try the lobster hand roll.
I’m glad to report that, while the shari still approached what I’d consider “hot” for a few of the pieces, none of the pieces had rice that was uncomfortably warm and, more importantly, none of the rice was sticky, gummy, or starchy. Ironically(?), the much better rice today allowed me to focus more on the fish, since I didn’t have the rice as a distraction as I did on my first visit.
The edamame pods seemed a little fresher and brighter, with not as much soy sauce on them as last time, which was an improvement.
The ponzu sauce used for the tuna sashimi (not pictured) is still too tart for my taste and covers up the flavor of the fish. The tuna itself seemed about average, but it’s hard to tell with the saucing. Nothing wrong with this dish, but the saucing is not for me.
The rice for the albacore nigiri was the warmest of the pieces, but without the unpleasant sticky, gummy, starchiness, and wasn’t bad at all. The fish was really soft, bordering on mushy, but tasted fine. The ponzu, like with the tuna sashimi, was a bit too tart and overshadows the flavor of the fish.
The texture of the salmon nigiri was also very soft. The rice for the salmon was still warmer than I’m used to, but not as warm as the albacore.
I ate the second piece of albacore after the two pieces of salmon, and it’s rice was still warmer than the salmon’s. I don’t know what accounts for the temperature difference as I assume both the albacore and salmon pieces were made at the same time, as they are served on the same platter. I’d think the albacore’s rice would be cooled down more due to the ponzu.
The yellowtail was again the best piece of nigiri of today’s meal. It had the best shari of the nigiri, still warmer than what I’m used to but not as warm as the other pieces today. The texture was actually not as soft and melt-in-your-mouth as the albacore, which was a surprise, since yellowtail is generally known for that. It had good cohesive “mouthfeel”.
The yuzukosho on the halibut nigiri and in the rice is still just a little too peppery for the fish. I felt it actually covered up the admittedly subtle flavor halibut, and I’d rather be able to taste more than the saucing on the fish.
The three hand rolls had really warm rice in them, bordering on hot (for me). Perhaps it’s the amount of rice as compared to the nigiri, or perhaps the nori acts as an insulator to keep the heat in.
Regardless, I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed the warm rice in the hand rolls. Without the textural problems that the shari had during my first visit, the warmness itself actually worked better than I expected.
The critique of the toro hand roll was less sweet and tasted better than last time. The blue crab hand rolls flavor and texture still had the same issues I mentioned in my original review.
The lobster hand roll was mildly disappointing, as I didn’t really get a great deal of lobster flavor from it. This was the same issue I had with Son of a Gun’s lobster roll. Maybe I’m just a spoiled New Englander who expects his lobster meat to taste more like lobster. :-)
I think SUGARFISH and I just have to agree to disagree on sashimi. I don’t want my sashimi covered in really tart ponzu, so it almost resembles ceviche without the onion and cilantro, and the halibut sashimi had that ceviche texture to it. Actually, in addition to the ponzu, yuzukosho was used with the halibut sashimi, and it was just too much for the dish.
The large scallop nigiri from my first visit was rather bland. This time, they were more flavorful, with a gentle sweetness that did come through despite more ponzu saucing.
So, my conclusion is that the style that SUGARFISH serves is not really my preferred style. The overly-tart ponzu overpowers the fish. Some of the neta was a little too soft, but the yellowtail is quite good. The shari, even though it’s warmer than I prefer, is actually quite enjoyable when prepared right, especially in the hand rolls.
Would SUGARFISH be my first choice for sushi? Not with Kiriko, Shunji, and others around. Would I go back there if the mood for warm-rice sushi strikes me? Yes, and I would try to enjoy it on its own merit.
1345 2nd St
Santa Monica, CA 90401