Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito

Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito title=
Blue Fin Tuna (Photo by Liam Brown)
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By Rebecca Horrigan

The Michelin-starred Sushi by Scratch Restaurants: Sushi|Bar Montecito provides a dining experience unlike any I’ve had before. From the moment of arrival, all notions of control over the meal should be delightfully released; you can rest, sip, and “taste-assured” that you are in good hands.

Pulling up to easy, breezy Coast Village Road, already feels like a treat, but Sushi|Bar Montecito brings an exciting, edgy, LA vibe that blends the best of both worlds. Check-in is situated at the Montecito Inn, ideally 15 minutes before the reservation, so that diners can linger over a fresh “Welcome Cocktail.” Ours was a zinger of Japanese whiskey, ginger and sake, revving up our taste buds for the delicious road ahead.

Guests are welcomed into an inconspicuous door with no signage and seated at the 10-seat chef’s counter, with their name on a little chalkboard at their designated spot. Special touches like this make the night feel special, dream-like, and personal.

The speakeasy vibe stems from the origin story of Sushi|Bar Los Angeles. Chef and owner Phillip Frankland Lee explained that they were never meant to have more than one location. He was already experiencing great success with Pasta Bar (which has also received a Michelin star), but always wanted to open a sushi restaurant, so he turned his little office behind the restaurant into a sushi bar on nights when he felt like practicing his skills. The pop-up sushi bar had no name or phone number and started as his own small creative project.

It’s hard to keep a great thing a secret, and Frankland Lee ran with the success, opening the original Sushi|Bar in Encino in 2017 and in April 2019 in Montecito. An Austin location is in the works.

“I wanted to add to the conversation not just regurgitate the conversation,” Frankland Lee said of the inspiration behind his 17-course omakase “chef’s choice” menu. The selection of perfect bites created by Frankland Lee and Chef Jason Venters (at the Montecito location) changes frequently and highlights the wealth of beautiful local seafood Santa Barbara has to offer including, urchin, halibut, spot prawns and more. Each course is served with an intro from the passionate chefs and prepared before your eyes.


Hokkaido Uni (Photo by Liam Brown)

“The tradition of omakase is about the chefs telling the story of their childhood and hometown in the flavor profiles and what they’re trying to do,” Frankland Lee said. “How can I do this in a way that celebrates the fish and tells the story of my childhood in a way that’s both nostalgic and groundbreaking at the same time?”

My favorite dish, the hamachi with sweet corn pudding and sourdough breadcrumbs, illustrates Frankland Lee’s ethos perfectly.

“It’s been on the menu since the very first night in my little office in LA,” Frankland Lee said. “I grew up in the San Fernando valley eating corn on the cob and Nancy Silverton’s sourdough,” he explained. The breadcrumbs on the hamachi come from pastry Chef and Phillip’s wife, Margarita Kallas-Lee’s sourdough from Pasta Bar, which is created from a 57-year-old starter.

Like most great art, the beauty lies in the details, and Frankland Lee and his crew have worked diligently to ensure that every sprinkle of sea salt is the perfect amount. Other highlights on the menu included a beautiful beluga black caviar with bluefin tuna, the Hokkaido scallop with yuzu koshu, homemade soy sauce, lemon and Balinese sea salt, and decadent unagi prepared with a kick from poblano kosho and finished live with rendered marrow for a mouthwatering bite. Dessert featured a dainty Makrut ice cream bonbon with rice and sesame shortbread dipped in matcha chocolate. I could have eaten a tub of those tasty creations from Kallas-Lee.

The amber-hued room’s warm and festive environment further bubbles with life due to their fabulous beverage program by masterminds Jamie Rocha and Gavin Humes. The menu features creative cocktails, rare sake, and thoughtful wine and beer offerings. I chose the mixed pairing option and was able to sample the full range of their beverages artfully matched with the flavors of each course. Whatever you decide to sip, don’t miss the tart, sweet, swoon-worthy Bee's Japanese, featuring smoked honey, yuzu and gin.

Those looking to snag a seat should check online on the first of the month, a month ahead of their ideal reservation. It’s clear that Lee’s declaration that he wanted to become a sushi chef at the age of 13 has already exceeded his dreams. With rave reviews, a great team, and an inspired menu, who knows what this little speakeasy that could, will do next?

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Curmudgeon Feb 19, 2022 03:17 PM
Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito

2015 - While I don't enjoy sushi, I do like a Chicken-of-the-Sea tuna salad sandwich from time-to-time. Thus, I don't know what is expensive or not, but their website states the meal experience is $145 per person.

Alexblue Feb 19, 2022 05:32 PM
Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito

145 dollars for a seventeen course tasting experience doesn’t sound like a lot of money to me. Skip ten mediocre meals out save your money and have an amazing experience unlike
Anything you’ve done before.

a-1645312377 Feb 19, 2022 03:12 PM
Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito

It makes a difference in a review if the reviewer were comped. Full disclosure helps me put a review in a different perspective.

a-1645325670 Feb 19, 2022 06:54 PM
Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito

I would much rather be able to order what I want, than have some arty chef give me what he thinks I might like, sight unseen.

FondofSB Feb 19, 2022 08:33 PM
Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito

We had dinner there once, and will not return.
Every "new presentation" was brushed with the same "yuzu type" sauce which rendered all bites tasting the same.
The board announced that after the "omakaze" we would be able to order more sushi (of our choice) if so desired except that at the end of the meal we were "promptly" ushered out to "make room for the next service".
Too bad for us because we left hungry and would have bought additional sushi/sashimi so as not to leave hungry.
And unlike the article writer we've had "many dining experiences much better than this one"...

a-1645337025 Feb 19, 2022 10:03 PM
Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito

I assume the photos were provided by the restaurant (I googled the photographer) and I sure hope they're not serving Hokkaido urchin when so much of the crop harvested here by local urchin divers is shipped to Japan!
Omakase is an art form, and the price here is good, though I'm not sure how many courses the writer had.
I'm not big on Frankland Lee, haven't been since he was on Top Chef in 2016, I think it was? He has done well at some of his places and been well-reviewed, but his reach has exceeded his reality.
Don't forget Silver Bough! (that was $550, Montecito was a perfect place to attempt it. You can look him up on eater dot com)
Just read this yesterday: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2022/01/31/pioneering-sustainable-sushi-at-rosella
A nice model to follow, to aspire to.

Cadillackid Feb 19, 2022 11:17 PM
Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito

Edomasa is the best sushi restaurant in Santa Barbara hands down, argue with me, arigato is ok but not the best

SBREADER Feb 20, 2022 12:02 AM
Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito

Just to jump in because I am bored and CadillacKid started it: I have been eating sushi locally since it started, We are friends with Edomasa, I used to surf and play tennis with Bill from Arigato, longtime patron of Piranha now at Oku, good friends with Nau at Sakana. I call Arigato and Sakana the best, Nau used to work at Arigato. I always liked Piranha and now Oku is a beautiful place with great food. I would never go to this place. Didn't they go out of business a while back and apparently returned since no one seems to be able to make the Montecito Inn work? I used to love the old restaurant that was there for years.

a-1645395262 Feb 20, 2022 02:14 PM
Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito

You're thinking of the Silver Bough, right? Oh, and Monarch too:
https://www.independent.com/2019/10/20/the-monarch-and-silver-bough-abruptly-close/

https://la.eater.com/2018/12/20/18150473/silver-bough-montecito-santa-barbara-phillip-frankland-lee-coming

https://www.montecitojournal.net/2019/02/21/the-silver-bough/

yiannis93101 Feb 20, 2022 06:57 AM
Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito

For those with a less expensive budget, on Wednesdays at Sprouts, you can get fresh made sushi and rolls for $5 bucks!
But they are not Michelin stared, sorry. Let the LA Vibe stay in LA.

Biggerjigger Feb 20, 2022 07:07 AM
Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito

Been in Santa Barbara 38 years and have to admit most of the food in this town is mediocre at best. Sure there are some decent restaurants but for the most part Santa Barbara’s food scene is just OK. Sun sushi, edomasa, shintori… sure they are all places that serve OK food but if you think they serve the best sushi ever I’m not sure you've experienced “real sushi”… presto pasta is great for what it is but its not real Italian (same concept) I think this restaurant will do great- $145 for a 17 course meal is a great value…. I hope Santa Barbara steps up the food game and gets more places like this. How about a good BBQ or Seafood restaurant for once? How is it we live at one of the best little working harbors yet cant have a restaurant to support the local fisherman? Maybe we are too cheap in this town to actually pay the prices necessary to serve good food?

chico berkeley Feb 20, 2022 09:53 AM
Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito

The fisherman get a lot more money for their work.
Last time I tried to buy lobster off a boat at the harbor I was told it was ALL going to CHINA for twice the money.
Abalone is very abundant at the islands again yet almost all the catch goes to,wait for it CHINA.
Uni?
Same.
Sea cucumbers?
Yep CHINA.
Heck, a lot of local beef and ag goes to China as well.
Seems they have destroyed their oceans from pollution,overfishing and generally don't care about anything but themselves.
If you know a lobster guy that will sell to you less than international market price,you are lucky.

Channelfog Feb 20, 2022 11:29 AM
Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito

Yes, China has polluted their waters, land and air. They are buying up massive amounts of grain (hoarding most of the World supply) as well as beef, pork etc. Meanwhile they export unclean, basically toxic foods. They are strip mining the oceans and respect not territorial waters.
EAT NOTHING FROM CHINA!

Biggerjigger Feb 20, 2022 04:01 PM
Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito

Abalone from the islands gets shipped to China? Where are the facts for that? Because that is simply FALSE!! You can buy plenty of local seafood from the boats at very fair prices… especially the last few years!

chico berkeley Feb 20, 2022 04:59 PM
Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito

Yea,a friend that has a license to take abs.
Or,you tell me where in SB that I can buy Ab?
Sorry, I guess I should have said"Asia"
So, not only china .
Japan.Hong Kong, Malaysia etc.
So, ag products grown here are sent to all the other open mouths, all over the world.
We buy ours from Mexico.
WTF?

chico berkeley Feb 20, 2022 07:18 PM
Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito

It comes from living here for 60 years.
Abalone is only available to commercial divers that get a lot more money from the orient.
Frickin' over priced snail
Tell me where I can have an ab sandwich in town for less than 40$
Yea, you don't get it.

a-1645443363 Feb 21, 2022 03:36 AM
Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito

https://wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Ocean/Regulations/Sport-Fishing/Invertebrate-Fishing-Regs

California Recreational Ocean Fishing Regulations
Invertebrate Fishing Regulations

29.05. General.
(b)(1) Except where prohibited within state marine reserves, state marine parks, state marine conservation areas, or other special closures only the following may be taken: red abalone

NOTE: The red abalone season is closed until April 1, 2026.

29.15. Abalone.
(a) All ocean waters are closed to the take of abalone. Abalone may not be taken or possessed.
(b) This subsection and subsection (a) shall remain in effect only until April 1, 2026, and as of that date are repealed, unless a later enacted amendment deletes or extends that date.

Biggerjigger Feb 21, 2022 06:05 PM
Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito

Yeah sorry. No commercial divers are getting you abalone in this area… so your facts are very false…. Only abalone you can buy is farm raised…. So

Harbor_Seal Feb 22, 2022 01:39 PM
Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito

Over the years I’ve heard from credible sources (and I have observed circumstantial evidence more than once) local commercial fishers poach abalone at the Channel Islands for personal consumption or sell it on a black market (dry it and ship to China); arrests are rare and poorly documented in local media.

A friend who works for California Fish & Game in Northern California said the banning of recreational red abalone in Northern California was actually two fold: 1.) as stated environmental factors causing decline, 2.) not stated (racially sensitive) to curb poaching of red abalone… something that I observed firsthand in 2016.

salsa guy Feb 20, 2022 10:30 AM
Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito

Wow another sushi restaurant that seems to smother taste with sauces. Keep it simple, fresh ingredients, well prepped rice and wrapped. My vote goes to Sun Sushi. I liked Arigato when Bill was actively involved, now ever tying is drenched in sauce.

a-1645395531 Feb 20, 2022 02:18 PM
Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito

They were conscious of local purveyors when they opened: "The menu’s back page is a greatest hits of tri-county farms and fisherpeople, and the wine list lasers in on locals (think Tatomer, Tercero, and Tyler, just for the Ts). Said Rosner of such regional pride, “I’ve lived here for almost 10 years now, and it’s become my home.” As for the food, it’s focused, flavor forward, and gorgeous without being frou-frou. It would be easy to not get past the sea urchin spread (with uni from Stephanie Mutz, of course) ..."
https://www.independent.com/2018/08/29/david-rosner-helps-monarch-spread-wings/

a-1645443920 Feb 21, 2022 03:45 AM
Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito

Farmed red abalone is available
https://culturedabalone.com/
$100 for 10 live abalone / 3.25″ shell length / ~100 grams / 3-4 years old

Farm owner Doug Bush is a member of the NOAA Fisheries White Abalone Recovery Team. The primary goal of this recovery team is to ensure the recovery of the white abalone population throughout its range. The team's efforts include a captive breeding program and experimental outplanting.
I'm so thankful for him and people like him and their work.

chico berkeley Feb 22, 2022 04:37 PM
Restaurant Review: Sushi|Bar Montecito

Yes DP has a farm.
That is not abs rom the Islands.
Yes 100$ for ten little ones that are undersized.
The real ones are 150$ apiece.

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