The Far East shines bright at a new beachside eatery.
One of the Beaches’ newer restaurants bills its cuisine as "modern Pan Asian," a broad term that hints at influences ranging from Japanese to Thai to Mongolian. Sushi and sashimi are big customer draws (guests may even sit at a bar overlooking the sushi chef station), but the lengthy menu stretches far and wide with dishes such as skirt steak with teriyaki glaze, ginger-lemongrass tofu and Vietnamese pork belly. Fitting its beachside location, seafood plays a big part in the show at Sakana Restaurant and Blue Bar.
Sakana has the feel of two establishments in one. The Blue Bar is the hip nightclub side with loud music and shaking cocktails, while the restaurant side is where the food and wine earn top billing. There is a covered patio that sits tight up against the Jax Beach boardwalk with the low sand dunes and swaying sea oats the only thing between passersby and the shoreline. The whole place has a youthful energy, helped along by a dance-club soundtrack, sleek furnishings and silver accents from head to toe. The interior is cool and casual with splashy contemporary artwork and touches of Asian decor. Its proximity to the ocean is saluted with an overall blue theme, a color that carries into the napkins, glassware, servers' attire and glowing lights.
Diners may elect to begin an evening with a selection from the list of Samsui, or cold appetizers. Calamari and Thai papaya salads are offered alongside other choices that showcase the kitchen's culinary creativity. Tuna tartar tacos, $12, shrimp and pork lettuce wraps, $10, and sashimi tuna pizza, $13, prepared with eel sauce, tomato, onion and jalapeño on a crisp tortilla, are among the starters.
For many, sushi is sushi, with little difference to be gleaned from one restaurant's rolls to another's. Sakana steps outside the box with a few innovative combinations. For example, the "green buddah," $9, features edamame hummus, roasted tomato, yam, and artichoke in soy paper and topped with Japanese eggplant, goat cheese and almonds. The "surf 'n turf," $17, is prepared with tempura lobster and asparagus, paired with seared filet mignon and micro greens.
The boneless short rib with sweet potato, wasabi cream and pickled carrots and radishes, $21, and the garlic rubbed beef tenderloin, $28, with beans, sprouts and tempura onion rings are among the approximately one dozen house specialties that allow non-sushi fans and meat eaters to dive right in. Pad Thai (chicken, beef or vegetables, $14-$19) with snow peas, carrots, asparagus, sprouts, mushrooms and cilantro is a classic Asian dish long-favored by American palates. The oxtail pho, $19, with seared Kobe beef, rice noodles, bean sprouts, lime, basil, scallions and cilantro is Sakana's take on the traditional Vietnamese soup. Portions are generous but not huge. The "big" at Sakana is found in the flavors and that doesn't necessarily require a to-go box.
Sakana Restaurant & Blue Bar 333 1st St., N., Jacksonville Beach, 595-5355; sakanajaxbeach.com
Hours: Monday-Tuesday, 4 PM-2 AM; Wednesday-Sunday, 11 AM-2 AM
Brew House: The Asian theme is carried through with beers including Sapporro, Tsingtao, Singha and Tiger.
Saké to Me: The restaurant claims the largest selection of saké in Jax Beach, which can be mixed to make unusual cocktails like a sake tini with rice wine, cranberry and plum juice.
Happy Days: Drink specials are offered Monday-Friday, 4-7 PM Take a Hike: The beach is a shell's throw away. After dinner, why not remove your shoes and stroll along the sand?
Order Up!: Sakana's executive chef is Scott Ostrander, a name many townies will be familiar with from his time cooking at the now-closed ‘town in Avondale.