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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

World-Class Seafood Prepared in a Casual Setting

World-Class Seafood Prepared in a Casual Setting


Story by Jordan Marie McCaw

Photography by Ezra Marcos


Casual dining doesn’t mean the menu should be casual too. Sakana proves that a casual atmosphere simply enhances its world-class sushi, sashimi and everything else on the menu.

Less than a year ago, Sakana opened its doors on E Main Street in downtown Medford, just a few doors down from its sister restaurant Jefferson Spirits. The restaurant didn’t stick around in the location long before relocating to downtown Ashland. “We felt the market for traditional sushi and Izakaya was stronger in Ashland, and that our Medford guests would be better served with a return to our playful takes on more traditional American pub fare,” says bartender and head server Zach Brown. He adds that since the move, Sakana has quickly gained new regulars as well as continues to see Medford guests make the commute to Ashland.

Diners at the Ashland location enjoy an exposed brick wall and lighting that compliments the laid-back atmosphere. Izakaya is a Japanese term meaning pub style or a casual place to hang out after work with friends. While the atmosphere is nonchalant, the menu is filled with several types of sushi, sake and cocktails.

Chef Ibong Subagdja carefully crafted the menu to showcase sushi and sashimi to the fullest. His experience at Kobe prepared him to create flavorful and fresh authentic Japanese cuisine daily. “His roots in Ashland are deep, and people had been clamoring for his return,” says Brown. “We think the pairing of his knife work and our mixing glasses is a perfect match.”

Not only is Chef Ibong in charge of preparing the food, he also orders the seafood, utilizing years of experience to know how to best care for the food, how often to order it, and using the best cuts of sashimi for each dish. He often features Pacific Northwest local seafood like Salish Sea Shigoku oysters from Washington or wild cut Columbia River King salmon. He steers away from red-flagged seafood species, serving only what’s sustainable and ethical.

Brown claims Sakana’s most popular dish is the acclaimed Chirashi Bowl. The dish consists of fresh fish served atop sushi rice, sometimes including oyster or ceviche. Brown says the presentation is beautiful and is perfect for those who may not be ready for nigiri or straight sashimi. Another highlight on the menu is the Hamachi Jalapeño roll, consisting of yellowtail, pickled pear, jalapeño, cilantro, avocado, and chili-avocado sauce. For those seeking something heavier, there’s Crispy Duck Leg, Prime NY Steak, Seared Diver Scallops and Salmon.

Sakana also has its own pub-style side of the menu titled under Fun(ner).  “We wanted our playful side to come through, to make it obvious that we don't take ourselves too seriously and that we're family friendly,” says Brown. He also adds they wanted to make sure those who dine at Sakana aren’t forced to order sushi. The Fun(ner) menu features a Sushi Dog comprised of seaweed and seasoned rice, Jefferson Mac N Cheese, Ramen, Katsu Banh Mi, and Ahi Poke “Chicharrone.”

Owner Arthur Lee and Chef Ibong curated the sake list to best compliment the food side of the menu. “Having an extensive sake selection is as important to sushi as a red wine list is to Italian food,” says Brown. “Finding the sake that fits your taste, temperature, mood, and meal is essential to setting your palate and refreshing it throughout your visit, and we've done our best to have the variety available to accommodate that.” The cocktails weren’t an afterthought, either. Brown says their cocktails are integral to Sakana’s identity. “The bar itself (hand built from lumber recovered from Tunnel 13) sits on the street side, so we've put that part of ourselves front and center.”

Sakana wants nothing more than to serve delicious food in a comfortable setting so you can have a good time with friends and family before catching a show at Oregon Shakespeare Festival or ending a long workday. “We want you to relax and enjoy,” says Brown. “All of our dishes are meant to be shared, and can be brought to the table one or two at a time (unless you've theater tickets, of course––then we promise to hurry), to encourage the communal and familial feeling of dining together.”



145 E. Main St., Ashland




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