Santa Cruz Good Times

Apr 16th
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On a Roll

dining_takaraAt Takara Japanese Restaurant, colorful presentations augment fresh flavors

I hadn’t visited Takara Japanese Restaurant since they moved from a tiny mid-town location to the expansive Red Lobster site in Capitola. We were met with glasses of ice water and warm damp towels to prepare our hands for the possibility of finger eating. Bowls of warm miso soup ($2.50) were soothing and salty with soft seaweed and tofu.

The restaurant's beautifully appointed interior is rich and multi-textured with warm wood, bamboo, mats woven from organic materials, and silk weavings.

The Sweet Mussel appetizer ($5.50) included three bivalve half shells stuffed with chopped mollusks in a sweet, garlicky mayonnaise-type sauce, which were baked until golden and heaped with sparkling orange tobiko flying fish roe.

Three balls of sushi rice supported Fresh Sake Nigiri ($4.50). The wide, thin strips of raw salmon, eaten with sweet, pink pickled ginger and wasabi-spiced soy sauce, were beautiful in their simplicity and soft on the tongue.

Maki Sushi Garlic Roll ($6.30) included six pieces rolled inside-out uramaki-style. Raw tuna was layered with a generous amount of minced garlic, green onions, spicy mayonnaise and tobiko, which popped between my teeth.

The fresh water eel unagi, whose farmed existence is considered unsustainable, is prevalent on the menu in items such as the Leopard Roll ($13). Not a problem, as I ordered the long eight-inch Chef's Special without it. Salmon, avocado and nuts were centered in rice and wrapped with a sheet of nori seaweed which then secured a backbone of crisp tempura shrimp along the roll’s top. It was served with a side of viscous unagi sauce, a thick, mixture of soy sauce, sugar, and mirin, the sweet rice cooking wine. An art of opposites, I dipped one face of each piece in the sweet sauce, the other in wasabi-laced soy. The smooth texture of the fish provided contrast to crunchy nuts and the creaminess of colorful, ripe avocado.

During the weekday Happy Hour, from 3:30 until 5:30 p.m., there are specials on draft beer ($3), well drinks ($4), and selected appetizers ($3.50), including the baked Sweet Mussels. I chose piping hot Edamame, delightfully served with a shaker of salt. Instructed to eat them with my fingers, I pulled the long pods between my front teeth, popping the soft, green beans onto my tongue, leaving a ring of salt on my lips.

Having never eaten a quail egg, I ordered a pair of Wasabi Sunrise ($8) from the “Challenging” list. Raw, the fresh, plump yolks were nestled in beds of rice and spicy green wasabi-flavored tobiko, which were wrapped with thick ribbons of buttery tuna.

A most beautiful dish is the eight-piece Caterpillar Roll ($14), but watch out for unagi. Cucumber was wrapped in nori sheets surrounded by rice, covered with avocado and decorated with tentacle eyes, plastic antennae, and a shrimp collar. It was drizzled with sweet unagi sauce, dotted with black and white sesame seeds and topped with crystals of tobiko.

Takara Japanese Restaurant, 3775 Capitola Road, Captiola, 464-1818. Full bar. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. Visit

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