34 S. Seaward Ave.
The light is red, the radio is blaring some sort of pop music that I’m too old for, and I’m going over the day’s to-do list in my head. I’m sitting at the stoplight at Seaward and Main in midtown Ventura for probably the hundredth time. As usual, I’m wondering about this funny little restaurant on the right, the one with the tired-looking whitewashed facade painted with the words "Seaward Sushi Bar" in sky blue. Who eats there? Is it any good? I wonder how many other people have also sat here, wondering the same thing. I decide to go in and find out for myself. And what I find behind the doorway and the Japanese tapestry that hangs in it, is the tiniest of restaurants, a little hidden world.
Oh, and tiny is an understatement. The restaurant is divided into two side-by-side narrow galleys, with a small kitchen area and sushi bar in the center, covered by a wooden roof. The dark wood-paneled walls are covered in Japanese beer posters, sushi posters and the occasional handwritten sign describing one of the many specials. We have to squeeze through a bunch of tiny tables and booths as we meander through the U-shaped space to find a table. We choose one next to the sushi bar, so we have a great view of the sushi chef, who is busy building, rolling and saucing her creations behind the counter.
We start with the tuna nagiri, two pieces of raw fish pressed onto little mounds of rice. The tuna — soft, pink, and beyond fresh — is draped softly over the sticky rice. Dipped into our mixture of soy sauce and wasabi, it’s a great warm-up for the meal ahead. We move on to the tempura shrimp and vegetables. These beautiful fried pieces arrive piled high on a rectangular plate, hot and ready to be eaten. The batter is light but there is an ample amount of it, making for a substantial crunch with each bite. The shrimp are close to six inches long, the eggplant and squash are sweet, the yam is smooth, and the broccoli and asparagus crispy. We dip these into the warm dipping sauce, and then we forge ahead and order more.
From the traditional sushi selections, we order the eel roll. It is made with avocado, cucumber and eel that are tucked into rice, wrapped in seaweed, sliced into five pieces, and drizzled with a sweet sauce. It is sweet and satisfying and the simplest roll of the meal. Yet the eel itself is a bit soft, lacking the crunch and caramelized flavor usually associated with it.
From the large selection of specialty dishes, we choose the Atlantis roll and the SoCal roll, both of which are wonderfully complex. The Atlantis starts with a somewhat traditional sushi roll with tempura shrimp, tempura asparagus and avocado inside. The sushi chef then tops the roll with raw salmon and a spicy miso sauce, and then torches it with a small blowtorch until it is crisp and caramelized. The spiciness on the outside works nicely with the crunch of the tempura and smooth avocado inside. The SoCal is another grand creation that starts with a traditional roll. It is built with tuna, crab, jalapeno and avocado and then the whole roll is dipped into tempura batter, fried, sliced and served with a sweet dipping sauce. This roll alone is worthy of a return trip.
The service is good; all of our food arrives promptly. Our server is busy, and appears to be moving at the speed of light. But when she stops at our table to take yet another small order, she’s patient and helpful. The only downside of our meal is the grand size of the rolls. Now, usually I embrace large food with open arms; but in this case, the circumference of these rolls is so big that they easily fall apart when picked up with chopsticks. It is such a shame to see these beautiful sushi rolls, chock-full of wonderful ingredients, split in two or drop with a big splash into our dish of soy sauce. But if you practice patience with your chopsticks, work at it, or even (gasp!) occasionally use your hands to get all the flavors into your mouth at the same time, it’s well worth it.
Seaward Sushi is a great find and a great escape. Now that I know what’s behind the door of this little restaurant, I will no longer wonder as I sit in the traffic outside. Instead, I will be dreaming of the SoCal roll and planning my next meal there.