Chef Richard torches the incredible Wagyu beef at Sushi by Scratch | Photo: Leslie Dinaberg

One of the strangest ironies of being a journalist who specializes in the softer side of things (food and wine, and arts and culture, as opposed to newsy beats like courts and crime, and politics and policy) is that I frequently get to wine, dine, travel, and experience things at a VIP level that I would never be able to afford on my measly salary. Such was the case when I recently dined at Sushi by Scratch, Montecito’s first Michelin-starred restaurant.

I’ve always been curious about the place — especially having been one of the few people who experienced co-owner chefs Phillip Frankland Lee and Margarita Kallas-Lee’s incredible Silver Bough experience when it briefly orbited the universe at the Montecito Inn back in 2019 — so when the restaurant reached out with an invitation to check it out, I jumped at the opportunity to try it.

Here’s what it’s like to dine at one of Meghan and Harry’s favorite restaurants in the 805 region (they reportedly dine here often and recently brought along Cameron Diaz and Gwyneth Paltrow). 

We’re personally greeted in the Montecito Inn lobby and escorted to a lounge area for a welcome cocktail, a lovely concoction of Japanese whiskey, ginger, and sake served in a small cup and saucer, which our server explains is to be poured over into the saucer for good luck, giving new meaning to the phrase “your cup runneth over.” It’s exactly this kind of charming attention to detail that makes this experience so unique.

Soon we’re escorted into the restaurant, an intimate space I’ve been in before — it once housed Frankland’s Crab & Co., then Chaplin’s Martini Bar, before being converted to Sushi|Bar, the recent predecessor to Sushi by Scratch. Now a thoughtfully conceived omakase restaurant, Sushi by Scratch has a 10-seat sushi counter where we’re up-close and personal with a four-person team, including a chef, two sous chefs, and a bartender/sake sommelier. We elect to leave our pairings in the hands of the pros, who curate a sake flight and a house cocktail flight for us, to go with the “chef’s choice”–style progressive 17-course nigiri tasting menu. The cocktails are nice, but the sake selection is a revelation, with far more complexity and interesting flavors in every sip than all of those sake-bomb shots of my youth. 

Then it’s on to the tasting menu (it’s all chef’s choice here, at $165 per person), where each painstakingly prepared bite course is simply glorious, as much a treat for the eyes as it is for the belly.

If there were ever a meal where we were justified to have “the camera eat first,” Sushi by Scratch is it!

Course one was bluefin tessin, made from the tail part of the tuna, which is ground into a paste with ponzu, matcha salt, wasabi, lemon, and rice, and topped with salmon roe and avocado. 

That was followed by the beautiful, bright textural treat of hamachi (Japanese yellowtail), brushed with a sweet corn pudding, sourdough breadcrumbs (from Chef Margarita’s homemade bread), and wasabi. I know it sounds weird, but it was absolutely delicious and a truly original bite. 

Course three was toro, a second visit to the Bluefin tuna family, but this time glazed with pineapple, soy, and wasabi for a bite that was much closer to meals I’ve had before, but never such an elevated version of this fish.

Course four was madai (red sea bream), a “summer taste” treat made with watermelon three ways, creating still more amazing textures.

For the fifth course, the house-made remoulade gave the scallop preparation a lovely lemony tang and paired notably well with the Domaine Christophe Mittnacht Gyotaku from Alsace. 

Course six was a spot prawn, seasoned with clarified butter and a delectable house-made spice they called “elevated Old Bay,” which gave it a lovely, slightly Cajun kick at the end. 

Then it was on to course seven, king salmon with an okra-root rub and fresh dill, among other elements in this meticulous preparation. Watching the chef rub the okra against a sharkskin grater tool to create the rub was an impressive example of the attention to detail at Sushi by Scratch. 

Not a single element of this experience is left to chance, which means that although we have plenty of fabulous fish in our Santa Barbara seas, the offerings here are primarily flown in from Tokyo’s famous Toyosu Fish Market. They only seat 30 people a night, with three mostly sold-out seatings of 10 offered, which makes consistently great food an imperative. 

Course eight was the shima-aji, topped with a nice kick of honey, another unexpected delight. 

Course nine was albacore, rubbed with garlic and ponzu, wrapped in sake-soaked nori, and topped with wasabi and crispy onions, to create a texture and flavor bomb of the highest order. This was followed by akami, a bluefin tuna and what the chef described as the “most traditional bite of the night.”

The 11th course was kanpachi, topped by chicken cracklings and paired with a refreshing Yamada “Everlasting Roots” sake. The most time-sensitive course — a Japanese uni with matcha sea salt — was up next, followed by escolar, served with collard greens and pickled okra.

Lucky number 13 (or maybe 14) was an incredible buttery bite of Wagyu, served sushi-style and torched to perfection right in front of us. As he prepped the beef, the chef confirmed that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are indeed regulars, and confided that Harry wasn’t really a fan of fish, “so, last time when he was here, I made him a steak.” If Harry’s steak was anything like the bite I had, he’s still getting the royal treatment, whether or not it’s granted by the king.

Even better than the Wagyu was the next course, roasted bone marrow nigiri of all things: topped with soy sauce and torched to brown it to indescribably tasty perfection. 

That was followed by number 16, unagi, fried crispy in the rendered bone-marrow fat from the previous course and then dressed with poblano yuzu kosho, soy sauce, ponzu, lemon, and sea salt.

Unless you’re Prince Harry, the omakase menu changes with the seasons and the chef’s choice, but the final course, number 17, will always be a delectable dessert from Chef Margarita. The night we were there, the pièce de résistance was a pretty-as-a-picture, jewel-box-green gift: a matcha bonbon, made with makrut lime, white chocolate, and shortbread. It left a delicious lingering finish to an unforgettable night.

1295 Coast Village Rd., Montecito; (805) 321-0005; Reservations are released on the first of the month at 10 a.m. for the following month’s availability.


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