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Photograph by Stephen Laufer

Takara Sign Zen, Again: At the Takara in Capitola (pictured)--same sign, different dining experience from the Takara Japanese Restaurant on Soquel.

A Tale of Two Takaras, Part 2

In which our restaurant reviewer continues her Takara odyssey by taking it to Capitola

By Selene Latigo

This is the tale of two sushi restaurants, under the same ownership and of the same name, and the nuances that make them stand out on their own. These siblings offer many of the same things, but each creates a completely different dining experience.

Takara, 3775 Capitola Road

We entered the Takara near the Capitola Mall, passing fake food displays and a full bar set off to the side, all similar to the other Takara on Soquel. This Takara is larger, more spread out, with a very open feel and a sushi bar in the center. There was classical piano music playing and dim lighting, creating an elegant and upscale ambience. Small, subtle touches enhanced the sophisticated feeling, such as soy sauce decanted into glass sake bottles, and Japanese artwork displayed throughout the restaurant. The happy hour here, 3:30-5:30pm, Monday-Friday, was over and the restaurant was bustling. A very friendly server, wearing a bright red kimono-style top, seated us right away. Perhaps it was due to the later hour, but this Takara seemed a bit understaffed for its size, with servers hurrying past to attend to other customers.

In spite of the somewhat slower pace, we immediately received the same hot towels, though not as scalding this time, and our drink order of the organic chilled sake ($10 for a 300 milliliter bottle). We were surprised to see that this sake was produced in the United States, and upon closer inspection, realized that it is from the Takara Sake factory (no relation) in Berkeley. This was one of the cheaper options on the long and more explanatory sake list and unfortunately tasted like it.

With our firm commitment to comparing the two Takaras, we placed our order, keeping consistent with our previous dinner of miso soup, seaweed salad, maguro nigiri, the hama roll, the Yummy Yam and one specialty roll. This time it was the Charlie Special ($6.50), a large roll of smoked salmon, cream cheese, green onion and garlic, dipped in tempura batter and deep-fried. Our gluttonous eating tour peaked at this one. All of the prices are the same on both of Takara's menus, yet the Capitola one seemed to have a few different dinner options, including more vegetarian combos.

First came the miso and seaweed salad in the same-style bowls and portions. The miso had more seaweed and a smoother-textured tofu, but was lacking in flavor and seemed a bit watery. The seaweed salad was moister and had a better mouthfeel, without the overpowering sesame seeds and with more spice.

Next came the sushi. Though not as smooth and buttery as the maguro nigiri at the Soquel Avenue Takara, the tuna was a darker pink and more flavorful.

The rice was much less sticky, which I preferred, but not as evenly seasoned as the rice at the first Takara. The hama roll had the same abundance of green onion, but the yellowtail was much cleaner in flavor. The Yummy Yam contained thinner slices of softer yam, improving the balance of ingredients quite a bit. Our untraditional choice of the Charlie roll was pure decadence: Warm, creamy, smoky and garlicky, blended perfectly, all surrounded by thicker-than-typical tempura.

Although the desserts were much more extensive and elaborate here, there was no way we could fit in anything more than the toasted green tea, complimentary upon request, and a couple of Takara's classic dinner mints, something I look forward to every time.

The Outcome: Takara vs. Takara

The first Takara on Soquel seemed more casual and fitting for a fun celebration or happy hour drinks and a quick bite. Although some of the dishes were more flavorful there, the food at the Takara in Capitola seemed fresher and better crafted. This would be a good place to go on a special occasion. However, I am aware that our test selections only showcased a portion of Takara's menu and I would be curious to do this comparison again, perhaps with more people to sample a broader range of items. I'm sure I won't have a problem recruiting some helpful dining companions for this arduous task. Overall, both restaurants have much to offer, from creative and classy ambience to innovative dishes, with good food and unique touches that create a satisfying meal.

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From the May 18-25, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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