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Taste of Takara

[whitespace] Takara
George Sakkestad

Stand and Deliver: Sushi chefs Carlos Sanchez and Ruben Del Carmen show off their specialties.

A landmark in its Eastside neighborhood, Takara offers plenty of sushi ambiance during its busy lunch hours

By Christina Waters

SURROUNDED BY the glittering acreage of Soquel Avenue's automotive row, Takara acts as a beacon to a clientele in need of regular fixes of Japanese seasonings. When the urge for fiery chartreuse wasabi horseradish paste becomes too great, they head for Takara, where a booth lined with bold textile banners invariably awaits them.

That's just what my dining buddy Kelly and I did last week. Right after a quickie wash and wax for my darling Honda Accord at the nearby Whalers Car Wash, I met Kelly for some lunchtime specials at the popular Japanese eatery. And, as usual, there were plenty of folks already busy with their chopsticks--lots of professionals who work along that stretch of Soquel, Capitola Road and Morrissey make a habit of Takara.

I really like these booths. Even the ones for just two people have a nice sense of spaciousness and more than a hint of privacy when the need to gossip strikes. The central sushi shrine is always a mecca for those who need some ume and need it now. But I prefer to slide into a booth back in the main dining labyrinth so that I can get down, conversation-wise.

A huge ceramic pot filled with green tea and tiny cups were placed at our table as we combed through Takara's vast menu. Specialty sushis, vegetarian sushis, the Disneyesque chef's special caterpillar roll--so many sushis, so little time. Not just a sushi bar, Takara has a lunch menu sporting tons of complete meals. There are tempura specialties, udon, donburi, sukiyaki and every teriyaki under the sun. So we just went for it.

Yes to an order of the spicy tuna roll ($4.45)--and that would be another hai to one of those amazing caterpillar rolls ($11.95). We also figured we'd like to sample some hot stuff, so we added an order of tempura udon ($5.75), one of gyoza and chicken yakitori, and one called spicy bean cake and eggplant (both $6.25).

The gossip began to roll: men, sex, death, publishing, kinky wilderness hikes, fashion victimization--we hit all the major food groups of get-down girl talk. Very soon our helpful waitress presented us with a huge platter containing what looked exactly like a caterpillar made by Walt Disney entirely out of Japanese sushi ingredients. And that's just what it was. Utterly delightful, the caterpillar roll is an enormous creation with rosy octopus eyes, radish-sprout antennae and a prawn tail. In between are colorful green "segments" created out of cucumber, lemon and avocado. Bright red tobiko forms a vibrant topping, and each crunchy, satiny bite contains plenty of rich sweetness from grilled unagi. A wonderful creation, it made fine company with the generous rounds of sticky rice filled with a spicy mayo and plenty of ahi tuna.

I thought both the sushi creations were right on the money, though Kelly, it turns out, is a bit squeamish about some sushi. "Are you aware that there is raw fish in this?" she asked, pointing pointedly to a crimson core of maguro. I smiled and made a mental note: Kelly is to be confined to non-sushi-dining situations in the future.

Our skewers of grilled chicken came interlaced with sweet, transparent cubes of onion and green pepper, and lightly--too lightly--brushed with a rather sweet yakitori sauce. The "gyoza" that accompanied were neither crisp nor fried. They were on the heavy side of potsticker land. The large bowl of taste-free broth and udon noodles came with its extremely fried tempura on the side. The mystery dish--a large square glazed plate filled with strips of Japanese eggplant and cubes of fried tofu in an orange sweet-and-sour sauce--remained a mystery even after sampling.

Despite these shortcomings, the sushi was very nice; the ambiance (and the gossip) even better.


Takara Japanese Restaurant
Address: 1800 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz
Phone: 831/457-8466
Hours: Lunch Mon.-Fri. 11am-2:30pm, Sat.-Sun. 11:30am-2:30pm; dinner nightly 5-10pm.
Extras: Sushi bar and grill
Ambiance: ** 1/2 Attractive booths and a classic sushi bar give Takara a full-service aura of hospitality.
Service: ** 1/2 Sprightly and attentive staffers help enhance the dining experience.
Cuisine: ** Some fine sushi classics adorn this vast menu.
Overall: It's a veteran neighborhood haunt, with a host of satisfied fans.

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From the June 30-July 7, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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