A 10-seat sushi bar — whose California location was awarded a Michelin star — is opening a Downtown Seattle location on September 1, bringing a uniquely Californian take on the art form to the city.
Phillip Frankland Lee, a celebrity chef from Los Angeles who has made appearances on shows like Top Chef, and his wife, Margarita Kallas-Lee, own the Sushi By Scratch Restaurants, which started in California and will soon have five U.S. locations. Lee grew up in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley, which was one of the centers of sushi culture in the 1990s. There, he made his first nigiri — with tuna blocks bought from a nearby fish market — and became obsessed with the craft, vowing to become a sushi chef.
As he learned more about sushi, he was most impressed by chefs who told their personal stories through their omakase meals, not necessarily by those simply sourcing the best fish in the market. Having grown up in LA, he knew his sushi would have to be different than that made by sushi chefs in Japan or at traditional Japanese-owned sushi restaurants in the U.S. “The best thing I can do to be respectful to the tradition is not to tell the story of someone else, but to tell my story,” Lee says. “You know, talk about my childhood through the lens of sushi.”
Dishes in the Seattle location’s $165 17-course tasting menu will include hamachi brushed with cooked sweet corn and dusted with sourdough crumbs, a nostalgic nod to the grilled corn on the cob and La Brea sourdough he grew eating in LA. The menu also offers a homage to a seared albacore with ponzu and crispy onion sashimi dish that was popular in the San Fernando Valley in the 1990s, made at Sushi by Scratch Restaurants as nigiri — with albacore loin rubbed with roasted garlic and sea salt, wrapped in sake-soaked nori, chilled, then grilled over almond wood (giving the fish a smoky flavor without cooking it) and served with ponzu and crispy onions.
Beyond Lee’s six nigiri dishes in the omakase, the head chefs (out of three chefs) at each location of Sushi by Scratch Restaurants contribute 10 nigiri dishes to the menus, meaning that none of the locations serve the same meals. For example, a chef at the Austin location from LA made an al-pastor-inspired escolar nigiri with Fresno chilies, pineapple, and ponzu, a reference to the al pastor street tacos he ate while growing up in California. “They’re putting themselves on the plate,” Lee says.
The chef for Seattle hasn’t been announced yet, but Lee says he’s excited to see whoever takes the role experiment with local ingredients like geoduck and salmon. “My goal for this concept is to be the most Michelin-starred concept of all time, and I got a long fucking time to get there,” he says. “But I don’t think I’ll get there just copying the same thing over and over again.”
Whether or not Seattle’s Sushi by Scratch Restaurants location is awarded a Michelin star, it’s sure to be one of the city’s most interesting omakase experiences, at a price point that mirrors those at other Seattle sushi restaurants like Sushi Kashiba and Sushi Kappo Tamura.
At Sushi By Scratch Restaurants, each 10-person seating of guests starts the night in a secluded whiskey bar where they receive a cocktail made with Japanese whiskey, sake, lime, and ginger. Then, the guests are led to the sushi bar where the head chef introduces the team and the menu; from there, chefs prepare and hand the nigiri directly to guests from behind the bar. Lee is not a fan of nigiri made with a smooshed puck of cold or tepid rice that stays together even when bitten; he prefers warm, loose rice, which would fall apart if picked up with chopsticks. Guests are encouraged to eat with their hands.
For extra money, guests can order various six-course drink pairings for the omakase, one with just sake, one with just whiskey, and one with sake, cocktails, and a beer. There is also normally time for extending the omakase with five extra dishes that might be coming into the menu down the line. Afterward, the whiskey bar is open for those wanting to hang around (it’s not open to the public).
Lee is coming to Seattle soon, and he says he’s eager to meet local chefs and fishmongers. He spends around 20 days each month at his restaurants around the country and says he and his wife are excited to spend more time in Seattle.
Reservations are all booked for September, but the restaurant will open its books on the first of each month, so there will be more opportunities to book seatings soon.
Sushi By Scratch Restaurants will be located at 2331 6th Avenue in Seattle.