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Modern Japanese with Sizzle

First came the new bars; now restaurants follow suit in Polk Gulch. One of these bold new additions to the neighborhood is Sudachi, which tempts the palate with creative riffs on sushi and beckons the ear with its promise of live music on the weekends.

We visited the spot just one month after opening. It must be noted that an early visit to a restaurant must be experienced with some leniency, as details and pacing are usually still being worked out, which was certainly the case here. (Notably, friends dined a month or two later and found things to be running more smoothly.)

The boxy, bare front dining room, save for a cartoon projected high onto the back wall, lacks warmth -- the intent may have been modern lounge. It can be assumed that later into the evening, tables will be moved aside for live bands or DJs. The music seems to run in the SOMA lounge-y vein, with listed acts ranging from "electro organic beats" to "groovy soul jazz".

Until the ambiance of the front room is consistent with the back dining room, request to be seated in the latter. The tucked-away space is engaging, painted a monochromatic sage and dressed with suspended drapes detailed with weaved copper. Separate tatami booths are available for more fun, intimate floor seating, accommodating couples or parties up to 12. A small private dining room is also available to accommodate parties of 8. Prepare to remove your shoes for tatami booth seating, however!

It is hard to imagine that the front and back rooms co-exist in the same restaurant. However, we were reminded of the discordance -- literally -- by the bizarre electronica on the sound system, which carried distracting, random bursts of sound. Friends report a less jarring soundtrack on other visits.

Ming Hwang is the chef/owner, formerly of Tokyo Go-Go. He brings the same creative flair from his former space to Sudachi’s menu, turning out some interesting flavor pairings that at first may sound busy, but are surprisingly delightful in their combinations. We tried the seared Hokkaido scallops ($15), intensified with carrot mousse, apple-wood bacon, and shiitake mushrooms drizzled with chive oil. While the scallops were perfectly seared and translucent, and the accompaniments played well together, a strong butane odor and taste overwhelmed the whole dish. We caught eye of an industrial blow-torch at the sushi chef counter and realized this was the culprit that ruined our scallops. There’s a good reason why butane torches belong in the tool shed and not in the kitchen.

On a brighter note, the Hawaiian tuna and salmon poke in endive cups ($10) was a hit, with a good balance of textures and flavors between the bitter green, ginger, hint of sesame oil and a dollop of avocado mousse.

You can tell Hwang has fun playing with disparate ingredients and textures that could easily be a disaster, but actually work. The Bull’s Eye ($8) is a delicious combination of salmon, avocado, and shiso, a Japanese mint, that is tempura fried, then rolled outside with sushi rice and black tobiko, and finally sealed with nori and Sichuan sauce.

We also ordered the kanpachi sashimi ($14), which was heavenly in its combination of amberjack and paper-thin slices of watermelon radish, mingled with pistachio oil, ruby red grapefruit zest, and scallions. A variety of options exist whether you’re in the mood for straight sushi, late-night appetizers, or multiple course dining.

For dessert, the coconut ice milk ($6), served in a half coconut shell is a refreshing finish to the medley of flavors in our previous courses.

The cocktail menu consists of mostly soju-based libations created by bar manager Christian Martin, formerly of Lion Pub, known for its freshly fruit-muddled drinks. Martin brings soju to the mix in drinks like the signature Tokyo Rose ($9), which blends soju and lime juice with muddled strawberries. While at first delicious, it does grow to be cloyingly sweet. If you’re so inclined to sake, there are about 15 sakes by glass, carafe, or bottle, as well as flights.

It is obvious that the service needs to be tightened up. While the restaurant was not too busy on our mid-week visit, a bartender, the owner, and many servers attended to us. Yet, there were consistently fifteen-minute breaks between us getting anything we needed, such as a bottle of sake we ordered, water, or the check. Imagine if the place were busy!

With some refining of details, Sudachi could be a mainstay of Polk Gulch for solid Japanese food, late night dining (kitchen closes at 1am on weekends) and music.

Happy hour, 5:30-7:00pm Monday to Saturday, offers some excellent deals: $5 rolls (like the Bull's Eye, Albacore Roulade, and Dancing Eel Roll) and $4 munchies (like potato croquettes, amberjack and fluke ceviche, and chicken kara-age) pair with $2 hot sake, $2 draft beer, and $5 soju cocktails.

Polk Gulch

Reservations Essential? Yes.