Sushi as magical as a fairy tale

Going to Sakana Japanese Sushi Bar & Grill is a little like walking into a fairy tale. You step through the big wooden doors of an ogre's house, walk over the bridge of the three billy goats Gruff, and end up in a room filled with red chandeliers amid a chorus of welcomes. The similarites don't stop there. A happy attitude pervades the place that is true to its published motto, "fabulous, friendly service from the heart."

The 2-month-old Sakana has taken the place of the short-lived Love Sushi. I don't know the reason for the sudden change, but I can't say I'm sad about it. Sakana is cooler-looking and serves better food. It's a dollar or two more than other sushi joints in town, but the portions are generous, the fish is fresh, and the specialty rolls are creative.

Three immaculate-looking chefs stand at attention behind the long, marble sushi bar. They crank out the standard sushi combo plates (tuna, salmon, white fish, yellowtail, albacore and spicy tuna roll for $12.99) with lightning speed and an artistic flourish. They also offer other favorites, such as halibut, sea urchin, squid, and on the day I was there, monkfish liver, by the two-piece (sushi) or three-piece (sashimi) plate ($3.25 to $14.95).

The chefs seem to really let loose, though, when making their specialty rolls. I was amused by how they describe them on the menu. For instance, the Wok Special ($11.99) reads "in: California roll; out: cashew, snowpea, shrimp, mushroom." It is a meal unto itself, where slices of a particularly nice California roll are covered in the warm, grilled mushrooms, nuts, shrimp and veggies.

Another standout roll is the Scallop Dynamite ($12.99) described as "in: asparagus, crab; out: spicy scallop." This one has sweet fluffy crab wrapped in sticky rice with the added snap of asparagus and a rich topping of grilled scallops and onions. It's as satisfying as Thanksgiving dinner. I was glad to see they offer udon ($7.99) for when I'm craving it, but it doesn't hold a candle to the stuff you get in Little Tokyo. My son raved about his beef teriyaki plate ($11.99), however, and I adored his side salad with fresh field greens and a tangy wasabi dressing.

The service at Sakana is warm and energetic with many hands working together to keep the place humming. The dishware is very pretty and eclectic. They add a lot to the enjoyment of the meal. My only complaint is that the soy sauce holder is too awkwardly shaped to dip the hearty pieces of sushi in. Also, the music is a bit loud (Christmas tunes during my visits) and those ever-present TV's glow silently in the corners. But in general it's an attractive, comfortable space. Sakana is appropriate for couples as well as families and larger parties, especially in the secondary dining room.

Parking is challenging in the cramped lot out front, but it's all part of the Thumbelina fairy tale experience. So is the little extra present, if you're lucky enough to get it, of an orange carved into a cute teddy bear. Hopefully, after eating their healthy food and experiencing their friendly service, you'll live happily ever after.

Lisa Dupuy read hundreds of children's books while working on KCET's Storytime. She can be reached at LDupuy@aol.com.

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Infobox

What: Sakana Japanese Sushi Bar & Grill

Where: 2383 Foothill Blvd., #E, La Cañada Flintridge

When: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Sunday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday

Prices: Appetizers and salads $4.99 to $10.99; sushi and sashimi combos $12.99 to $23.99; specialty rolls $8.99 to $13.99; lunch specials $6.99 to $14.99

Contact: (818) 957-9922, http://www.thesakana.com

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