Why we love this: Sandfish Sushi & Whiskey is the most exciting restaurant to open in Palm Springs this year. Headed by Palm Desert’s renowned sushi chef, Engin Onural, Sandfish flawlessly satisfies Palm Springs’ demand for good taste and good design. This exquisite Japanese-Scandinavian inspired venue will have diners coming back for more of Chef Onural’s chic, modern take on Japanese fare.
Sandfish Sushi & Whiskey is the first restaurant of its kind that opened in Palm Springs in January of 2018. It combines all the essential elements of innovative cuisine, elevated beverage offerings and distinguishing design that modern diners seek in a destination.
Japanese-Scandinavian was the concept for Engin Onural’s second restaurant. The sophisticated and dynamic sushi chef loves traveling to Scandinavia and is fond of its culture, food and aesthetic. The design is definitely Scandinavian-inspired with wood paneling on the floors and ceilings amongst subdued earthy tones. The accents bring out the Japanese element with eye-catching wallpaper, metallic black fish scales and vintage photographs of Japanese fisherman adorning the walls.
The chef also loves Japanese whiskey which is why he made it a central part of his new restaurant. Sandfish is the only location where one will find high-end Japanese whiskey, not to mention high-end Japanese cuisine, in downtown Palm Springs. At Sandfish, diners can expect the same type of inventive and beautifully presented sushi creations from Chef Onural’s first restaurant, The Venue.
Chef Owner Engin Onural is a wonderfully refined and courteous modern renaissance man. He is well-traveled, exceptionally cultured and has excellent taste in design. His roots are just as colorful and dynamic as his culinary style, being born in the States but growing up in the Turkish capital of Ankara. His ambition was always fixed on cooking and owning a restaurant. Thus, after completing his business degree in university he wasted no time in becoming a chef.
“I just knew [being a sushi chef] was what I wanted to do, from when I was very young. So I went to business school and after I got the degree it was time to master the culinary.”
Onural got in touch with revered sushi chef and teacher, Andy Matsuda, about learning to make sushi. He got accepted into the reputable Sushi Chef Institute in Torrance and took off to Southern California to study with Chef Matsuda. After becoming a certified sushi chef, Onural got to working in restaurants such as the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort and opened The Venue in Palm Desert. He’s been a successful and well-liked culinary fixture in the Palm Desert community ever since. He feels closely connected to the area and the people there. He prefers smaller communities to big cities and doesn’t see himself leaving Palm Desert no matter where his future projects may take him.
“The quality of life here is a lot higher for a lot less. Palm Springs is definitely growing and I love it. The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. I feel very lucky that the locals have been very accepting and supportive of my new venture.”
Onural was invited to participate in the World Sushi Cup in Tokyo and came in as 27th best sushi chef in the world last year. He’s known for his creative approach to the age-old art of sushi-making by ingraining his dishes with a sense of place. His work pays homage to the places he loves including Turkey, Scandinavia and California and he describes himself as “a walking storyboard.”
Everything about Sandfish is refined, modern and cool. At night the sleek whiskey bar glows up while the rest of the restaurant stays dim and rustic. Everything takes on a sexy, understated feel.
But don’t assume that means the restaurant is exclusive or pretentious. Despite its elevated design, Sandfish still retains a calm, down-to-earth atmosphere that’s open and welcoming to everyone.
Don’t leave without trying:
Spicy Tuna Tostada: Chef Onural’s most popular creation for the masses. Crispy thin tostadas piled with spicy tuna, spicy mayo, mixed greens and feta.
Braised & Grilled Spanish Octopus: Grilled Spanish octopus is usually thick and rubbery, but somehow Chef Onural gets it so tender the octopus melts in your mouth. The briny flavors and textures are complemented perfectly by a savory bubu arare and smooth green edamame hummus.
Sashimi (at least two if not all of them): The salmon is the ideal type that’s thick and buttery and rich in flavor. The yellowtail is soft and delicate, not to mention the beautiful bed of cucumber and mixed greens that accompany it.
Koko Roll: Any one of Chef Onural’s colorful, creative rolls will be a feast for the senses. Koko in particular comes with all of the sweet, spicy and crunchy you crave with shrimp tempura, crab, tuna, avocado and coconut flakes.
Get buzzed on:
Hibiki Whisky: As if you needed any other reason to come through, Sandfish is actually the only business in the area with the allocation to sell Hibiki Suntory Whisky. As one of the most renowned whiskies in the world, this stuff is the best of the best and there’s only one place in Palm Springs where you can get it.
Foraged: The most aesthetically striking cocktail on the list is quite possibly the most refreshing for those hot, arid nights in the desert. Death’s Door White Whiskey and yuzu tonic is garnished with rose petals, grapefruit, citrus and fresh herbs.
TYKU Sake: Might as well try some premium experimental sake while you’re at the trendiest Japanese restaurant for miles. TYKU Sake is known for being gluten-free, sulfite-free and tannin-free, making it one of the purest alcoholic beverages on the planet.
Date nights, Foodies, Whiskey Connoisseurs, Intimate Get-togethers, Late-Afternoon/Early-evening drinks
Photos: Nadia Cho