When the Independent handed out its first Foodie Awards last October, we worked hard to come up with cleverish (the best ones probably weren't mine, don't worry) names for each honor as we definitely didn't mean for them to be "best French restaurant" or anything like that (and anyway in Santa Barbara that category in the best-of contests generally means "best restaurant with a French-sounding name," which begins to suggest some of the problems with best-of issues)(oh, they do sell advertising though). That said, there was no name as apt as the one given to A-Ru Japanese Restaurant -- The Fish Out of Water Award. For the joke isn't just that this is sushi (arguably the county's best) in the Santa Ynez Valley, just down the 246 from Frank Ostini and his pith helmet and grill. It goes further, as it's tucked into a strip mall (official address 225 McMurray Rd.), an unlikely location for food so fine. And what's more, and more again, A-Ru is owned by Jina Bae, a Korean woman. That's not how sushi is supposed to happen, if you ask the traditionalists.
But if you sat them down at Bae's restaurant, they'd shut up fast, beyond the occasional moan of pleasure. For everything here is plus quality, and not just the fish she gets herself several times a week at the fish markets in LA. That tofu in the miso--and what could be, and often is, more of a toss-off than miso at a sushi spot--how did she find tofu so silky and lovely? That eel sauce several rolls sport--it seems extra punchy, with depth you usually don't get in the roll itself, let alone the drizzled accompaniment.
So, if you're up in Wine Country and want something different to eat, or if you're driving back from Paso, say, or San Francisco, or Seattle, or Juneau.... Well, I'm planning trips north just to visit A-Ru more frequently, let's put it that way.