You wouldn’t think of coastal Mexico as a particularly great place to find sushi unless you thought about it for a minute.
The abundance of seafood by the sea and focus on fresh produce along with a widespread familiarity with the dynamics of rice make the Banderas Bay area into a fine place to find yourself if you’re a fan of Japan’s most beloved cultural export next to Nintendo.
I discovered Katana Sushi during one of my sushi cycles in which I eat almost nothing else for a week or two, and although there are plenty of contenders in town–believe me, you’ll hear about more if we both stick around in this space–the centralized setting and polished presentation of this second-floor establishment on Lazaro Cardenas makes it a more than solid starting point.
The Vibes: Let your eye wander to the sights and sounds of this high-traffic section of sidewalk for just a moment while scanning for the storefront and you’re sure to miss it.
The entrance to Katana is nestled into a cluster of clubs and bars ranging from laid-back rooftop lounges to high energy dance floors and karaoke rooms. There’s something for every taste on this side of the street, but on this evening sushi was the order of the day.
The top of the staircase greets me with a surprisingly large dining room bedecked in abstract wall paintings reminiscent of cherry blossoms backed in a few places with bamboo accents. A trio of sushi rollers turn out orders with hypnotic efficiency while enthusastically discussing their plans for after work.
Nearby, a birthday girl celebrates her special day with raw fish and visiting friends from Mexico City. As always it’s a special night, and this is a perfect place to let it unfold.
The Vices: Of course, the right atmosphere is an important ingredient in a memorable dining experience, but most of what makes it memorable are the…um, ingredients. This is particularly true where sushi restaurants are concerned, as you can camouflage something like a suspect burger with ample bacon or yummy buns.
On the other hand, the sushi platform offers very little amnesty for lackluster seafood other than jamming it full to bursting with cream cheese, which doesn’t fool me one bit. For my evaluation meal, I chose the “Macho Roll” for its promises of salmon, avocado, and spicy tuna. Also, I think it has a cool name because I am a guy and not everything has to be a profound exploration of the significance of meaning, you know?
The roll came out in what seemed like a few minutes, and I’m happy to report that my selective shallowness paid off for me yet again here. The Macho Roll was packed with flavor from a good level of vinegar on the rice to the appealing smokiness of the salmon, which was generously incorporated.
Even the decorative sauce playfully drizzled onto the serving plate had a tangy contribution to make, which it damn well better because one of my pet peeves is having inedible or uncomplementary elements served alongside a dish because they are pretty. I am here to eat, sir.
I considered deducting a few points for what I considered a relatively sparse standard ration of wasabi, but then again I like wasabi more than the average person and barely consider myself to have eaten sushi unless my sinuses are as clear as the wind section of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. In any case, they happily brought me more so it was fine.
The Verdict: Katana fulfills the promise of its carefully considered setting and takes full advantage of a prime location by turning out intriguing varieties of high quality sushi. From my balcony table overlooking the frenetic evening ballet that marks Saturday nights in downtown Puerto Vallarta, I swished my sake with an extended pinky, planning then and there to make it a regular part of my sushi rotation. Maybe I’ll catch you there.