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Sushi, stripped: Sashimi, steak, and exotic seafood bare all at Naked Fish in SLO 

There are always “more fish in the sea,” so why stay monogamous with just one familiar tuna or salmon? This is Naked Fish General Manager Danny Cardinale’s hedonistic call to SLO’s sushi set. Get out of your comfort zone! Live a little! Life is too short to order the California roll yet again.

“We bring in small amounts of exotic fish and have them rotating all the time,” Cardinale said. “A lot of these fish have a similar taste to what you already do know, and many times, the price is exactly the same.”

click to enlarge ONE FISH TWO FISH:  Why not try a new fish? At Naked Fish, a rotating menu of exotic seafood brings the bounty of the sea to your belly. - PHOTO BY DYLAN HONEA-BAUMANN
  • PHOTO BY DYLAN HONEA-BAUMANN
  • ONE FISH TWO FISH: Why not try a new fish? At Naked Fish, a rotating menu of exotic seafood brings the bounty of the sea to your belly.

Love your go-to yellow tail? Cardinale might encourage you to try Naked Fish’s kampachi Hawaiian amberjack, which boasts a similar taste and texture yet offers a more delicate flesh. In the end, he really just wants you to come away inspired to try something unexpected.

“There’s nothing cooler than going to a restaurant and trying something you’ve never had before and finding out that you absolutely love it,” Cardinale said. “That’s how we win new customers over, by educating and introducing them to their new favorites.”

New Naked Fish Executive Chef Jake Takao is already mixing things up behind the bar. He’s been churning out smoky albacore (grilled rare and drizzled with house-made sriracha barbecue sauce), creative salads, and even thick, juicy steaks rubbed with rosemary and plated with purple fingerling potatoes.

“He’s bringing a lot of cool things to the table that we didn’t have before, and we are loving the change and the creativity,” Cardinale said. “We always want people to expect high-level food quality, but everything else will surprise you on any given day.”

click to enlarge NUDE THRILLS:  The only thing you’ll taste is unexpected flavor at Naked Fish, soon to celebrate two years open in downtown SLO. - PHOTO BY DYLAN HONEA-BAUMANN
  • PHOTO BY DYLAN HONEA-BAUMANN
  • NUDE THRILLS: The only thing you’ll taste is unexpected flavor at Naked Fish, soon to celebrate two years open in downtown SLO.

A new menu board will soon grace the restaurant’s dining room wall showcasing what’s new in terms of fish, specials, craft beer, and sake. In fact, a sake flight is slated for this spring.

“People don’t really know that there’s different types—Ginjo-Shu, Daiginjo-shu, and others—so they might not know what they really like in a sake,” Cardinale said.

If it seems like there’s a whole lot of “education” going on here, that’s by design. Proprietor Karen Staeheli knows the power of abandoning your comfort zone. Two decades ago, she bit into her first piece of melt-in-your-mouth hamachi nigiri and fell instantly in love. Before that, she was never really a “sushi person.” This was back in the day, way before maki rolls, nigiri, and sashimi could be found at supermarket chains and fast casual restaurants.

“At the time, sushi restaurants were either super traditional or over-the-top trendy, and neither were very comfortable,” Staeheli said. “I felt that there was a need for a sushi place that was comfortable and fun, while still honoring the Japanese tradition behind the food. I wanted to create a combination of the two.”

click to enlarge STEAK AT A SUSHI JOINT?:  This rosemary rubbed steak plated with fingerling taters and fresh asparagus offers up a meaty counterpoint to a menu chock-full of light sushi and sashimi. - PHOTO BY DYLAN HONEA-BAUMANN
  • PHOTO BY DYLAN HONEA-BAUMANN
  • STEAK AT A SUSHI JOINT?: This rosemary rubbed steak plated with fingerling taters and fresh asparagus offers up a meaty counterpoint to a menu chock-full of light sushi and sashimi.

With that in mind, Staeheli opened her first Naked Fish location in South Lake Tahoe, now a time-honored hang out. That was about 18 years ago, but her passion for turning folks on to raw fish has only grown.

“Naked Fish has been successful because it has that comfortable atmosphere and the best quality food you can possibly get. I always approach my business from the consumer’s point of view,” the Morro Bay resident said. “If I’m having a good time and feel good about the food, I know they will too.”

The SLO location opened its doors about two years ago, offering up yet another option for your local sushi fix. If you ask Cardinale, SLO is wide-open water, and there’s room for all kinds of sushi restaurant styles and offerings.

“There’s the traditional Japanese route, and others are offering up more sauce-based and baked rolls,” Cardinale said. “At Naked Fish, we’re all about keeping it fun, unique, and fresh.”

With high vaulted ceilings, patio seating, and contemporary music bumping in the background, Naked Fish works for a date night or family outing, and hardcore sushi-goers can always scoot up to the bar and order straight from the chef. Clean, bright flavors dominate an eclectic menu that spans everything from eel, avocado, and spicy tuna rolls (The Kamikaze) to salmon teriyaki to live sweet jumbo shrimp.

- TAKE IT OFF!:  Follow Naked Fish on Instagram and be sure to hashtag your next Baliwood Roll (salmon, mango, sweet potato, lime, and curry glaze) with #ifitsnotNAKEDdonteatit. You can also check out their menu at thenakedfish.com or call 543-FISH for more information. Live music kicks off each Thursday night and look for new specials on the board. -
  • TAKE IT OFF!: Follow Naked Fish on Instagram and be sure to hashtag your next Baliwood Roll (salmon, mango, sweet potato, lime, and curry glaze) with #ifitsnotNAKEDdonteatit. You can also check out their menu at thenakedfish.com or call 543-FISH for more information. Live music kicks off each Thursday night and look for new specials on the board.

“We crack the heads of the shrimp and serve the tail raw right in front of you,” Cardinale said. “I also love our live Japanese freshwater crabs, which are these tiny little crabs we dust with spices and fry fresh.”

Into scallops? Bet you’ve never had them cracked, cleaned, bathed in green tea, then sliced before your very eyes. Well, in SLO at least.

“To the avid sushi eater, we’ll have things that most places won’t. For the beginner sushi eater, there’s lots of unique flavors to discover,” Cardinale said. “We’re always looking at ways to make the experience that much better. In that way, Naked Fish really is a living, breathing thing.” 

Considering her massive sashimi obsession, Hayley Thomas was probably a seal in a past life. She can be reached at hthomas@newtimesslo.com.

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