Is ‘Sushi By Scratch Restaurants: Cedar Creek’ Worth Your Driving Time & Money?

The answer is in the pines, in the pines

Rather a bad-ass move by that chef Phillip Frankland Lee, we reckon, the way he brought his California-based Sushi | Bar concept to Austin and last-minute found a place for it within Bento Picnic on East Cesar Chavez.

Margarita Kallas-Lee and Phillip Frankland Lee of Scratch Restaurants

That was back in the fall of 2020, when Our Pandemic Situation was pretty much at its harshest, if you recall. And maybe Lee’s cross-country transplant gambit wouldn’t have succeeded if Joe Rogan – do we say “Austin’s own Joe Rogan,” these days, y’think? – hadn’t gone to check the place out and then raved about it mightily on his podcast. Which instantly resulted in Sushi | Bar getting flooded with reservations for months in advance.

Ah, the perks of fame, amirite?

Say what you will about that Rogan – and we all say everything about everybody, don’t we, because internets? – but the man knows great sushi when he eats it. And he knows a great sushi-eating experience. At least, his opinion is corroborated by your current reporter and everyone we’ve ever spoken to who’s been to Sushi | Bar Austin.

Every single one of us who’s visited that ten-seater omakase, we’re all like: Holy shiiiiiiiiiiit, *chef’s kiss*.

Meanwhile, there’s Phillip Frankland Lee, with a successful Austin outpost of Sushi | Bar, and his California-based operations also doing better because of The Rogan Effect, and so what does he do? He opens up a tangential concept called Pasta | Bar in the Golden State. A sort of detail-obsessed, conversation-sparking pasta omakase version of his raw fish triumph. And that place earns a Michelin star.

Note: !!!

Fast-forward to our present day, though, and Phillip Frankland Lee and Sushi | Bar Austin have severed their ties and parted ways. The Austin venue remains happily in Bento Picnic, under different management – we profile that venue’s new executive chef right here, in fact – while Lee owns and operates all the California-based Sushi | Bars and continues his acclaimed culinary adventures as part of Scratch Restaurants, the business he runs with his wife, the equally talented chef Margarita Kallas-Lee.

Note: Their Sushi by Scratch Restaurants: Montecito also garnered 1 Michelin star. See previous exclamation points.

Note: Phillip and Margarita, as if a required part of the business equation, are also Instagrammable af. See photo above.

All of which explains why there’s now, in Austin, a Sushi by Scratch Restaurants: Cedar Creek. (And also why there’s the second iteration of their Pasta | Bar, currently doling out the delicacies at 1017 E. Sixth.) (And why they’ll be opening a sushi place called Shokunin in the Hill Country this fall.)

But so we figured: If we’re running that article about Lee’s former situation, then let’s take a proper gander at these new places he’s got cooking. Right now we’re talking about the Cedar Creek venue, as we recently had our sushi-appreciating socks knocked off by the experience, ensconced as it is in the Hyatt Regency: Lost Pines resort out near Bastrop.

(You remember how, back in Austin’s culinary history, there was the Omelettry – which then split off into Kerbey Lane Cafe and Magnolia Cafe, which is why the three separate businesses’ menus remain eerily familiar even now? So it is, we’d say, with Sushi | Bar and Sushi By Scratch Restaurants: Near-equal goodnesses, totally different venues.)

So, we roll our sushi-craving carcass out onto Highway 71, eventually get through the imposing parking gate in the midst of a forest of, yes, lost pines. We take the stairs up to the lobby’s second floor, arriving at the requested 20 minutes ahead-of-reservation. There, amid much hotel finery, we’re greeted with a perfect cocktail: Some ginger-inflected saké-based concoction, elegantly cupped and chilled, that bodes well for what’s about to come.

Eventually, we’re given the high sign, and in we go to the small, well-appointed room with the excellent fish and the big talent. We’re welcomed by a team of four: Tony, Chris, Chris, and Christopher. The Chris in the middle is the main guy, the itamae, and he greets us with a smile. The Christopher on the end is the beverage man. All these guys are as friendly as their blades are meticulous, as skilled as their ingredients are varied. Sixteen courses (and one dessert course) prepared by these chefs as you watch and everybody banters, as you eat and sip, as wonders of sushi creation turn your mouth into a sort of gustatory pleasure palace. Hamachi. Unagi. Otoro. Wagyu beef. A diversity of pure yum, bite after bite after bite.

Note: This was the first time we opted into the beverage selections of an omakase deal, which is an additional cost. And it was a revelation: If you’re going to spend the money for a dinner like this in the first place, then consider spending a little more and opting for those drinks. Because, listen: What that affable barman Christopher was filling cups with was … um, is there some Japanese version of Valhalla? Because this stuff is what the luckiest heroes drink there.

Okay, so: Phillip Frankland Lee … Margarita Kallas-Lee … Sushi By Scratch Restaurants.

And this new place of theirs?

“What’s in a name?” – as some Shakespeare character said about a rose, remember? A sushi bar by any name should be as enjoyable as this omakase out in those Lost Pines of Cedar Creek.

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