Here’s my second article for the San Diego City Beat BEST OF issue with the theme “hot and cool.” The original is at: http://sdcitybeat.com/special-issues/best-of-san-diego/something-fishy/?fbclid=IwAR2lytq1MdujSpT_JVvANWuTAoY98mNyzhNIjWIRHE6mgO1Wcep7Jz4ldBY
Who wouldn’t want to eat at one of the “hottest” or “coolest” sushi bars in town? When it comes to the “hot,” Hidden Fish (4764 Convoy St., Suite A), just opened in September and is San Diego’s first omakase-only sushi bar. Omakase—literally “I’ll leave it up to you”—is where diners put themselves in the chef’s hands for a tour-de-force, high-end, tasting menu. Chef John Hong’s 90-minute, 18-piece menu is San Diego’s hottest sushi ticket in town. His 24-hour kombu-cured golden eye snapper and hamachi belly with soy chimichurri are showstoppers.
Still, one could argue that the hottest high-end sushi might be across the border. In fact, it’s pretty much the only such place in Tijuana. Toshi-Toshi (Av. Colima 2292, Col. Madero) is helmed by two chefs from the Sushi Ota family tree: Ota’s long time sous Toshiaki Tsutsada and Pedro Velarde (formerly of Hane Sushi). Toshi-Toshi is proposing to create a Mexican version of nikkei cuisine integrating classic edomae-style with their Mexican venue and ingredients. A jalapeño-spiked relish on the hiramasa—Baja’s terrific, rich, farmed yellowtail that tastes more like Japanese yellowtail than Baja’s wild version—is proof enough. The contrast of the slightly spicy relish with the buttery hiramasa reveals another side to the fish.
j/wata Temaki Bar (4646 Convoy St., #103) in Kearny Mesa has deconstructed and reconstructed the temaki hand roll, going totally tubular (as opposed to the traditional conical shape). The freshly toasted nori wrappers yield a crisp exterior that counterbalances the warm rice and (usually) cold fillings. There are no bad rolls at j/wata, but the ikura roll is utter perfection: salmon eggs, a shiso leaf, sushi rice and nori. The result is a flavor profile that combines the saltiness of the salmon eggs with the slightly grassy, cinnamon and spearmint flavor of the shiso. Oh, and there’s that warm and slightly sweet, slightly vinegary sushi rice.
Shino Sushi + Kappo
An unfortunate location doesn’t make a restaurant bad. In fact, I would argue that if a restaurant manages to be good in a bad location, it is assured of being “cool.” Shino Sushi + Kappo (838 West Ash St.) is, quite literally, on the wrong side of the tracks: not quite in Downtown nor exactly in Little Italy. That doesn’t stop Robert Nakamura from turning out some of San Diego’s most pristine, carefully prepared sushi with elegant knife cuts and insightful garnishes. There’s no better salmon nigiri in town.
The story at Kokoro Restaurant (3298 Greyling Drive) in the highly unlikely location of Serra Mesa is much the same. Serra Mesa? How many people could find Serra Mesa without a map? But go there for Chef Akio Ishito’s omakase or his battera sushi—Osaka-style pressed sushi featuring translucent slices of konbu and vinegar-pickled mackerel (or salmon) over compressed sushi rice.
Sushi Tadokoro (2244 San Diego Ave.) is nestled in Old Town amongst Mexican restaurants and remains one of the best sushi bars in town even if it’s surprisingly unheralded. There’s a menu at Tadokoro, but why order off it when the omakase is so good? Hopefully it will include Takeaki Tadokoro’s kohada (gizzard shad) and the zuke tuna in a soy brandy marinade with yuzu pepper garnish.
Sushi Dokoro Shirahama (4212 Convoy St.) in Kearny Mesa is so cool you may not get to eat there. Enigmatic itamae Koji Kotani is so old-school he’s been known to kick customers out for requesting California rolls. But his strict interpretations of sushi will teach customers something they didn’t know. The progressions of his omakase illustrates his passion for the classic-style and deep insight into the ingredients.