Going to San Diego is always a treat. I have many friends here, from my University days, and good friends at that. And new friends.
July is always a must for a roadtrip to San Diego, because the SD Comic Con is this month. My brother and some of his friends have been on the staff for a number of years, and this is a perfect time to see them, and get a glance of all the latest and greatest film/sci-fi/cosplay that sends its fans into a frenzy.
But first, we must eat. And we must go to Sakura for izakaya. Valerie and Rob had been there earlier in the week, and I had been to izakaya earlier in the week too, but the plates are so small and the morsels so good that there is always room for more.
1. Crab cream croquettes – served well hot. So much, I burned my lips on the searing hot cream and dealt with the blister on my face all weekend. But worth it.
2. Grilled seabass – whatever sauce they use, like a sweet miso glaze, it transforms a delicious fish into a heavenly delicious fish. There is not enough of fish in this dish for three people. Next time – order a second one.
3. Spinach and uni. I love spinach, I love uni. We gobbled it all up.
4. Fried burdock root. Loved this. More please.
5. Eggplant gratin – it was cheesy and okay. But the other dishes were so much better that this was comparatively did not impress.
6. Seafood fried rice. Another acceptable but not wow-ing me dish. The seafood element was not terribly relevant. We had some of this leftover.
7. Cucumber and eel. Oh, this was a very good one. Valerie threatened that if we did not dig in and eat it fast enough, she would, so we dug in and finished it fast. I thoroughly liked that was eel was prepared differently than the sweet eel sauce way I often see in Japanese restaurants. Don’t get me wrong, I like that way too, but appreciated a little more variety.
8. Grilled tomato and bacon. Another very good one. The token vegetarian at the table ate it too, it was that good. The smokiness of the bacon came from the grilling.
Finally, I had an order of Chirashi Don, $22. It’s a handsome portion that would have been a meal itself, but can be a part of a larger meal if you skimp on eating all the sushi rice as I did. It also came with some miso soup and vegetable spaghetti. Oh, what, was I supposed to share this dish? I’m sorry, I did not.
The bill was about $90 for three people, after tax, before tip. A great value for all the good things we got. Parking is tough. Seating is tough if you want to dine during prime time. Just fyi.
Sakura (Convoy area)
It starts out small enough, when one friend reaches out to suggest dinner and I commit to it. Then another friend emails about dinner at the same time, so I suggest combining into a group. And suddenly the group becomes five, all settling down comfortably in the restaurant on a Friday evening, with rainclouds looming outside.
This is a new experience for Perry, who usually dines here with her husband and they often order the same thing. You know what this means – someone’s going to have a new experience and it will *definitely* include shiitake nigiri! Boom!
Also a new item for Perry: the braised pork belly and vegetables. So glad this item migrated over from Kobachi. It’s ridiculously good.
There were two vegetarians in the group, both eat fish, but only one eats raw fish. Ahi had enough options that kept the most picky eater happy. She got the tempura shrimp roll, and a California roll (not pictured), among other things. Meanwhile, my side of the table had one omakase item that was sashimi with spicy yuzu sauce. Mmm.
Most of us had green tea to drink, but we were all curious about Ahi’s infused shochu cocktail blends, so we ordered the Hello Kitty, which has muddled fresh lychee. It was very good! Light and fruity without being overly sweet. The token male at the table seemed to enjoy the drink the most, so there you go.
For dessert, Ahi’s menu was quite simple: green tea ice cream, that is all. We ordered a couple, and our green tea ice cream came with strawberries, and all drizzled in honey.
I was meant to move on to another event after dinner. My friends were supposed to go downtown for a music show. We all enjoyed ourselves so much at Ahi, we simply lingered on, and on, until near closing time. Then walked out into the springtime rain to enjoy the rest of the weekend.
Ahi customers can also park at the Motel next door, if parking at its own lot is tight.
Aw yeah, Doug is in the hizzay! He’s under threat of imminent employment and made this last desperate roadtrip before he went back into the ranks of the wage-bound. He blessed us with his presence for the new year’s weekend, dropping in late the night before, too late for me to join in for a second round of bar moves. But we were all good the following day for new year’s eve fun.
Mac and Hannah are also in town, our friends from England, now living in Ecuador, now visiting for the holidaze. We were all going to head down to the Pescadrome for a little celebration, but we needed much food beforehand. Mac and Ted have fond memories of Edomasa, so that’s where we went.
After starting with the Edomasa traditional mug of green tea and sunomono salad, Doug went with the pork ramen. Meeeeh, we weren’t that crazy about it. It was loaded with ginger (good!) and pepper (bad!). Like, seriously lots of pepper, it was overwhelming. If that’s how it’s done here, then no thank you. Doug made a valiant attempt at eating his stuff, though.
The boys and I splurged on sushi, and we shared a whole mess of it, which also allowed Doug to dip in to supplement his pepper ramen.
We got the sushi and sashimi combo, times 2. One with California roll, the other with a spicy tuna roll. The nigiri is about size items of the usual albacore, maguro, salmon, octopus, etc.
Our a la carte sushi is as follows from the top, clockwise:
Hannah got a teriyaki chicken bento box with a lot of salads. No photo. She’s been very patient putting up with Mac’s “odd” culinary desires, coming from a small village in England and having no interest in raw fish. I’m not sure she enjoyed the bento much either. But props for her giving it a try. She did, however, enjoy her mango ice cream mochi with the rest of us.
So, hey, happy new year! Goooooooo 2011.
Tory and Sibel are visiting, woot woot.
They’re on a giant roadtrip from Utah to California, and stopped in Santa Barbara for a visit. Kobachi? But of course.
We started with some simple vegetable tempura, and moved on from there.
Top row: fried oysters, uni shooters, and crispy shima ebi.
Finally, a round of albacore nigiri for everyone.
Kobachi Izakaya Dining
I’ve gotten used to eating Japanese food elsewhere, I admit it.
We came to Itsuki because the first Japanese place we tried was fully booked with a 30+ minute wait, and we’re like “duh! We should go to Itsuki and have ramen!”
So I’m not saying Itsuki is bad. Deffo no. Their strong point is ramen, and I think they do the best in town. My dealio is that I rarely crave ramen these days. They also do a good, simple, cheat eats bento box. And I rarely crave that either.
But here we are, ordering a couple rolls and a bowl of ramen. The first roll is a tuna roll, using brown rice by request of the kitchen as they only had enough white sushi rice for one other roll. You know what, it didn’t taste much different, so maybe it’ll be a good thing to get more brown rice in the future. Using lemon to separate the pieces was interesting – it did impart a lemon flavor to the rice, and I found the taste unusual.
The second roll was …um, er, I think it’s a soft shell crab roll. But I can’t remember! It was big.
Finally, the main item, pork ramen. It came with a few pickles on the side, and extra chile powder to shake on. The bowl is so enormous this can feed two people or stuff one to the point of bursting.
Considering the weather was cold and dreary, a big bowl of noodles really hit the spot. However! As we were eating, the waitress reminded us they were closing soon, so please put in last orders. And we were all confused. Wasn’t it just barely 9 pm? It was. And that is evidence that my routines have been set by another restaurant because I’ve gotten so used to eating Japanese food up until 11:30 eat night. So spoiled.
This dinner was to introduce Olivia to the yumminess that is Kobachi. She had a good time.
Hot sake for Olivia, and cold shochu with oolong for me. The food starts with a green seaweed salad.
Near the end we ordered nasu dengaku – broiled eggplant, and a round of ama ebi shrimp which first come has raw bodies, and the second course is their heads, tempura battered and fried.
Delicious, as usual. Olivia, being vegetarian + pescadarian, had so many good things to choose from.
Kobachi Izakaya Dining
Another yummy dinner at Kobachi!
We’d joined Vo after he’s already started eating, so we shared a few more items, then ordered for ourselves. We weren’t expecting to have much sushi, but the fish seemed very fresh tonight, and we treated ourselves to some fine albacore nigiri as our last dish.
Kobachi Izakaya Dining
I went to Arigato with two acquaintances. One’s Cynthia, a former Santa Barbara resident, and whenever she comes through town she must have two things: the fresh tortillas from a taqueria on Milpas, and the sushi from Arigato.
We went on a Monday evening (kudos for actually being open on a Monday when so many other restaurants are closed), and the place was busy. Still, there were three open seats at the bar, right in front of her favorite sushi chef, Andy. Serendipity? And as soon as she saw him, she knew she had to sit up there with him and request omakase. I personally couldn’t make this request at Arigato, because I rarely go there and have no established relationship of mutual trust and respect with the chefs, but I love the challenge and if someone else I’m dining with has the ability to initiate it, I’ll be a more than enthusiastic participant. Also, it wasn’t 100% in the hands of the chef; my friends did have a couple requests that influenced the dishes.
Due to the nature of omakase, it wasn’t possible to know exactly what I’d been served, as the dish isn’t necessarily on the menu. Like I said, it was up to the discretion of the chef. I have checked over the menu to find its closest match.
First was a carpaccio selection of thinly sliced sashimi with extra virgin olive oil and Arigato vinaigrette. We’re guessing the fish was maguro, halibut and hamachi.
Second was one of Cynthia’s favorites: sunny side up scallops, torched with spicy aioli, quail eggs and garlic vinaigrette.
Third was a special request from the other diner, who lives in San Francisco: uni nigiri, made with Santa Barbara uni.
Nirigi assortment – from left to right:
The last item I couldn’t find anything similar on the menu. We thought the fish looked like maguro and albacore tuna, with a scallop and flying fish roe stacked between thin crackers. It was served with balsamic reduction and basil oil.
Price? Less than we expected, I’ll guess it should have been about $50 a person. The meal and enjoyment of everyone there was worth it, that’s all I can say!
If it’s your birthday, you can spin the wheel of Mikuni fortune here! And just our luck, it’s Ted’s birthday. We were hoping to win the bag of rice, everyone can use a bag of rice.
But first, a few nibbles.
It’s good to try another restaurant’s agedashi tofu, because we’re so used to our favorite in Santa Barbara and forget that there may be other variations. This one appeared to be tempura battered and fried. I still prefer my source in SB, because the tofu is fried directly. Tempura’s a cop out! But really, Mikuni’s is fine obviously, considering how busy the place is.
Our third appetizer was a fish collar. Again, it’s nice to try another place’s version of it. Kama’s always good.
Then, it’s time to spin the Wheel! Of! Fish! Just kidding. It’s the birthday wheel. So what’s it going to be for the birthday boy?
Well, okay, it wasn’t a bag of rice. But a bag of candy‘s not bad either. Happy birthday!
A fellow BRC denizen recommended this place as a good Reno pitstop, so we came here after 8 days of extreme desert camping, absolutely famished for some fresh raw food. Calling ahead, the person on the phone said it was totally okay for two grubby campers to come in.
Arriving just a few minutes after the beginning of lunch service, the place was already packed and we were among the last few to be seated before there was a queue by the door. We were promptly served a little salad.
Most of the patrons were the sturdy types who obviously appreciate the “all you can eat” menu. I took my cue from the friendly man sitting next to me at the bar and ordered most of what he was having.
I generally stuck with nigiri, which offered the most variety of seafood. Unfortunately, there was no ama ebi available, and the first round of saba was disappointing, which the chef was very upfront about as he said it was the last of a batch and promised more saba would be available soon. The vegetable tempura was also a bit spartan, it would have been a real bummer if this was an a la carte item, but hidden amongst the piles of ayce options, we weren’t put out.
The albacore, hamachi, flying fish roe, tai, unagi and later round of saba (with extra pieces on the side) were all A-Ok, on par with all other mid-range sushi places! I enjoyed the upside down shrimp, filled with spicy roe and scallops. In second place was the Mickey, and finally I had the tempura upside down shrimp, which was underwhelming due to mainly tasting like fried food rather than fresh raw seafood. But duh, that’s exactly how it’s described on the menu, so that’s my bad.
Top: unagi and flying fish roe nigiri, hamachi nigiri, and albacore nigiri.
This was my first time having a quail egg shooter, which was fine.
I only had one roll, the Moondog Long Roll. It was underwhelming and most of the other rolls seemed to be that way as well – mostly filling, mostly drenched in sweet sauce. We struggled to finish this one.
If you can really stuff a lot of food in your gob, the handrolls are extremely generous with your choice of filling. If your stomach real estate isn’t as ample, like mine, the handroll will provide a lot of the same item, which might be great if you only like one item. But I prefer variety, so I stayed well away.
The sushi is Americanized, very sweet, and very sauced. It’ll fill your gut quickly and I know that’s very popular. Sticking with the nigiri will provide the most variety (and supposedly the most skill of the chef) Sushi Pier has available in the ayce section, including a few items off the beaten track of salmon and maguro. Again, I understand that making the nigiri pieces themselves all fancy dolled up is very popular, but it does mean that the first bite will be rice rather than fish, as there’s no way the nigiri can be flipped over with all the accoutrements stacked up on top.
Props to all the folks working there. We were tucked into a terminal point of the bar, out of eye contact range with the chef. But he made a point to look over and check up on us, as did a number of the staff.