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)
I’m stubborn. When I hear my girlie girlfriends say Seagrass is the place for The Romantic Date or, *shudder*, the Valentine’s Day dinner I spin around and flee in the other direction.
Dude. So not the case. Ok, yes, look at the menu and gawk at the $15 appetizers and $30 mains.
It’s only offered on the non-prime time nights, Sunday – Thursday (and they are currently closed Mondays, but I think that’s changing in May).
Just $35 for three courses, based off their daily menu. So it’s not like everyone else is chowing the $30 waygu beef while you get yesterday’s coq au vin a la king. No, you get the waygu beef.
This includes a starter, a main dish, and a dessert. The portions, so I’m told, are a smidge smaller than the a la carte sizes, but honestly, it’s enough food. I was full. And it was delicious.
The first time I ate there:
My friend had the beet salad, sauteed local snapper, and raisin pudding.
Second visit was a big share fest with my dining companion.
* Kumumoto oyster shooter, ginger gelee, salmon roe, scallions, ale foam as one starter.
* Main – Sauteed wild seabass, sugar snap peas, leek soubise, pommes brunoise, tomato fondue, veal jus, basil oil. Can you tell I cut/paste this from their website? I really have no idea what soubise and brunoise are. My friend ordered this.
* Main – Slow braised Kurabuto PORK CHEEK, carrots two ways, pan fried polenta, braised shallots, tangerine foam, natural braising jus with thyme. There was also a juicy piece of pork belly, like an obelisk of bacon stacked on the polenta. This was an incredible dish, the pork belly was so tender. There was also a slow roasted half onion on one of the polenta disks that was sweet, tender, and still held its form. Loved it.
For dessert we both had the Valrhona bitter-sweet chocolate torte, in vanilla bean crust with candied orange zest and raspberries.
Both times the meal started with bread and butter, and a little amuse buche that was a spoonful of some kind of fish, and crisp slice of parsnip.
They source locally and very seasonally. They plate the food lovingly. The owners and chefs browse the tables to see how everyone is doing. It’s a family run business, but definitely not a “mom n’ pop” style place.
And yes, you can come here for a romantic date, or the mother-in-law meal. You know what I’m talking about.
I’m really enjoying the prix fixe options in this town, they keep getting better. Such a good deal. Add Seagrass near the top of the list.
All through December, Kobachi was giving away coupons as Christmas gifts. Between two people, we’d collected about $15 in vouchers, so on this time we were in the mood for sashimi and thought we’d combine these, along with another $30 and request sashimi omakase. Ken-san was in, and agreed.
First, though, some drinks and nibbles. We had Asahi on draft and some seaweed salad.
Good, as usual, but this was more what we were waiting for – a big platter of luscious fresh sashimi! Ooooooh.
Simple, wonderfully cut, and so so good. I’m not sure I can remember everything we got, but I’ll try. Starting in the upper left and going clockwise: two kinds of maguro, premium hamachi and standard hamachi, Santa Barbara uni, snapper…then two other fish I cannot remember, and finally salmon roe. Jebus, the premium yellowtail was so good. Everything was so good. And to think the people next to us got some boring California roll and pot stickers. Sorry guys!
Then we had an additional small sushi roll, I *think* it was a spiced yellowtail roll. I do know for sure that it was very good. Finally, a wee bit of dessert with ice cream and fresh fruit.
I love Kobachi!
Past posts. And there are a lot of them.
Kobachi Izakaya Dining
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 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!
Finally back home, after a business trip to Las Vegas and a flight home from hell. We reward ourselves with a dinner at Kobachi, this time thoroughly scrubbing the menu for new items and ordering them.
What’s new, operations:
It’s temporarily closed for Monday, lunch and dinner service. Before it was just lunch service that wasn’t available. I think it’s a seasonal thing. Hopefully when the days get longer, Monday nights will be available again. It’s certainly not for lack of business overall, because of this next item…
Expanded dining room! They’ve absorbed the adjacent business space, knocked open a doorway, and decorated the new space with a small tatami area, tables and vibrant Japanese murals.
What’s new, food:
The menu has expanded even more, and some prices have gone up a notch, a few items have come down, or split into a smaller portion for a lower price.
Here’s our sampling of the new items:
* Maguro natto tartare. This is not for everyone. In fact, this is not for most. Natto is an acquired taste. Serving it with tuna and quail egg helps. Asking for a bowl of hot rice is even better. If you’re the type that yearns for natto, you will be happy. If you want to experiment, go for it. Half the staff will be happy you tried one of their favorite items, the other half will think you’re brave.
* gobo chips. So very more-ish.
* Age takoyaki – octopus in a batter, fried into balls, topped with bonito flake and served with assorted sauces. I’ve never been to Japan, but this is supposed to be classic street food. We enjoyed it.
* Aji miso yaki – broiled mackerel with a sweet miso glaze. YUM. Three fillet portions, very good to share.
* Steamed chin gen sai – bok choy in a thin sesame soy sauce, served cold. Crisp tender, delish.
* Nama kaki – raw oysters with a thin soy sauce. These oysters come from Washington state and are big, tender and juicy.
* Finally, a portion of simmered beef tongue. This was not on the menu yet, the chef was kind enough to give us a sneak preview. It is more similar to lengua style tongue like in Mexican dishes, very tender. It’s quite different in texture to the tan shio Kobachi’s been serving since it opened, which is much more chewy.
Kobachi Izakaya Dining
When friends visit from out of town, especially friends from the Bay Area who have plenty of access to wonderful food, the only place that provide a wonderful, memorable experience just by its very existance is Kobachi.
Mattpaul and Lisa were passing through for a couple days and this was Stop Number One.
We started the evening with a glass of shochu with oolong, and a flight of sake, letting Yoko pick the sake selection.
A few courses where Ted Mills took the photos:
Top: Shiitake nigiri, uni shooter.
Finally, we shared an assortment of sashimi, and let the chef choose. We are not completely sure all that we ordered, but there was definitely toro filet and belly, uni, and two other kinds of fish. The belly was particularly melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Not everyone was an uni fiend, but that did mean more for those who were.
Kobachi Izakaya Dining
Kobachi Izakaya Dining
Maxwell’s birthday. We ate more than this, but for whatever reason, I only took a few photos.
Top, left: fried squid, lightly dusted with curry powder.
Kobachi Izakaya Dining
Hey, it’s time for the Harbor Festival in Santa Barbara!
Most festivals in this area have been disappointing of late. There seems to be a greater representation of funnel cakes, yards o’ daiquiri, and kettle corn than the actual theme of the festival.
But not the Harbor Festival. Oh no. Its theme is seafood and there is seafood to be had.
I first heard about it when I was dining at Kobachi, and posted on a wall was a notice they’d be closed on Saturday because they’d be selling uni at the Harbor Festival. I credit Kobachi entirely for growing my love of uni, so when Saturday rolled around, heading down to the harbor was the top of my to do list.
The marina area was heaving with people, half were mingling and sitting, the other half were waiting in queues for all that glorious seafood. We saw paella, steamed crabs and lobster, lobster bisque, and…er, abelskivers. But it was mostly seafood!
The spiny lobsters had the crowds enthralled. Some were bigger than I’d seen in my life and I can only imagine how much they cost. For the teeming masses, we had to make due with the little lobsters. And while out on one of the piers, we spied some uni shooters. They cost $2 and were meh. No photos.
But while trying to get around the inexplicably long queue for Brothy’s clam chowder, we spied Kobachi’s uni counter. No queue! Fine, that is good for us, but disappointing that our fellow festival goers did not have the same appreciation. So we pulled random strangers into our queue with gushing enthusiasm for some fine uni.
Oh my, so good. We had one uni roll and an uni shooter each. The uni shooter lacked the quail egg that’s normally served at the restaurant, but it also cost 85 cents less, coming in at a mere $3 for this fine morsel. Both were utterly delicious, and the random group we’d pulled over to the uni counter got back into the queue for a second round.
I heard that the abelskivers and the lobster bisque at the festival were also good. And I also heard some friends got there early so they could sample everything on offer. I wish there had been time for that, but this uni was perfectly satisfying.
Note: some photos by Ted Mills.
Santa Barbara Harbor Festival