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Kaito Restaurant - Encinitas

We finally were able to make it to Kaito for a quick bite.
We have been dying for some good sashimi since we burned out on Nobu this summer. Kaito is superior to Nobu in many ways. Morita-san was super, he steered us directly to what was special and we ate it up! We started of with pike mackerel sashimi, I think he was testing us right away! Morita-san commented on too fishy? No way, this stuff was perfect. We then went on to perfect kohada sushi, ikura sushi, nasu sushi, blue fin toro sushi, negi toro because I couldn't get enough of this superb toro and finally finished off with an ume shiso with mountain yam. Standouts of the evening, fresh Ikura, wow, nothing like the chemical Ikura you usually end up with! Toro was amazing, sashimi can be pricey for this ($30), but well worth it! Morita-san also had live octopus but we didn't get to it this time. Tamago is made in-house and I have heard reports of real wasabi being served here too - next time! Unfortunately the uni has not been good lately so Morita-san is not serving it until he thinks it's good enough. Thanks to our good friends from Matsuoka and chowhound cgfan for recommending such a wonderful place! This is sure to be a regular spot for us!

Kaito Restaurant
1476 Encinitas Blvd..
Encinitas, CA

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  1. Thanks for the report Pablo. I will have to check this place out

    1. Great to hear that you had a wonderful first visit to Kaito!

      Actually I was there later in the day, as Morita-san let me in that you had dropped by. That day was a phenomenal one in terms of the tane that he was able to source. The sanma sashimi was phenomenal! But so was the kohada, the tako, and the hoya.

      Too bad you didn't have room for the tako. Though Morita-san always sources fantastic tako, softer and sweeter than what other sushi bars seem to get, occaisionally he obtains a special variety of tako that is as good as it is enormous. (One leg of this beast can just about run from tip to tip of one's outstretched arms!) That Friday was just such a night. (I also managed to get seconds of the tako as he still had some left over when I returned again on Monday.)

      That one magical day last Friday was probably the best amongst many spetacular visits that I've had at Kaito. All of the tane were near or at their best. Both the hoya and the kohada were the best that I've ever had, and the sanma, being the first time that I've had it raw, was the highlight amongst highlights.

      And good to hear of the restraint shown regarding the uni. It sounds like you're off to a pretty good start if he's already "managing" your meal like that on your very first visit! Normally that would take quite a long time to establish a relationship to the point where the itamae-san is dialed into your preferences and tasting skills.

      It's the same way with me, and it's something that I really appreciate. If he does not offer it to me it's for a good reason. (Of course that also means that the same uni will go to someone else, presumably to someone who cannot taste the difference...)

      A few pics of my Friday visit are already up at http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam... , to be followed soon by pics from the Monday visit. This joins a few earlier pics from Kaito, including a couple from just last Wednesday. (Lately I've been going there quite a bit!)

      1 Reply
      1. re: cgfan

        We were lucky on our first visit to sit right in front of Morita-san just before it became very busy. We told him it was our first visit and that Kaito was recommended by some good friends and that you had excellent things to say about his establishment. I think this was the secret password! However after looking at your fabulous pics, I hope I get the same from Morita-san after several more visits. He was wonderful, very calm, even during thick of things he would take time to see how we liked his offerings. Can't wait to go back there on Thursday evening. Thanks again for the great rec cgfan, probably run in to you one day!

      2. Wow truly great photos. What a variety, i have never had a few of those, what does Hoya taste like? Also what is the na no hana? I have nbever heard of that one before either.

        Pablo since you are the one who turned me on to Matsuoka, how does Kaito compare?

        5 Replies
        1. re: MVNYC

          MVNYC, Kaito is good, in all honesty I would say better than Matsuoka. Matsuoka suffered in the service area which I was able to overlook but many patrons could not. Haji-san had great specials, stuff like the pike mackerel, barracuda, and Matsutake mushrooms etc... Sake list is very limited at Kaito which strikes me as odd since they have a full bar available. Now we have Yumeya for sake tastings so I don't mind this at all. I miss Matsuoka, fortunately we were able to go at least five dozen times before he closed, I saved all his special menus (75 total)! Kaito is our new adventure and I am sure you will not be disappointed! Just hoping Morita-san does some barracuda, love that fish! Please post a report when you go!

          1. re: MVNYC

            Found this interesting tidbit on "Hoya" or "Sea Pineapple" aka:
            The sea squirt. A small slug-like creature that was previously best known for eating its own brain: once it has found an appropriate rock to set up home on it has no further use for its brain, and digests it. Supposedly a peach like texture, shell is leathery. Unique smell and taste. Can't wait to try this!

            1. re: MVNYC

              MVNYC, we went again last night. Blue fin maguro from Boston was almost chu-toro quality, out of this world. Also had katsuo sashimi that was slighlty seared, excellent! What really made this last experience so special was real wasabi! What a great treat!

              1. re: Pablo

                Well Pablo, that just sealed the deal, i will be heading up sometime within the next week. Thanks again and i will report back

                1. re: MVNYC

                  Be sure to sit with Morita-san. I haven't had time for omakase yet, but let him choose for you, you won't go wrong!

            2. MVNYC: Thanks for the feedback on the photos!

              As to hoya, I find it quite hard to compare it to anything else. As Morita-san might say, "hoya tastes like hoya"... When it's at it's best it has a very clean and mild acidity to it, combined with the texture of scallops. For me I seem to like it only when it's at it's very best, and at those times it's great just by itself.

              Others who like it seem to have more lattitude with it than I, (but there are actually very few people who do like it, even in Japan), but to me it's like walking a cliff: unless it's at it's very best it quickly develops some off/funky tastes quite readily.

              Na no hana is Japanese for rapeseed flower. It's used seasonally in Japanese cooking, and is quite regional. When they bloom it looks very much like our hillsides when the mustards are in bloom - yellow.

              For those who have seen my earlier post where I mentioned the Japanese drama called Shota no Sushi, there is a whole episode devoted to "na no hana". (BTW in case you're interested here's a YouTube link for a playlist that I created which has the 1st 5 episodes from this drama [w/English subtitles] - http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list... . However this playlist does not include the "na no hana" episode.


              As I say in my earlier post about this drama: "To really understand and develop an appreciation for what goes on behind the scenes and to see the real magic that a true itamae-san creates everday, I must recommend that every sushi lover go see the Japanese drama series (available with English subtitles) "Shota no Sushi". Although the dramatic sequences are unintentionally comical and over-dramatized, the rigorous training portrayed, the attention to the minutest detail and the near encyclopedic knowledge of fish are all real. (If you're interested you should be able to find a copy on eBay for not very much...) It's composed of 17 episodes an hour each, and each and every episode reveals an incredible truth about sushi technique or secret that's fascinating as it is important. It's basically a drama that has accidentally turned into a documentary!"

              5 Replies
              1. re: cgfan

                cgfan, I can't wait to try this sea pineapple! Maybe Morita-san will offer it to me one day. I hope!
                Thanks for tube link - I love the show! I was able to find a few more episodes with a p2p client. The high drama is hilarious!

                1. re: cgfan

                  cgfan, Morita-san had a Hoya for me last Friday! Maybe I am some crazy gaijin, but I really liked it! I am not sure how to describe it yet, I may have to get it again! Also had great Matsutake mushroom and asari soup. Excellent Kohada, melt in your mouth Toro, Ikura, Sanma sashimi. It only gets better every time we go! On another note, I only have 3 more episodes of Shota to watch. Going to miss it. Let me know if you need the rest to post to the tube.

                  1. re: Pablo

                    Great to hear of your visit. Actually I had heard from Morita-san later that evening that you had dropped by and had your first taste of Hoya. Glad you liked it - he's probably wondering by now if there's anything at the sushi bar that you don't like. (You may have already had these before, but on the small list of "challenging" foods that you can get at a sushi bar would also include natto and shirako. If I recall correctly you have already had shiokara, so so far you're passing with flying colors!)

                    As for myself I wasn't feeling too hungry at the time, but I did have the toro and sanma, along with a few other items.

                    I again returned the following night, again very late and having just a couple of items. Not my usual pattern, as I normally start my meals there anywhere from 7-8p, and stay until closing...

                    Regarding Shota, I'm not sure if you'd already seen your Flickr mail or not... I don't know if you were able to find all of the episodes already, but if not, perhaps that would help. (Were you referring to the last 3 episodes of the entire series, or just to the last 3 episodes that you were able to find?)

                    (BTW in addition to Shota, there are many, many other Japanese "doramas" that focus just on food, in addition to the whole subcategory of "gurume manga" (gourmet manga). While generally the former can be found in English the latter generally are not... (An entire article was written on the "gurume manga" phenomena in the excellent publication Gastronomica.)

                    1. re: cgfan

                      cgfan, the natto maybe a challenge! Shirako I have done before, but not at Kaito. Please recommend some other "doramas". I have been looking at jem.d-addicts.com they seem to have a good selection of shows. My flickr mail, thanks! I don't check on a daily basis.

                      1. re: Pablo

                        JDorama.com is a good source, as is Wiki.d-addicts.com.

                        Your question suggests a good opportunity to create a new thread, as I just know a limited number of them. Here's the link to the new thread:


                  1. re: PGB

                    What email are you referring to?

                  2. Some recent pics from Kaito. Little dark, didn't want to use a flash.


                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Pablo

                      Pablo --how was the tamago? Most places buy the JFC foodservice version which I find terrible. I am always on the lookout for a homemade version -- truly one test of a fine sushi-ya.

                      In fact, I made a kansai -style tamagoyaki yesterday -- it is truly a glorious food.

                      1. re: kare_raisu

                        cgfan beat me to it! Yes the tamago is house made. It it wonderful, we usually are ume shiso fans and sometimes miso soup, but this time the tamago looked too inviting. And yes you are right, too few make their own, but Morita-san would probably rather not serve it at all if he didn't make it himself! The katsuo sashimi was outstanding, I could have done seconds on this easily! We also did a blue fin vs yellow fin sushi, kohada sushi, negi toro roll, clam and tako sashimi, and the asari and matsutake soup, they all were amazing as usual. Kaito is above the rest and I am so very happy to be going there!

                    2. I can attest that Morita-san makes his own tamago, and it's wonderful. (This also extends to his sauces and tane preparation.)

                      It's unfortunate to genuine itamae-sans as himself that the question needs to be asked, but there are plenty of "sushi bars", and hence "sushi chefs", out there who would not even flinch at buying off-the-shelf. Someday the customer will realize that those establishments are nothing more than concept restaurants.

                      1. I was finally able to try this place over the weekend. Unfortunately Morita San was in Japan, but we still managed to have a wonderful meal. The variety was somewhat limited at 8 on a saturday. I will have to try to hit it up for an early friday dinner. I gave a limit for $80 for two and we were fed very well. I also told them to pretend i was japanese and give us the traditional stuff.

                        We started out with some Ankimo which was good but not great. I usually order this at Sakura and it is superior there.

                        The first of two plates arrived next. This included
                        4 pieces of O toro. buttery and delicious. This was the highlight of the meal. Oh so good.
                        5 pieces of Saba. I mentioned that i like Saba and generally regard this as an overall test of the Itamae's skill. These were very nice as well, fatty but cut through with vinegar. The texture was just right too. Some of the best saba i have encountered.
                        4 pieces of Halibut. Halibut isnt on the top of my list, but this was very good.
                        2 pieces of ika w ginger. Great texture, not chewy at all.
                        2 clam pieces, ine was mirugai and the other was orange and crunchier. These to were very nice, tasting of the essence of the sea.
                        1 negi toro roll. You could see the tuna fat glistening off of each wonderful piece. Lovely.

                        We were told there would be a second smaller plate coming out. It turns out it wasnt very small. This platter contained:

                        4 pieces of Uni. This was decent, not the mind blowing stuff i used to get at Matsuoka. Perhaps this was an off night.
                        4 pieces of anago. These were delicious. I am becoming a bigger fan of anago as time goes by.
                        1 saba roll
                        1 kampyo roll-i love kampyo for its sweet taste and chewy texture.
                        and finally something i think they gave us just to test us-a natto roll. I think there was also plum paste or something else really salty in there as well. We ate iteven though natto isnt my cup of tea. I was shocked b/c my lady friend truly liked it.

                        Sake list was limited, but they had a decent beer list.

                        I will definitely be back, especially when they have kohada, or other small silver fish that i love

                        1. MVNYC, thanks for a great report! I was out town otherwise I would have been there! Sounds like the saba was a winner! The kampyo and the natto are new to me, I haven't done them yet. Hopefully next weekend! Toro has been lovely last few weeks. Surprised you didn't go for the ankimo so much, I thought it was good, I only like house-made at this point. The anago, was this also house-made? He had some a few weeks ago that were nothing like the packaged stuff and I would really like to have it again. Be sure to ask for hoya if he has it, I think you may like it, my SO wasn't so sure the first time, but now she loves it! Sake is very limited, I am not sure why since they obviously have a full liquor license. $10 corkage if you want to bring your own.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Pablo

                            MVNYC: Thanks for the great report. I knew it would be just a matter of time before we would hear of your inaugural visit.

                            Regarding the uni, ***for this season*** Morita-san has served it to me only on very rare occaisions. He explained to me some time ago that the kelp conditions off of California are not very good, and that consequently the local uni has suffered as well. Hopefully next year will bring in better conditions, especially since they often source their local uni before any of the other restaurants even have a chance to obtain theirs - basically they can get theirs at times before it even hits the market.

                            If you start coming back as a regular and they see how serious you are about traditional sushi, I'm sure it wouldn't take long before they get dialed into your tastes and can start managing your meal for you. (Including the carefully concealed process of only serving you what they consider to be top notch for that day, without other customers - the inside-out-crunchy-spicy-tuna crowd - realize what's going on.) But from the sound of it you have already had on your first visit what sounds to be a great run of quality neta.

                            I don't mean to make it sound like they're very "strict" on their customers; actually quite the opposite. They know that to operate a sushi bar in this area one must cater to both the traditional and non-traditional customers. However I've seen Morita-san very skillfully guide non-traditional sushi eaters into test tasting more traditional nigiri for their first time, guiding them with samples based upon their preferences. I've already seen several of his customers finish the rest of their meals off with only traditional items after such a personalized session. (They have a long-term goal of educating the public on traditional sushi, an admirable goal...)

                            Pablo: Thanks for the corkage information! I tend to assume that for most Japanese restaurants corkage is not a thing that's practiced. But if they have a clear policy, then that really opens up the options and frees-up the customer. And $10 sounds very reasonable. I'll have to try that out someday...

                            1. re: cgfan

                              cgfan, I asked Ryan about the corkage as I want to bring in some special sake's once in awhile. I doubt they would even charge the corkage if you shared a small sample with them!

                              1. re: cgfan

                                Thanks again to both of you for the rec. This place is defnitely one that i will continue to check out. Everyone there was very friendly and we talked extensively on the type of fish we all liked. The itamae whose name escapes me right now apologized for not having kohada which is his favourite too.

                                Also thanks for the tip on the Uni, i was wondering why it just wasnt as good for awhile now. That makes alot of sense. It really is amazing how much quality can vary in food from environmental conditions.

                                Pablo-The ankimo at Sakura that i usually get has a cleaner taste to it. The ankimo at Kaito had a sligtly fishy taste to it.

                                The anago was housemade i believe.

                                If anyone likes Saba, make sure to get it here, very well made.

                                I might have to do the corkage thing as well

                            2. I just returned from my first sushi meal of the New Year with a visit to Kaito. What a visit it was! I think I must have just had as good a sushi meal as I've ever had at Kaito, but on top of that it set new heights in terms of a comprehensively broad but simultaneously complementary meal! Everything stitched together perfectly in sequence, taste, and style.

                              Morita-san started me off with two appetizers, served in two earthenware kozara. One held four slices of wonderfully seasoned mirugai liver, the other a few careful bites of hoya shiokara.

                              These went wonderfully with the draft Kirin, and I was well-prepared for the rest of the meal. First came the yari ika, which was incredible. Now ika is one of my favorite of sushi tane when it's at it's best, and I particularly like it when it has, how shall I describe it, a heavy coat of slime! (I can't think of any better way of describing the sensation - I know it doesn't sound very appetizing, but any devoted fan of ika should understand!)

                              Well the yari ika has all of that, in addition to a most elegant taste and perfect bite. Both the "sliminess" and the bite played against each other well, particularly with the ribbon-like cuts that Morita-san prepared it with. As soon as you begin to chew the ika tane separates into separate "noodles" - each al dente! - rolling around and over each other in the mouth lubricated by, yes, that ever-wonderful and taste-carrying slime... (In much the same way that oils are wonderful carriers of flavor, so must be this slime!)

                              Next came a wide plate of three clams - aoyagi, mirugai, and awabi - arranged in that order. I enjoyed them in precisely that same order, which worked out well. All of these clams have their characteristic sweetness and taste of the ocean in common, yet all distinctly different.

                              There was first the magic of going from sweetest (aoyagi) towards the most mildly sweet (awabi), while it also progresses from the cleanest taste (aoyagi) towards the most "marine" of tastes (mirugai). Then there's the progression of textures, going from the softest (aoyagi) to the most toothsome (awabi). All of these experiences going on simultaneously by simply sequencing through three bites of sushi is just magical; it's like listening to a Bach cantata!

                              Next came a delicately konbu-seasoned kanpachi, which had an incredibly smooth and mouth-filling, almost creamy, texture.

                              This was followed with a fantastic asari suimono, with tons of asari in it's shell but also with hidden bits of ika and awabi. The broth had all the taste of the sea, with the wonderful taste of clam shells, sea water, and konbu.

                              Carrying on with the marine taste theme was a perfectly seasoned awabi liver appetizer, topped with a housemade kaiso tsukudani. The union of the two were perfect, with the kaiso tsukudani remarkably acting like a hidden taste even though it was simply placed on top of the awabi liver. The overall effect of the tsukudani was to expand and reinforce the already wonderful taste of the awabi liver.

                              This bit of culinary sleight of hand can be attributed to the common use of soy sauce in both the seasoning of the awabi liver and in the kaiso tsukudani, as well as the fact that the abalone feeds on kaiso in its habitat. Morita-san's skills shines just as bright when exploring and improvising upon these wonderful flavor combinations!

                              Around now I'm beginning to lose track of all that came before me. At some point around this time Morita-san put together a hand roll of natto, shiso, yama-imo, and wasabi sake kasu. As has happened many times with Morita-san, he would put together combinations of flavors which would not occur to me, in this case the combination of sake kasu and natto. It all came together wonderfully, though it would have been a more interesting taste study had it been stripped down to the suprise taste duo of the wasabi sake kasu and natto.

                              Then came another appetizer of lightly boiled ika geso and three slices of awabi fringe, served with a soy/katsuo dip.

                              To finish this off was a heart-warming and freshly prepared tempura soba. The broth was just assertively seasoned enough to enjoy the taste of the broth by just slurping the soba, and the ika and shrimp tempura were perfectly fried and battered, with the extravagent use of shrimp and ika, from where else, but from the sushi case!

                              A genuine feeling of "Wa" descended upon me as I enjoyed this wonderfully-prepared meal.

                              I have a feeling this is going to be a wonderful year...

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: cgfan

                                BTW one of the dishes that I left out in my post was kazunoko. It was served as a nigiri with kaiware (daikon sprouts), which was an ideal combination. I'm sure there are a few others that I left out, but so much came out so fast that I lost track after a while!

                                  1. re: kare_raisu

                                    It was sans konbu. I can still taste (and feel) it now, it was so good and crunchy...

                                  2. re: cgfan

                                    kazunoko, I didn't know that was herring roe. I am actually rather fond of it! Next time if Morita-san has it! That kanpachi was sublime, perfect nigiri. I really like the rice at Kaito, unfortunatley I don't get very much, other than when we order nigiri. Thanks for another great report cgfan!

                                1. cgfan sounds like you had a great dinner, we did too! We were there earlier that evening and are responsible for eating up all those very delicious east coast sweet shrimp! I will save you some next time! It was packed already at 5:30. The hoya shirokara was interesting, the saltiness surprisingly doesn't overpower it.
                                  Also Jo-san cooked up some tempura battered uni in shiso leaves, it could not have been more perfect! Oh yes, ume shiso and yama imo with whole umeboshi this time!

                                  1. >>Also Jo-san cooked up some tempura battered uni in shiso leaves<<

                                    Wow, that sounds delicious! Never had that, but it makes a lot of sense, especially with the contrasting textures of uni and a good tempura batter...

                                    ...Joe-san made the delicious broth for my soba as well...

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: cgfan

                                      Now I am dreaming on an uni-centric meal at Kaito! sashimi, nestled in some chawan mushi, tempura style with shiso... what else could we have them do with uni?

                                      1. re: Pablo

                                        Well once when wanting a change of pace I challenged Morita-san to create a dessert item featuring uni. He then delivered a gunkan-maki using a ball of green tea ice cream instead of shari, with the uni on top. The combination worked well, and we both had a good laugh at the descent into "iron chef" territory!

                                    2. I was recently in the area at lunch time and was saddened that they were closed for lunch. ;(

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: kare_raisu

                                        Kaito started out with lunch hours at the very beginning, but now is a dinner only place...

                                        But do keep on trying! It's worth a visit!

                                      2. Just want to thank you all for the great info on Kaito.

                                        We are new to the area and checked out Kaito last week.

                                        I had some of the sweetest and freshest sushi there I have ever tasted.

                                        Thanks :)