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Nobu in Solana Beach

Staying in Solana Beach, and wanted to check out Station Sushi, but I was running late and quickly ducked into Nobu at 9pm (closing time at 10pm). Normally I don't like going to a sushi-ya this late, but I had been a bit fish taco'ed out and wanted something fresh, not fried.

Everything that Chef Yagi-san offered was good. In order, I had the toro, the special hamachi, uni, albacore, salmon, squid, tai (Japanese red snapper), and I finished it off with ikura (salmon roe). I always drink nigori sake with omakase, and the unfiltered drink this evening was from Sho Chiku Bai.

The standouts were the albacore (had a nice acidity), the squid (whose texture I usually abhor, but here it went well with the "astringency" of the mint leaf), and the best fish of the evening was the tai.

I'm not a "roll" person, so this, by default, is my favorite sushi place in SD (I'd only been taken to other cut-roll places until now here in SD County), but I am eager to try others. Where else can I find a good market selection of the daily nigiri?

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  1. For sushi I can wholeheartedly recommend Kaito Japanese Restaurant in Encinitas, on Encinitas Blvd. just east of El Camino Real. Morita-san, the head itamae-san, consistently sources the best tane in all of San Diego, and is arguably one of the most experienced of sushi chefs around.

    I can confidently place his ingredient selection amongst the best that can be had in the county. In regards to ingredient quality there is only Shirahama that can compare. I've been to the Chowhound favorites of Ota and Sakura, the former somehow also being the de facto "best of" in most published ratings of sushi bars in the county, but in my experience they just do not compare. Even Surfside Sushi with their extravagent ads in the local Japanese papers has been a big disappointment. Be forewarned - the sushi at Kaito can prove to be a spoiler for other sushi bars in the county!

    Having dined in front of him now for many years, he has opened my eyes to a whole new level of ingredient appreciation. The quality he sources goes beyond being merely delicious, but often approaches or achieves the transcendant. And he is more than happy to explain all of the subtle aspects of sushi ingredients and preparation, and how it compares to what can be had in Japan. Just hearing his annectdotes regarding his traditional training is like watching several episodes of the Japanese drama, "Shota no Sushi", a must see for any sushi devotee. And this is all packaged up in a persona that is incredibly humble and unaffected; definitely no "sushi Nazi" attitude here!

    However to understand Kaito one must keep in mind that one can have two completely different experiences here. The nature of today's sushi market is such that it is left to only the rare sushi bar that has the luxury of serving only traditionally focused sushi and the concomitant quality that this more stringent approach requires. Kaito does not have this luxury, and so must provide for the average customer seeking out their American-styled rolls. (BTW did you know that the American-styled rolls provides the highest margins at the sushi bar? In much the same way as the vegetarians invariably subsidize the carnivores at a restaurant with their high margin items, the same is true with the "new sushi" customer subsidizing the traditional sushi customer.)

    They will, of course, happily serve the customer any nigiri that can be made from their case, so long as they have the ingredients to do so. But this will inevitably entail, as can be expected, the use of ingredients which would not be served to their more discriminating customers; not that these ingredients are bad, mind you, but rather just ordinary rather than being extraordinary. Up to this point there is no reason to believe that the experience here is any different than any of the other sushi bars out there.

    But to get on the truly Chowworthy track at Kaito one needs to be recognized as a true lover of traditional sushi and establish themselves as a regular. To these lucky customers a whole new experience awaits them, for once they are on the omakase track they will have access to the best sushi available in all of San Diego. The truth about sushi is that it is as much determined by the customer as it is by the sushi chef and shop. But to those willing to establish a relationship with the sushi chef and can truly appreciate the delicacies that traditional sushi can offer, you can open the door to a truly authentic experience.

    Actually this is not the only way to get onto this more Chowworthy track at Kaito. The sushi chefs there are actively involved in watching the taste preferences of even their "roll customers" and periodically suggesting to the more open minded of them to try out some traditional items that may suit their taste. I have seen on several occaisions customers starting off their meal on the "new sushi" rolls, but ending it with an all traditional selection based upon their carefully considered suggestions. In this way Kaito provides a completely non-threatening environment for even the "new sushi" customer who is willing to indulge in their curiosity regarding the more traditional offerings.

    To get an idea what one can expect at Kaito, I've posted pictures from several of my visits up on my Flickr page at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam... .

    4 Replies
    1. re: cgfan

      so expensive to "establish" yourself to the sushi chef. hahaha. i wonder if he'll just serve this once i ask for omakase

      1. re: clayfu

        I guess it never hurts to ask for omakase, but I tend to save that for only after I get to know a sushi chef and he has gotten to know me. But I can't imagine that it would hurt to ask, and it'll probably impress him especially if you're non-Asian and/or show a willingness to explore...

        I'm sure you'll do fine. Would love to hear a report how it all turns out if you do decide to visit. Make sure you ask for Morita-san!

        You do raise a good point about the costs of "establishing" oneself at a sushi bar. Is it truly possible to rate a sushi bar after only a few visits if one is not yet an established customer there? So far I have been going under the premise that it is possible, mainly because the alternative is too expensive!

        BTW for those interested in Kaito specifically, I failed earlier to post a link to a more established thread on Kaito: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/32909...

        1. re: cgfan

          i'm chinese. My sushi eating mate is japanese. We usually get odd glares from the sushi chefs due to our age. (23/24yr old law students)

          usually when i first try the place i ask for omakase, if its good i go again, if not i don't. I figure with the omakase they give me the opportunity to try the best they have to offer =)

          1. re: clayfu

            I agree. Omakase is their shot to impress the heck out of a new diner, and I was certainly impressed, though I think my expectations for Nobu were tempered a bit by the fact that it was flanked by a CVS on one side a trailer park on the other.

            Still, there's no mistaking good quality, and while I would have preferred to try more of the specials, I think it was very indicative that when I asked for omakase, the only special off the board that I was served were the squid and the special hamachi.

    2. you've found one of the best around; we've going to Nobu for well over 10 years, for good reason

      1. I was definitely one of the "roll" patrons for the longest time until I had an eye-opening and world-changing experience at Sasabune in Los Angeles. I'm lucky there because I live near a great deal of the good sushi houses (causing much debate on the LA board, as one poster put it, 95 replies arguing about the same 10 spots). I will definitely check out Kaito next time I come down.

        1. We have been to Nobu many times, but IMO Kaito blows Nobu's socks off. Hoya, shirako, blue fin maguro and toro, sayori, sweet shrimp, live scallops, uni, ika, mirugai, and the mekabu this year have been outstanding! Not too mention we have been feasting on FRESH anago with a side of fried bones for the last couple weeks, it really couldn't get any better than this!

          3 Replies
          1. re: Pablo

            There's no point in arguing personal preferences but I will tell you we eat kanpachi, toro, hamachi, aji, ika, salmon, etc., very regularly at Nobu and, IMHO, it is excellent. the following comes from a summary of Naomi Wiese's review of the place:

            No, this isn't the famous fusion-food Nobu of NY, LA, and branches located wherever the money is. Our Nobu has been in the sushi business ten years longer than his namesake, and what he creates is classic non-fusion Japanese sushi and sashimi, with well-seasoned rice, freshly toasted seaweed wrappings, and fresh, fresh seafood. If you're in the mood for a different sort of grazing, you can settle at a table or booth to nibble on a score of appetizers, including a fine monkfish paté and enchanting chawan mushi (egg custard) soup served super hot in the cup it was baked in. The Japanese entrées are standard fare, with plenty for vegetarians. It's all comfortable, casual, and kid-friendly, with gracious sushi chefs. Nobu himself usually works the bar Friday through Sunday nights. Dinner daily; open weekends until 11 p.m. Large free lot behind restaurant (via Sierra Street, a block west). Mostly moderate; some delicacies expensive

            1. re: ibstatguy

              Not saying Nobu is bad, just Kaito is better as far as selection/quality IMO.

            2. re: Pablo

              Forgot to mention killer aji, saba, kohada, and even shinko sometimes!

            3. We liked Nobu too. One of our favorite Sushi places is downtown, Sushi Nippon. It's on Fourth between Island and Market. Really good.

              1 Reply
              1. re: sdunbier

                will have to try that for lunch sometime; thanks for the tip

              2. used to go to nobu quite a bit when i lived up there. i was always curious what the green wrapper was that they used to wrap their crunchy roll. after they fry it it has a bright green (almost neon) color and is covered bumps from air bubbles. any ideas? it definitely doesn't look like nori or soy paper. i could be wrong on the soy paper though. maybe that's the way it looks after the fryer?