Help in North County
Staying at the Four Seasons next week. We have been coming down for the past 5 years and really love it. We have always enjoyed Pamplemousse, Vigilucci's, Vivace's at the hotel but anything new and exciting??
Cocktails are a must and don't want to venture much south of Del Mar. Any good sit down Mexican?
I know there have been endless posts about Encinita's, a town I love but am a little lazy and slammed at work before my trip so I apologize and really appreciate any help.
"For Mexican: Tony's Jacal and Fidel's in Solana Beach, Los Olas in Cardiff and El Callejon in Encinitas all do a solid Tex Mex"
I know this will get deleted but I don't know what any of these restaurants have to do with Tex Mex. I don't even think any of them do good Mexican, but that's another story. BTW I just went to Hacienda de Vega for the first time--very nice atmosphere--well that's about it.
Some of the most exciting cuisine can be found at Kaito Sushi, in Encinitas. In Kaito San Diego finally has a sushi bar that will stock only what is at its very best in quality. Although this is a sushi bar where you will likely sample items not readily found at other sushi bars, even items that might seem "ho hum" at other places stands out here, for instance a simple Tako (octopus) or Ebi (shrimp).
And when it comes to other tane, at Kaito you will get the real thing. For instance what is served as Ama Ebi (sweet shrimp) at other sushi bars is simply an imposter species to what real Ama Ebi is, which I've only found at Kaito. (Much tinier, it will require three of these incredibly sweet and tender shrimps to top a single nigiri.)
Another example is Kaito's Anago (salt-water eel), which is never frozen. In fact they are the rare sushi bar that actually gets in the Anago whole and unfilleted. (Almost all Anago is processed in Japan and shipped already prepped.) This results in the most tender Anago, which head chef Morita-san delicately adjusts his nigiri technique to match the texture of the rice with the Anago. Their Anago would be one nigiri where all would be well-advised to use their bare hands... (And you can get the roasted Anago bone as a "bar snack", something that you will not easily find anywhere else; most of the Anago bones are left in Japan after filleting...)
Topping the Anago will be either a simple seal salt/Yuzu Koshou combination or their housemade (and precious) Kabayaki sauce, made carefully over days into a thick reduction of eel and soy. (Other bars will use just a simple syrup from a bottle...)
And then there are the special tane that is seldom found elsewhere. Live Mizudako (octopus) from Hokkaido, where one leg will reach from outstretched hand to outstretched hand. Sazae, or Japanese conch, wonderful when served as Sashimi. Kamasu, or Japanese baracuda, incredibly aromatic and perfectly matched to the Aburi (searing) technique. Add to this list other incredible items such as Sanma (pike mackerel), Kegani (hairy crab), Shinko (baby Kohada/gizzard shad), Kinmedai (golden eye snapper), Na no Hana (rapeseed flower), Mategai (razor clam), Mekabu (Wakame flower), Sayori (needlefish), and Hoya (sea pineapple).
If it's traditional sushi that you are after, you will likely find in Kaito an experience that an honest palatte will likely rank amongst a favorite few sushi bars anywhere in the U.S., and most certainly at the very top of the San Diego sushi bar scene.
They have a very loyal following who would not at all be perturbed not finding commonly available tane in their case. Rather their customers almost exclusively orders omakase, or chef's choice, which is the best way to go at this wonderful sushi bar.
And if you are new to traditional sushi but are curious what it's like, Kaito is the ideal place for you too. Unlike some traditional sushi bars Kaito does not "outlaw" the ordering of Americanized rolls. One can use that as a starting point to explore the tastes of traditional sushi, with head chef Morita-san as your trusty guide who will help you make selections based upon your taste preferences.
When you dine at Kaito the adulterated veil of frozen tane that is served elsewhere is lifted, leaving only the clean, pure tastes of what was really practiced in old Tokyo (Edo). Items you thought were familiar is tasted anew; a whole new light is cast upon the sushi experience, and suddenly one realizes the true seasonality and promise of this wonderful cuisine.
130-A N El Camino Real, Encinitas, CA 92024
I second the rec for Tony's Jacal on Valley Avenue in Solana Beach. I and other natives actually prefer Tony's to its more well-known neighbor, Fidel's. Tony's does great turkey tacos, enchiladas, etc. For fantastic Italian in downtown Encinitas, try Trattoria i Trulli. Since you mentioned cocktails, the bar at the Chart House in Cardiff is a nice sunset option, as is Jake's Del Mar or the Brigantine overlooking the ocean and the Del Mar Racetrack. Hope you enjoy your visit!!
2nd Kaito and add Yu Me Ya for izakaya. Kaito's prices are actually very reasonable for the quality you get.
La Especial Norte in Encinitas has good caldos for cheap.
Market and Addison in Del Mar are both excellent. Addison is a little more formal than Market but the food is very good.
Skip the food at the Chart House--it's average at best. Water views are great though.
For all the Encinitas recs, you could print out the thread and bring it with you to the Four Seasons...
Wow cgfan, I don't think anyone else could have summed it up so well! We are so lucky to have this place in our neighborhood. We would eat there every day if we could, it's never the same dinner twice. We look forward to what each season brings us and we often miss things terribly when not in season. I would love some two day Saba right about now... but I know I need to be patient, Kinmedai is waiting instead and Sanma just showed up too! Morita-san has really changed out sushi world!
Thanks Pablo for the kind words, and indeed, I too feel lucky to have Kaito in our part of the county and to have found Morita-san back in the days when he was heading the sushi bar at Tomiko. For me I was sold literally upon the very first bite of the very first item I had in front of him - what a revelation it was to taste Morita-san's sushi!
I must have learned more about sushi sitting in front of Morita-san in just that first year than all of the many years that I've been eating sushi.
I know everyone has their favorite sushi bar, and my vote for my favorite is quite obvious. But I sincerely believe that Kaito serves sushi that is a level above anything else in the county.
In the past I would have put the "more authentic" sushi bars in San Diego, those that at least try to predominately serve traditional sushi, in roughly the same league. But I simply have not seen any other sushi bar do the kinds of things that Kaito does in order to deliver quality to their customers. Kaito really needs its own category; as it is that true to its commitment to serve excellent traditional sushi.
To the many fans of traditional sushi out there in S.D. that haven't had their first taste of Morita-san's sushi - well sushi this good is worth the drive, and there's no reason to settle for anything less for your sushi dollar! With Kaito as my existence proof I now know that there's a whole new world of culinary gold in sushi that only Morita-san seems to know how to mine.
I think most will find Morita-san's sushi to be a real game changer, a real eye-opener. It certainly was for me.
If you're willing to go inland a bit, Hacienda de Vega in Escondido is awesome. The food and service is great. The atmosphere is relaxed, and all seating is outdoors on their patio.
Savory in Encinitas is terrific. Old School French chef, now Southern Cal vibe. Ten should be no problem with reservations. One of my chef man and my faves, but the traffic north keeps us away. So if you need a back up. . .