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Kaito... a question (San Diego)

Howdy all... a question for the Kaito vets of the board:

How does a sushi-loving soul enjoy all that Kaito has to offer... with her sushi-phobic significant other?

I want to sit down and have a proper omakase meal, but Mr. Geeky probably can't handle any of it. Do we have to sit at a table and order sushi a la carte? Sit separately? Have Mr. G. at the bar and insult the itamae when Mr. Geeky orders his usual cooked fare (which they probably don't allow anyway... right?)? End the engagement (just kidding)?

I've countered this issue in the past by looking for a sushi-loving friend/coworker to accompany me. I already have a "date" lined up for Shirohama, but I want to try Kaito, too. And as my friends have taken a mass exodus from San Diego, I have few people to ask and most of them don't like sushi or don't want to spend that kind of money on a meal.

Thanks for your thoughts. I am imagining Cgfan shedding a tear right now. ;)

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    1. re: stevewag23

      Hmm. Yup.

      Second time in a week, agreeing with Steve-this is a bad habit.

        1. re: Fake Name

          On which? Dining solo or ditching the guy? ;)

          I may be a 'Hound, but ditching an SO over food seems a little cold, even for me.

          1. re: geekyfoodie

            Yes. Cold, but remember, this is chowhound, and little slack is forthcoming for fussy eaters.<<<<<this is humor.

            Seriously- if you insist on keeping him, and from your posts below it appears you are, Kaito is a great place to take him for palate expansion. Morita is very personable and positive.

            Of course, he can always go next door to the spiral cut ham store or the little diner if you time it right.

            1. re: geekyfoodie

              I wasn't joking about the ditching the boyfriend part.

              Man Diego can always use more single women.

                1. re: DougOLis

                  skewed data due to large age range.

                  1. re: DougOLis

                    Or maybe attitude/manners adjustment?

                    Sorry, can't resist the jab. Must try harder

          2. snif, snif...sob, sob...

            Actually you you and Mr. Geeky'll do just fine! In spite of the meticulousness of their sushi program and the singular nature of their quality, it's actually one of the most comfortable and least demogic sushi bar that you can go to. No secret decoder rings to wear or any sushi kata to learn. And it's also one of the most social sushi bar scenes I've seen around where everybody seems to know everybody else.

            That's one of the beauties of Kaito for the new customer. They are so easy-going and unpretentious that no one should feel even the least bit timid about dining there for the first time. In fact if there's anything that could be said about the mood that the itamae's set there is that it is one that's best suited to an educational experience. Morita-san is just amazing in his knowledge of fish and their habitats. He'll tell you about each piece you're having, and when asked will tell you so much more. (Though he just might be stumped about the source, seasonality and habitat of the block of cream cheese used in the Philly rolls...)

            Believe me the customer (student) is not expected to know much and there are no pre-requisites! All diners from the "intro to sushi" student to the practicing traditional sushi chef (several local itamae's are also customers of theirs...) will feel comfortable in this environment. I've been going to Morita-san for years and years and I still continue to learn new things from him.

            At most there might be some good-natured ribbing if one requests Americanized rolls, but rather than that they'll usually take eating preferences to heart as a challenge or puzzle to be solved. "Oh, so if you like that, you'll probably like this..." That sort of thing.

            BTW is Mr. Geeky a meat and potatoes kinda guy? If so then definitely ask them if they have Gyutan (beef tongue) or Buta Kakuni (braised pork belly) that night. It's one of the recurring kitchen specialties there at Kaito that's a big hit with many. Or for that matter ask if Morita-san can prepare some Maguro Sugi (tuna gristle). Don't worry about the name or what it is - as soon as Mr. Geeky bites into this he'll swear that he was just transported to his favorite steakhouse!

            It would be a shame to miss the bar experience at Kaito, so by all means saddle up! Mr. Geeky'll do just fine either ordering at the bar items from the kitchen or perhaps a roll or two from the itamae. And as for you, wow, the best meal would be had by just going omakase, after first discussing with them your individual taste preferences.

            And as so many other's have discovered, this is the place to also expand from one's comfort zone. But be forewarned - Kaito's been a spoiler for many! And be prepared to be making return pilgrimages to Encinitas once you've had your first meal there!

            BTW for some reading here's some passionate customer reviews on Yelp for Kaito: http://www.yelp.com/biz/kaito-sushi-e...

            Also you might find it handy to monitor their Sushi Blog of ingredient arrivals. They usually post 1-2 times a week, though they get shipments every day. http://sushikaito.com/SushiBlog.aspx

            BTW Tuesdays and Fridays are when they also get their Tsukiji shipments, so these are the best days to go if you are looking for a huge selection and the most exotic items...

            10 Replies
            1. re: cgfan

              As always, a greatly informative response, Cgfan! Mr. Geeky is definitely more of a meat and potatoes kind of guy, although far less so now that we've been eating healthier. He's expanded his diet to include fish, etc. but the raw aspect of sushi still holds him back a little bit. I think intimidation has a lot to do with trying sushi places, as he always jokes that he feels a little judged. He's not even a big rolls guy, just expanding his palate for Japanese cuisine beyond the American standard of teriyaki and tempura.

              Your post nearly had me walking out of work yesterday to drive straight to Kaito!

              1. re: cgfan

                Having never done omakase before, I find the logistics a little intimidating.
                Do you have to pick your seat at the bar strategically to make sure Morita-san is your itamae?
                I could see this causing some awkwardness while trying to avoid sitting in front of the other sushi chefs.
                Or does sitting at the bar and ordering omakase guarantee that Morita-san will be your sushi chef?

                1. re: jasont

                  Generally at any sushi bar you would place your sushi orders directly to the itamae that you are seated in front of. Your itamae may at his discretion involve some of the other itamaes or kitchen help in order to fulfill your order.

                  As far as sitting in front of Morita-san that'll be easy as he has the station towards the front of the shop, and there are only 2 itamaes at Kaito, Joe-san and Morita-san. Wednesday is the only day that they only have one itamae, and that'll be Morita-san for the whole bar.

                  (What I find awkward are the times when due to a crowded bar I'll wait for a seat in front of Morita-san when there are seats open in front of Joe-san.)

                  1. re: cgfan

                    I enjoy Joe-san's omakase as well. His style is a little different, but the food very similar, and I don't have a preference.

                    1. re: cgfan

                      cgfan, how would you compare Joe-san to Morita-san? (anticipating that we very well end up in a similarly awkward and very hungry position someday....)

                      1. re: cgfan

                        Oddly, the two times I've been there, once a Monday and once a Thursday, Morita-san was the only itamae. In any case, the meals were very good.

                        Most recently:


                        Until I began reading CH, I had never heard the term "omakase" but I had been putting myself in the hands of sushi chefs for years. Sometimes I think it is better for someone new to a sushi bar (or itamae) to give the chef more information when you are asking the chef to create a meal for you. In other words, let the chef know your favorites or dietary restrictions or wishes for the meal before you let the itamae create your meal. Perhaps that's not true omakase, but I think it is likely to yield better results for newbies.

                        1. re: Ed Dibble

                          Thanks for the link, Ed! Any idea if Kirk is ever going to check out Kaito too?

                          BTW I was at Nijiya Market Saturday and it looks like the latest Lighthouse Magazine had a full editorial review of Kaito Sushi. For those interested, here's the title of the piece, written in Japanese:

                          味の特撰街 - 海人 - "和食の神髄ここにあり職人技が光る生粋の江戸前寿司"

                          ...and translated into English:

                          Special Village of Flavors - Kaito Sushi

                          "The pinnacle of Japanese cuisine is here where the Itamae's craftsmanship of Edo-mae sushi shines"

                          ("Special Village of Flavors" is the title to Lighthouse magazine's restaurant review section...)

                          Looked for an on-line version of the full review but apparently Lighthouse magazine does not post the full text of its reviews. However certainly the title sets up for a very glowing review. Would love to translate the entire article but it's too slow-going having to lookup so many Kanjis!

                          1. re: cgfan

                            cgfan, thanks for the translation!

                            1. re: daantaat

                              No prob... And Lighthouse's review provides for interesting reading... Very thorough reportage concentrating on their skillset and philosophy.

                    2. re: cgfan

                      I agree with this - my husband and I tried Kaito for the first time this weekend and we were made to feel completely at ease. At first we didn't undertsand what we were supposed to do - no menus, no boards with specials - but we put ourselves in the very capable hands of the chef and were so glad we did. He asked if we were willing to try anything and then based on what we tried and liked, he would suggest something else. It was a wonderful experience and probably the freshest sushi I have ever had. My husband isn't the most adventurous of sushi eaters - california rolls were exotic to him when we first met but he enjoyed everything. This is truly a hidden gem!

                    3. We always get something cooked. Recently the whole fried baby sole has been outstanding. I also enjoy my braised or roasted fish heads... madai, kinmedai and kurodai. Kaito is very relaxed, I always feel like I am at home there, I think Mr. Geeky might too.
                      baby sole (karei)

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Pablo

                        That's a beautiful shot, Pablo! He'll eat that, for sure. I'm becoming a bit of an addict to fish heads myself... freshly grilled fish cheeks are one of my new obsessions.

                      2. Went there this past weekend with my girlfriend who is pregnant and a friend. My friend and I went omakase while my girlfriend was forced to look on with sad, longing puppy dog eyes at each of our courses and many Sapporos. That being said our itamae and two servers were extremely accommodating. At no time did we feel rushed or feel like we were taking up a spot at the sushi bar especially on a Saturday night.. If anything they were more concerned with what they could bring her. We ate a ton which might've helped!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: daimyo

                          I'm glad to hear that! Mr. G always thought the sushi bar was a no-man's land to him. Cheers to your girlfriend for her restraint! I probably would have pleaded, "Just one bite? Please?!"

                        2. Morita-san is very accomodating and gracious about guests who have food preferences/allergies/strong dislikes. We went w/ a party of 9 once and one of the persons was totally not into sushi. Morita-san and the staff were friendly and helpful to her, serving less "hard-core" sushi and bringing cooked items from the menu to her. Needless to say, the rest of us drooled and fawned over our omakase. I've gone another time w/ a friend who has celiac dz and can't do soy sauce b/c of the wheat. Morita-san was also very accomodating to her, giving her lemon, grated salt and/or preparing her sushi in a different way than ours. It was so intriguing that I wanted to try all her sushi!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: daantaat

                            That's a sign of good customer service all around. Mr. Geeky worries about treading on any sort of unspoken code at a sushi place, so we play it safe. However, all of these posts about Kaito has me dying to try it and, since Mr. G's been working on trying new things, thought it'd be fun to put ourselves in the hands of a great itamae and see what happens. We just wanted to make sure we wouldn't be laughed out of the place.

                          2. So this vegetarian walks into Kaito (no...no...hang on...thats not the punchline)

                            He walks up to Morita-san...stares him straight in the eye and says "Im a vegetarian and I'm here - what happens now?"
                            Morita-san (MS) (without batting an eye): "You're in the wrong place"
                            Defiant vegetarian (DV): "Well maybe, but Im hungry, and Im with friends"
                            MS (sighing): "well - sit down then"
                            DV glances at a menu, orders an Asahi and hears his friend tell MS (who is pretending that DV isn't really there) that he will go with the flow
                            DV: "I willl also just go by what you suggest"
                            MS (nodding wisely): "you like tempura?"
                            DV: "yes"
                            The tempura arrive. Not sure what constitutes the perfect tempura, but whatever it is has to resemble these. Light, fluffy, non-greasy, melt-in-the-mouth.
                            MS: "you like that?"
                            DV: "yes"
                            MS: "you like pickles?"
                            DV: "yes"
                            MS presents a beautiful roll - DV hasn't seen anything quite like it before. the pickles are purple, crisp - this looks like just about every roll he has ever had, but when he eats it, something...happens! Flavors emerge, textures feel more textury. A sour note here, a swet note there. Is this just imagination, or is this roll different somehow? who knows? DV wants to ask more about the roll, but fears the glare of MS.
                            MS: "you like?"
                            DV: "yes"
                            MS: "you like spicy?"...then he stops and before DV can answer, he smirks and says "of course you like spicy! you're Indian!"
                            For the first time that evening, DV sees MS perform. Some cucumber gets sliced finely, as do some jalapenos. They get tossed in a bowl. Some nori goes in. A splash of soy. A squirt of Sriracha (yes…Sriracha). A sprinkle of something…a pinch of something else …he’s moving too fast now! A bowl is placed before DV.
                            MS: “try it – spicy”
                            DV: takes a bite : “wow! What is this called!”
                            MS: “call it whatever you like!”
                            The salad is incredible. Certainly hot, but not burn in the mouth spicy…which is strange because it has a good amount of chopped japapenos and sriracha, but no other spices or anything to temper it down. This is not burning heat. This is complex heat. The kind that doesn’t kick in right away, but after you’re halfway through the food, you feel your scalp start to sweat and a gentle burn in the stomach (not tongue!). But how? There was no slow cooking, hardly any ingredients…how?
                            MS: “ you still hungry? You like butter?”
                            DV (to himself): “butter? at a sushi place?”
                            DV (to MS): “ yes and yes”
                            MS vanishes into the kitchen, re-emerges 5 minutes later
                            MS: “making something special”
                            5 minues later, MS presents a stir-fry of mushrooms with some edamame and rice…sautéed in butter. Rich, fulfilling and again, remarkably flavorful.
                            DV (as he wipes off the last piece of mushroom): “wow! That was filling. I’m done”
                            The formalities are done, check is paid, last drops of beer are drained. DV gets up.
                            DV: “Thank you! That was the best Japanese meal of any kind I have ever had in my life. Next time Im bringing the wife. Shes vegetarian too…”
                            MS: “You give me a headache! Stay away”
                            DV(respectfully): “But you perform better when challenged. No reason why you cant pull this off again”
                            MS: “OK...Come back. If I have any vegetables in the kitchen, you eat…else you go back”
                            DV: “fair enough”
                            DV bows. MS smiles…

                            15 Replies
                            1. re: ipsit

                              Thanks for the post, ipsit. It was quite entertaining!

                              As Morita-san "says" on his website: "A meal at a sushi bar is a conversation between the chef and the customer. Please feel free to tell me about your likes, and even dislikes, so we can both arrive at a unique dining experience tailored just for you." http://sushikaito.com/FromChefMorita....

                              1. re: cgfan

                                This is true - actually, it was that part on the website that made me go there - and I should add that it was your gushings on this board that made me go to their website...!
                                Morita-san is truly a master. I have found that a lot of chefs with practice, can get good at a specific type of cooking, but they don't fare as well when they have to improvise. I am certain, that the meal I ate, would be considered superb by just about anyone...and it had no fish!! Goes without saying that this was not him displaying his mastery, but I think that if he can do things like this without even using fish, then in a broader sense, it is a better indication of his mastery over food and flavors than a great sushi meal.

                                1. re: ipsit

                                  BTW I just returned from a meal at Kaito, and they remembered you well. (You guys sat towards the middle of the counter, on Morita-san's side?)

                                  Incredible meal as usual, with many of the items insanely good (e.g.: Kanpachi, Maguro, Chu Toro, Mirugai, Mekabu, Anago, Yari Ika, Matsushita Uni). Tonight I had:

                                  * Hotaru Ika - firefly squid
                                  * Kanpachi - skipjack
                                  * Hirame - halibut
                                  * Maguro - Blue Fin tuna
                                  * Mirugai - geoduck / giant clam
                                  * Chu Toro - Blue Fin medium-fatty tuna
                                  * Aji - horse mackerel
                                  * Yamakake Tororo - chunks of Blue Fin tuna with ground Yamaimo (mountain yam)
                                  * Yari Ika - Yari squid
                                  * Matsushita Uni - sea urchin from Matsushita, a boutique Uni supplier in L.A.
                                  * Mekabu - Giant Kelp inflorescence
                                  * Anago Tempura - Tempura of salt water eel
                                  * Tororo Soba - buckwheat noodle with ground Yamaimo (mountain yam)
                                  * Kimpira Gobo - burdock root lightly stir-fried in sesame oil with carrots

                                  As much as I had I didn't even get to the live Hotate (scallop). Awesome meal!

                                  1. re: cgfan

                                    cgfan, I thought "Kanpachi" was yellowtail? And "katsuo" is skipjack...

                                    1. re: mayache

                                      Sorry, my mistake...

                                      To correct my post Kanpachi is, well, Kanpachi. I don't know the English equivalent to it, but it is not Yellowtail.

                                      1. re: cgfan

                                        Kanpachi is often referred to as "Amberjack" in English.

                                        1. re: Tripeler

                                          To my knowledge amberjack and yellowtail are the same thing. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese... I guess that is usually referred to as "hamachi" but I have seen "kanpachi" translated as "young yellowtail". Dunno how accurate that is.

                                          FWIW, the wiki for "Kampachi" (which I assume is the same as "kanpachi") redirects to "Yellowtail" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kampachi.

                                          1. re: mayache

                                            There are multiple species of amberjack:

                                            Hamachi (and Buri) usually refer to Japanese amberjack. I think Kanpachi is another species of amberjack, but I am not sure. It's easier to identify fish before they're filleted.

                                            Aji is similarly confusing as it is usually translated as "Spanish mackerel", but is in fact a jack mackerel: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_mac...

                                            The fish you see in Japanese supermarkets is probably Trachurus japonicus; the fresh stuff in sushi bars is probably caught locally and is likely to be Trachurus symmetricus.

                                    2. re: cgfan

                                      That is exactly where we sat. Our visit was about a month ago, so clearly we must have left an impression!
                                      How were the last 2 items from your meal? It sounds awesome.
                                      I wanted to try the sansai, but they were either out of stock, or out of season (cant recall which).
                                      The defiant vegetarian will certainly return!

                                      1. re: ipsit

                                        Yes, as a vegetarian you must get the Tororo Soba (I always get it cold). I really like how they dress theirs with plenty of veg for contrasting texture and taste. It's not the best picture, but this might give you an idea what it's like: http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam... Not sure if you can tell, but it's a huge serving.

                                        Kimpira Gobo is a simple Japanese classic; like this one it often comes without prompting or fanfare and is one of my favorite Okazu during a meal.

                                        Right now the Mekabu is in season and for a vegetarian it is a must get. Not many will have it fresh like at Kaito; it often comes pre-prepared but at Kaito they get in the fresh Mekabu and prepare it themselves. Since they have it fresh it's best enjoyed as Sushi in the form of a Gunkanmaki.

                                        One of my favorite rolls is a Kappa Maki, which is a Hosomaki of thinly cut Kyuuri (Japanese cucumber). I often order this to end my meals.

                                        Another vegetarian roll is a Shiso-maki or a Ume-Shiso, which can either be done as a Hosomaki or a Temaki (narrow or hand roll). As a Temaki it is often elaborated with Yamagobo (pickled burdock root) and Katsuobushi (shaved dried bonito flakes).

                                        And of course you can always request a Nattomaki, or my personal recommendation is to ask for a Nattomaki with sliced Yamaimo, a particularly good combination. Natto is fermented soy beans, and Yamaimo is Japanese mountain yam.

                                        As you can see there is much to eat at a Sushi bar for a vegetarian!

                                        1. re: cgfan

                                          how long is Mekabu in season?
                                          Ume-anything is my favorite...

                                          1. re: daantaat

                                            Good question. Whenever I see it at Kaito I go for it immediately since it never seems to stay around for too long. It's just one of those fleeting seasonal specialties that I get while I can. I'd either call in or try to follow their blog to see when they have it in next.

                                            Daantaat, have you had Mekabu yet? If you haven't you must! It's wonderful!

                                            1. re: cgfan

                                              No, I have not had Mekabu and would love to try it! Just not sure if we'll make it up there before the season is over.

                                2. re: ipsit

                                  awesome report! Maybe we should have a "Defiant Vegetarian" chowdown at Kaito and see what Morita-san does then! :-)

                                  1. re: daantaat

                                    I'm not vegetarian, but it sounds like it'd be fun. Count me in!

                                3. I wrote the above report a month ago, in a burst of inspiration after a remarkable meal, but somehow forgot to post it then!
                                  Nonetheless, it is as current now as it was then.
                                  I'm reviving this old thread, because it seemed to fit best here.
                                  First Super Cocina and now Kaito. Another not-so-vegetarian-friendly bastion of the San Diego food scene is conquered! Fear the vegetarians!

                                  Super Cocina
                                  3627 University Ave., San Diego, CA 92104

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: ipsit

                                    That is a hilarious report ipsit. Thank you very much, you had me laughing my @ss off.

                                    1. re: ipsit

                                      I agree - a great post. Thanks for writing it up.

                                    2. We have a solution for it. It's called girls night out and boys night out. You'll love it.