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Jun 11, 2009 02:36 PM

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:

            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.

            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.