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The Saltwater Eel Master (or, The Easygoing Anti-Sushi Nazi of Kaito Sushi) (San Diego) [Review] w/ Pics!

(Formatted with All Pictures here:
http://exilekiss.blogspot.com/2009/08...

While Summer usually marks a chance for me to visit my friends in San Diego, for some reason, I've never thought about getting recommendations for truly great, Chow-worthy destinations while visiting. Maybe it's because I'm so happy just to see my friends after an extended period of time that I'm focused more on getting down there and hanging out, rather than where and what to eat. (^_^; But this year, I thankfully remembered to gather some recommendations and am glad I was able to finally combine the meeting of friends with good food at the same time in San Diego. :) One of the most interesting recommendations has been for Kaito Sushi.

Thanks to the strong recommendations by cgfan and many other SD Hounds, we eagerly headed over to Encinitas in search of good Sushi. :) One important thing to note is that Kaito Sushi has no sign (except the lettering on its window). So while driving through the massive, stretching mini-mall that it sits in, be on the lookout for the lettering on the window, not for any traditional, lit signage.

Stepping into Kaito Sushi, we're greeted by a slightly disheveled, easygoing person behind the Sushi bar who turns out to be Head Chef Kazuo Morita. A native of Chiba, Japan, Kazuo-san grew up training as a Sushi Chef for years in Tokyo before coming over to the U.S. As I exchange greetings with him in Japanese, he introduces himself as simply "Kazu." When I call him "Kazu-san" he immediately stops me and insists (in Japanese) that I call him "Kazu" only, and drop the "-san"; this is the equivalent of someone named, say, Chef James Smith, insisting that you just call him "Jimmy." It's an act of extreme humility and that one moment summarizes the type of Itamae (Sushi Chef) Kazuo-san is.

(Note: English and Japanese names listed as presented by the Itamae.)

We order the "Omakase" (leaving it up to the Chef), and Kazuo-san starts us with Hirame Sashimi (Thin Slices of Halibut) from the East Coast.

I see Kazuo-san taking the Halibut from the case and notice the Konbu (Kelp). I confirm with Kazuo-san that he prepares the Halibut via Kobujime, having the Halibut rest atop the Konbu helps to infuse the fish with the Kelp's flavors; a nice touch. He serves it topped with fresh Shiso Leaf, a touch of Yuzu Kosho (Spicy Yuzu Citrus Paste), and freshly-grated (hand-grated) Himalayan Pink Salt.

(Here Kazuo-san is pictured hand-grating the Himalayan Pink Salt for another table's order.)

There is unfortunately one piece with gristle/connective tissue, but otherwise, the Hirame is very fresh, mild and nicely paired with the Shiso and Himalayan Salt combination.

Kazuo-san recommends Kikusui Junmai Ginjo Sake from Niigata, Japan to go with our dishes this evening, so we go with his choice. I've had Kikusui many times before: It's a safe, light, relatively smooth Sake with a slightly rough finish, but it's fine given their limited Sake menu.

Our second course arrives minutes later: Katsuo Sashimi (Thin Slices of Skipjack) from Northern Japan. The Katsuo itself has been quickly seared on the skin side, resulting in a nice textural mix between the crisped Skipjack Skin and the meaty, tender inside. The Katsuo inherently has a more pungent aroma, but the classic pairing with Shoga (Ginger) and Negi (Green Onions) help to neutralize the stronger aspects and enhance each bite.

During the course of the evening, it's apparent Kazuo-san is truly a unique individual: Very humble and self-effacing and really friendly. :) When he learned that we arrived from L.A., he apologizes immediately, saying he's sorry that he doesn't have any special fish just for our long journey over here. He continues and says that whatever fresh fish he has, he serves to all of his customers. :) He also humbly insists that Kaito Sushi isn't special or flashy, but he hopes that we enjoy our dinner.

Next up is a little appetizer - an original creation - by Kazuo-san made up of Ika (Squid) with Konbu (Kelp) tossed with Tobiko (Flying Fish Roe) and a little Sesame Oil. It's a relatively simple dish done very well; not too salty, with a great textural exploration between the Ika, Konbu and Tobiko, with the chew of the Squid, the soft, gelatinous nature of the Kelp and the little crunch explosions of the Flying Fish Roe.

But the next course is what makes Kaito Sushi (and Kazuo-san) shine: Anago Tempura (Saltwater Eel) from Japan, hand-filleted from a whole Anago by Kazuo-san himself! (The vast majority of places have these pre-cut because of the hassle of the tiny bones in Anago.)

Taking a bite, the Tempura batter is very light and crisp. It's cooked at a good temperature, as the Tempura (thankfully) retains very little oil (unlike too many places in So Cal these days). But the Anago itself is so fresh, slightly buttery and creamy, with a good flakiness still, and simply enjoyable. :) I also love the fact that they serve part of the Spine of the Anago, fried until the bone easily breaks apart in a satisfying crunch with one bite. One of the best renditions of Anago Tempura I've ever had.

The next dish continues the excellence with Ikura (Salmon Roe) from Canada. The Ikura look strangely darker than what I'm used to seeing, and it turns out that Kazuo-san marinates them in a homemade Shoyu (Soy Sauce) mixture before serving. This turns out to be a surprisingly mild, mellow pop of oceanic, liquidy goodness. :) The texture of the Ikura is outstanding with that soak in the homemade Shoyu: It has a slightly more saturated gelatinous shell (moreso than normal) but gives way with just the slightest effort. Delicious!

We're presented with some simple Tsukemono of Pickled Cucumbers at this point. The Cucumbers are refreshingly cool, bright and have a great snap with each bite.

Next up is Kinmedai (Golden Eye Snapper) from New Zealand.

The Kinmedai has a gorgeous texture, going beyond the softness of a good Maguro (Tuna), but retaining enough musculature to give it a standout mouthfeel. The mildness of the Kinmedai also allowed me to really focus on the Shari (Sushi Rice): It's a decent blend, not too sweet or salty for my tastes, and much better than the last outing at Sushi Zo.

We move on to Kaki Furai (Fried Kumamoto Oysters).

The Oysters are served immediately out of the fryer, so they're still piping hot. Taking a bite causes a flavor explosion of a very hot, beautiful oceanic brininess, with a great crust. Excellent. :)

Continuing on, Kazuo-san presents us with Ika (Squid) from the East Coast, and Tako (Octopus) from Japan. Unfortunately, the Ika is extremely chewy with lots of "gristle / connective tissue" throughout. My guests all confirm the same result. :( This has to be one of the worst pieces of Ika I've had in the last ~4-5 years, a far cry from the legendary creaminess of the Ika at Sushi Mizutani in Tokyo.

The Tako (Octopus) from Japan fares much better, being very juicy and extremely clean-tasting. There's a good chew (nothing as distracting as the Ika thankfully) and the Shari is a good match here. I prefer the Mizudako (Great Octopus) from Aomori at Mori Sushi over this preparation, but it's a solid offering.

The next dish erases the badness from the Squid in one beautiful bite: Kanpachi (Amberjack) from Kyushu, Japan.

Taking a bite... amazing! (^_^) There's this gorgeous, creamy, softness, but there's also this viscosity to the Kanpachi that really makes it shine (beyond something that's only "meltingly tender"). This is probably my second favorite Kanpachi after Urasawa.

Kazuo-san continues with an interesting Roll: Aoyagi Uni Maki (Orange Clam + Sea Urchin Roll), with the Aoyagi from the East Coast, and the Uni from San Diego.

I wasn't sure if this would work, but the combination is spot-on: There's a great, mild, sweet creaminess from the very fresh Uni that coats and supports the crisp crunch from the Aoyagi. The Cooked Seaweed topping adds the perfect finish with a light salty, savory touch.

The next dish is a nice surprise: Kamasu (Barracuda) from Shizuoka, Japan. Kazuo-san shows off 2 preparations side-by-side, both of them feature a lightly torched, crisped skin, but the topping is slightly different.

We start with the Kamasu (Barracuda) topped with the spicy Yuzu Kosho. This is definitely a firmer, meatier dish: The strong aroma in the meat stands up really well to the equally powerful Yuzu Kosho.

I prefer the Kamasu topped with Shoga (Ginger) and Negi (Green Onions) in terms of flavor, but sadly a big piece of gristle shows up in this second piece for me. Overall, Kamasu isn't something I'd be seeking out next time, but I'm glad I tried Kazuo-san's preparation.

In another of Chef Kazuo's interesting foibles, he excuses himself and dashes off for a smoke break(!). It's at once slightly shocking, odd, funny, and charming that this humble Sushi Chef has to have smoke breaks throughout the evening.

When he comes back, we're presented with the always lovely Chutoro (Medium-fat Bluefin Tuna Belly) from Spain. The good, lush butteriness comes through immediately, lightly sweet and very good.

In what has to be the strangest pacing moves I've ever experienced in a traditional Sushi bar, Kazuo-san presents us with... Tamago (Egg) before the end of the sushi course(!). Usually, a Sushi Chef's Tamago is a good test of their skills, but I'm glad it's not 100% the case, because the Tamago that we got was (I apologize in advance for the harshness, but I have to be honest) completely *awful*. This is the worst Tamago I've ever had in a traditional, upper echelon Sushi restaurant. :( The Egg was dried out, mealy and slightly crumbly. It tasted like it had been sitting for days.

With the Tamago coming out, we had thought that it signaled the end of the meal, but imagine our surprise when it continued with Aoyagi (Orange Clam) from the East Coast. This was a good rebound from the disastrous Tamago (Egg), reflecting a great crispness to the Aoyagi, along with a beautiful tender portion as well.

Continuing with the odd pacing, Kazuo-san serves us Maguro (Bluefin Tuna)(!) (after serving us Chutoro) from South Africa. This is a good preparation of Tuna: Very soft, creamy and pure. It's a straightforward cut and preparation, but I prefer the Maguro at Maki Zushi, Sushi Zo, Mori and Mizutani over this one.

But after experiencing all the dishes, in hindsight, I'd have to say that Kaito Sushi's "Tamago" (finisher) is fittingly their best dish as well: Anago (Saltwater Eel) Sushi from Japan, presented 2 ways.

After experiencing the bliss that was the Anago Tempura earlier, I was really looking forward to the Sushi version. The first preparation is Kazuo-san's hand-filleted Saltwater Eel topped with the Himalayan Pink Salt and a little Yuzu Kosho. It's so focused and fresh and pure. Excellent.

But it's the 2nd preparation of Anago with their made-from-scratch Tsume Sauce (the broth that the Anago is cooked in, with Mirin, Soy Sauce, Sugar and other ingredients) that really shines: The absolutely luscious creaminess of the freshly filleted Anago gently touched by the addictive, lightly sweet and savory Tsume Sauce. This is easily the best Anago I've had in the U.S., eclipsed only by Mizutani-sensei's preparation in Tokyo. Delicious! (^_^)

But continuing with the odd pacing - and to be fair, maybe because Kazuo-san and Joe-san wanted us to try their best dishes - we're served... Buta no Kakuni (Stewed Pork Belly)! Wow. I've never had Buta no Kakuni during a Sushi Omakase dinner before, but it somehow fits Kaito's capricious style. :)

I love Buta no Kakuni in general, so I didn't mind (^_~). Kaito Sushi's version of this great Pork Belly dish is very good, with the Pork tasting fresh (made that day), savory and sweet, but probably a bit too sweet for my tastes. It's also just a touch too chewy in a couple bites, but overall the Pork has a good tenderness.

We finish with Ohagi (Sweet Rice Wrapped by Sweetened Red Bean). Their Ohagi turns out to be a decent version: Fresh with a good amount of Sweetened Rice, but a bit too sweet.

Service at Kaito Sushi is one of its weaknesses, unfortunately. There's only 1 server who also acts as the busboy, taking care of the Sushi bar customers and tables, so as a result, our drinks were never refilled, our plates started to stack up(!), and we had to get the attention of the server multiple times throughout the evening to help clear the plates and get refills. With only 1 person it's understandable, but it's not very pleasant. It's a far cry from the service at every other good Sushi restaurant I've dined in So Cal and Japan.

The total cost for Omakase turned out to be ~$150 per person (including tax and tip). With only 2 cups of Sake ordered, that price is more expensive than Shibucho (Costa Mesa), Sushi Zo, Sasabune and Nozawa.

Ultimately, Kaito Sushi delivers some surprisingly good Sushi, in an area that I wasn't sure what to expect. While there are some big disappointments (e.g., Ika, Tamago), and some strange pacing issues with the fish, there are also some great highlights, most notably the amazing Anago (Saltwater Eel) preparations, easily the best I've had in So Cal.

But beyond that, and more importantly to some, is the Itamae (Sushi Chef): Kazuo Morita-san is the Anti-Sushi Nazi. :) He's humble, friendly (he memorized every customer's name, and multiple times throughout the evening he addressed them by their name and asked if they were doing OK, if they wanted anything else), and quirky (taking multiple smoke breaks; the idiosyncratic movements of his Sushi preparation that have to be seen to be appreciated :).

Unlike the angry, pensive, infamous Sushi Nazis in L.A. (Nozawa, Sasabune, Sushi Zo), Kaito Sushi's Kazuo-san is truly the polar opposite. For perspective, the legendary Sushi Mizutani is still my favorite, followed by Urasawa and Mori Sushi. While Kaito Sushi isn't in the same league, I'm happy to have tried Kaito Sushi. Kazuo-san makes you feel like a friend that's coming over for a casual dinner on a weeknight. And that alone makes me more than happy to come back again and again if I'm in the area. :)

*** Rating: 7.9 (out of 10.0) ***

Kaito Sushi
130-A N. El Camino Real
Encinitas, CA 92024
Tel: (760) 634-2746

Hours: Mon - Thurs, 4:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Fri - Sat, 4:00 p.m. - (10:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m., depending on how busy they are)
Closed Sundays.

http://sushikaito.com/

 
 
 
 
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    4 Replies
    1. re: exilekiss

      This is cruel! You've given me a major sushi craving and I'm drooling all over the keyboard but there's nothing I can do because it's nine thirty at night! What a wonderful report! Really, my stomach is growling and I've just finished dinner. Thank you for such detail; I could practically taste each item through your descriptions. But, please, next time post in the morning so we can make plans for the same evening ;-).

      1. re: SDgirl

        Hi SDgirl,

        Hehehe, thanks. (^_^; I hope you enjoy your dinner at Kaito. Let us know what your favorites turn out to be. :)

      2. re: exilekiss

        Great review and great pictures! You're spot on with your description of Morita-san as well. I too have posted pictures on flickr. Feel free to check them out.

        http://www.flickr.com/photos/renandro...

        1. re: rquitaso

          Hi rquitaso,

          Thank you. :) I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed your meal at Kaito as well. Gorgeous pics! Thanks for sharing. :)

      3. Adding Chow Place link.

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        Kaito Sushi
        130-A N El Camino Real, Encinitas, CA 92024

        1. exilekiss, I think you've earned the title of sushi expert on this board, alongside cgfan, who was responsible for us 'hounds finding out about Kaito and discovering what great sushi was all about! Thanks for a detailed, educated review!

          1 Reply
          1. re: daantaat

            Hi daantaat,

            No no, I'm no expert on the matter. (^_^; Thanks for all the SD Hounds' recommendation of Kaito. At least now I have a friendly, reliable neighborhood Sushi bar to stop by whenever I visit my friends in SD. :)

          2. Nice review. Kaito was on my list for some time now but I have only read reviews on CH from the same 2-3 people which sounded often way too much like hype (like Kaito would be one of the best restaurants in California) and I was particular interested to read an opinion from somebody "new". It was also interesting to read some prices for the omakase. At ~$150 (which is roughly the same level as some of the tasting menus of some of my favorites restaurants, e.g. Providence where I had just a few days ago an outstanding chefs menu of close to six hours for $160 with some of the best service) I was very surprised in a negative way how many disappointments you experienced during just one omakase including a non-existing service. At that price point (independently if it is Italian, French, Sushi etc.) I expect perfection in terms of kitchen execution and service. Kaito seems far from that level.

            29 Replies
            1. re: honkman

              I am one of the people you must be referring too.... $150 is not the norm, exilekiss can obviously eat quite a bit. There is no set omakase menu, he stops when you want him to stop. I have even heard of some customers being able to eat up to $300 per person. So Honkman, you have been on CH long enough and never tried Kaito, what's stopping you? Where is your favorite sushi spot in SD anyway?

              1. re: honkman

                If you like dining in LA, I had some really interesting sushi at this place in Venice called Shima. You might like it, very creative stuff, but not in a Harney Sushi way. They polish their own brown rice, make their own tofu, etc. I read about it on the LA board, and was pretty happy with my experience there.

                1. re: honkman

                  We did Kaito a few weeks ago and for two, including 2 beers, was about $170 w/ tax and tip. We were very full at the end and didn't notice how the "fullness" crept up on us until the very end, leaving me no room for an ume roll. The slowness of the waitstaff service is an issue. However, given the relaxed atmosphere coupled w/ the high quality of the sushi and what I would consider reasonable prices for the quality of fish and cooking, I can let the service issues go. When we've needed water, drinks or whatever, it gets taken care of as soon as we call attention to it.

                  I would have stronger issues w/ their service if I was paying $100+/head for a fancier (read: atmosphere) restaurant that screamed "good food, good service" and ended up w/ bad, "holier than thou" service. eg: going to Market or Addison-like place and getting bad service.

                  1. re: daantaat

                    I think that bad service (and by reading exilekiss review Kaito seems to be really bad) is a major issue independently of the price of the food. But at $170 I could get good food at numerous places with good service, so to be honest I don't understand your point why having bad service at Kaito is less an issue than at any other place (Especially if Kaito is regarding their prices at the higher end). Even you write that things get taken care of as soon as we call attention to it. That's normally not a good sign of service if you have to call attention to it.

                    1. re: honkman

                      My point w/ my being more tolerant of Kaito's slow service (aka "laid back") is that IMO, they don't market themselves as a flashy, high-end venue where you have to dress up in business casual (or more) to have a meal. I'm not saying that I don't appreciate good service. It's that I expect it at places like Donovan's, Market, Blanca, Addison, etc. but am willing to be more forgiving at a place like Kaito b/c the atmosphere is laid back, relaxed and more important, what Morita-san puts out is pretty darn good and for an excellent price. I am pretty sure if we did the same omakase menu elsewhere (ie: Japengo, Zenbu, etc), we'd have paid a good 25-30% higher and for worse sushi and more attentive service. Between the options, I'm willing to forgo the slower service and get a great meal.

                      There may be another part of me that is accustomed to having slower, less-attentive service at Asian-owned and run eateries. I'm not above calling for the waitstaff to refill my water glass or bring hot tea in a busy dim sum joint.

                  2. re: honkman

                    If you think cgfan has any affiliation based on his enthusiastic Kaito reviews, you should check out his coffee fanaticism, you would think he owns a coffee empire in Costa Rica!

                  3. re: honkman

                    Hi honkman,

                    Thanks. :) I love Providence as well and agree that at the price we paid for Kaito, there were a few more hiccups (including service) that I wouldn't have expected. But I would say, if you happen to be in the area, it might be worth stopping by and trying it to see your own impressions of Kaito.

                    1. re: honkman

                      My visits to Kaito have averaged $70/person, FYI.

                      1. re: Josh

                        Hi Josh,

                        Thanks for your input. :) Wow, so you get charged $70 per person, is that including any Alcohol, Tax and decent Tip as well? If it is, I'm a bit shocked that we were charged $150 per person, but I guess it's not surprising:

                        As an FYI in L.A., there are numerous Sushi Bars whose Omakase Prices magically change from customer-to-customer and day-to-day. :( And we didn't even get any Awabi (Abalone) or rare Wagyu, etc. Interesting.

                        1. re: exilekiss

                          IIRC, my meals at Kaito with my s.o. have generally been about $70/person, and that's only doing omakase - no alcohol, no tip. I bring my own beer, since Kaito allows that and I'm not a big fan of industrial light lager.

                          Reading your list of what you had though, it sounds like you got about twice as much food as we do when we go.

                      2. re: honkman

                        By no means is $150 the norm at Kaito. For me I'd say at most it's usually half that, and on average 1/3 of that give or take a bit. I simply cannot put away that much in one sitting, even more so during the summer months.

                        So Morita-san and I already have an understanding which I would recommend to anyone else at Kaito to fully enjoy their experience. Unless you have a very big appetite there are many days in which one simply cannot fully consume the bounty that they have on offer (particularly on Tuesdays and Fridays, then Wednesdays and Saturdays) unless you request to be served 1 piece per item during your Omakase course.

                        So when I dine I no longer have to say anything. If there's a big selection Morita-san will automatically serve me 1 piece per item, and if there's a smaller selection that day it'll be 2 pieces per item. It all makes perfect sense and allows me to always experience their full "best of" offering even on a limited appetite.

                        1. re: honkman

                          Honkman, take Kaito for what it is, a neighborhood sushi bar and very good one at that. Exilekiss may be a little pissed off because they spent $150 per person and expected better service. Notice exilekiss other reviews from down here and there is no mention of service. It's a neighborhood sushi bar for goodness sakes, not a Michelin starred restaurant.

                          1. re: Pablo

                            It's not a Michelin starred restaurant but with $75/person (to take a lower number) a quite expensive restaurant. I see a lot of people complaining about service at Linkery, Cafe Chloe, Cavaillon, Farmhouse Cafe etc. and I hardly spent $75/person in any of them. I think for every restaurant the price defines what to expect in terms of food and service and $75/person, at least for me, is beyond just a small neighborhood restaurant.

                            1. re: honkman

                              I'm not even sure what your point is. That because this one person found some negative aspects to the service, the restaurant is therefore not worth visiting?

                              1. re: Josh

                                I never said it is not worth visiting it but I don't understand the logic of saying just because people describe it as a neighborhood restaurant (and it doesn't matter for me if it is sushi, italian, chinese, french etc.) that service doesn't matter (and I am aware that service (or what you expect from it) is different for everybody and I won't describe it again after it was deleted the last time). Whereas other neighhborhood restaurants which serve also great food with high quality ingredients (for the same price or less) are often critized for having not so bad service for that money spend. I am just curious to understand if the difference is that people are expecting less service at a neighborhood Sushi place than for example neighborhood french place. And if this is the case, why ?

                                1. re: honkman

                                  I guess it does matter for me if it is sushi, italian, chinese, french etc.

                                  I see service in a sushi bar a bit differently than in a French Bistro. I tend to not think so much about beverages, plate clearing, and the check but focus on the sushi chef. I go maybe 15% wait staff and 85% guy with knife.

                                  Kazu tends to be so personable that I don't really notice so much, that being said, I personally have always had very good service. The white guy who does most of the service disappears once in a while, I figure he's in back tweeting or facebooking, but he always comes back in time to re-fill drinks and clear plates.

                                  I guess if I had a kitchen table and could talk to the chefs while they're slamming out a meal, I'd probably have the same attitude for western restaurants. And when I go to a Chinese restaurant I count myself lucky if I get a water refill.

                                  1. re: thirtyeyes

                                    thirtyeyes, I agree with everything you said!

                                  2. re: honkman

                                    I would say that I have different expectations, but then I always sit at the sushi bar because I want omakase. As a result, I've always gotten what I feel to be good service at sushi places.

                                    1. re: Josh

                                      As an original Kaito "regular" I find this all quite amusing. I see one review based upon one visit and a lot of speculation (some from people who openly state they are not even sushi diners). I must agree that my expectations when dining on sushi (be it Kaito, Urasawa or truly anywhere else) are much different than for any other form of dining, whether it is Indian, French, Korean, or even Chinese. Sushi is about the fish and the itamae period for me. I am happy to have the privilege of dining at Kaito. Honestly, I often almost feel as if I am not quite worthy of Morita-san's talents. I find it odd that Exilekiss didn't enjoy the Ika, as the type Morita-san knows I like has always been very good. It must have been an odd night, as that is usually a specialty. The tamago as well. I do find it plausible however - things happen. I do not (and would not) sit at a table. I have had my glass refilled many times and there are also times I must flag the waiter down. There are times I have had impeccable service with plates taken just as I am finishing the last piece of fish and other times when I make a neat pile of plates on my own eagerly making space for the next offering. At any restaurant that does not serve sushi it is for me almost all about the service. It is odd in my many years of dining to find an impeccable meal, one simply above reproach unless it has been sushi. There is always going to be one or two items that either could have been better made by my husband or just a kitchen snafu of one sort or the other. In a fine dining establishment the service must be perfect for me to enjoy my meal at all as the food always will leave me wishing for something more from it. If I don't have the service at these other restaurants I am left with a so-so meal and a bad experience at the front of house, too. As my stomach and my taste buds are more important, I will gladly trade my money for a spectacular sushi festival with less than stellar service for a so-so meal anywhere else with service reaching the perfection level. I feel as if some are comparing apples and oranges as they say. Sushi is a breed of food and a restaurant experience of its own. Fine dining it may be, but a fine dining establishment? Not really in my opinion. I take it for what it is and I feel quite fortunate to be in an age that it is still available at a reasonable cost. Sushi price is obviously based upon current market price and availability and I know it is just a matter of time before sushi either becomes too expensive to enjoy or there simply won't be a supply of my favorite fish left to eat. Take it for what it is and if you aren't a sushi eater, maybe you might consider that you are missing a few key elements while posting about the pros and cons of a sushi bar.

                                      1. re: notsomuch

                                        Some very good points, notsomuch. When I first read exilekiss' review I also found it odd regarding the comments about the squid, and, I must say, about the Tamago-yaki and the Tako. While I believe exilekiss' reaction to the meal to be genuine, (I have no reason to doubt her interpretation of the meal), I was left with the lingering suspicion that it was more a matter of not knowing what to expect given the wide variety of styles of squid or Tamago-yaki that are on offer at a Sushi bar like Kaito.

                                        For squid alone there is a whole panoply of varieties, each of which delivers different expectations. In Japanese dining texture is as much appreciated as any other sensory component, and thus some squid are appreciated for its toothy bite while others are appreciated for its almost unctuous and slimy (a slimy texture has no off connotations in Japanese cuisine, BTW) softness.

                                        I always ask Morita-san, if he hasn't already informed me, what variety of squid is being served. Each has a different profile of texture and flavor, and each should be appreciated referencing one's knowledge of the particular variety being served. Of course beyond these species-based expectations one can have their preferences, but to be fair to the Sushi shop such evaluations needs to take in to consideration the specific species being served. Unless the customer knows enough to inform the chef what varieties of Ika they prefer, it's difficult to criticize being served Ika just because it's of a type that is not to their particular liking.

                                        As to the Tako, the standard Tako offering at Kaito is far superior to almost all Tako being served at most Sushi bars. But it is a different species altogether than the Mizudako that exilekiss prefers. Kaito Sushi also serves Mizudako too.

                                        Like any good Sushi bar Kaito Sushi is not a Sushi bar that has the same items in the case at every time of year. Any diner at a traditional Sushi bar must know that the lack of any particular item does not mean they do not offer it at all; it's just a matter of what they were able to bring in at the time, its quality, and the season. And again most importantly each must be judged separately according to the species expectations. I would never think less of a Sushi bar for serving an excellent Tako just because I prefer a different species that happens to not be in their case.

                                        The same thing with respect to the Tamago. There are many different styles of Tamago-yaki, and one must evaluate the offering with respect to the style.

                                        I don't mean to imply that exilekiss does not know these things; it could very well be that exilekiss knew what species was being served and rated it according to expectations for that species. But without a specific reference in the post to that one must also consider the possibility that it was being compared against some prototypical "generic" squid profile, something that does not make sense when we are talking about Sushi at this level.

                                        (In a sense if one has very fixed expectations for each generic type of Sushi, e.g.: "Ika" versus "Yari-ika", "Sumi-ika", "Monga-ika", "Hotaru-ika", etc., then the generic Sushi bar that only serves commodity varieties is probably more in order for such a diner.)

                                        1. re: cgfan

                                          Thank you, cgfan, for the kind words and for giving me the names of the ika I so enjoy (I could not recall them). For me it is the Yari-ika. I often enjoy the Sumi-ika, too, but the texture for me can vary to be a little too "chewy" at times for my taste. Morita-san knows this and only serves me ika if it is of the variety he knows I will enjoy. I barely say a word to him in all honesty during my meals other than idle chatting or compliments to him. He knows me so well at this point that it is no longer required. He has also educated me over the years as well. I also must add that I forgot to mention the Tako. I had never cared for Tako in any capacity until I started dining at Kaito. Morita-san gave me a sample a while back and I have liked it ever since. I would probably not dare try it elsewhere however. I am looking forward to my next dinner now after all this talk....

                                          1. re: cgfan

                                            Hi cgfan,

                                            Thanks for your detailed reply. To clarify, I do appreciate and understand different varieties of Ika, Tako and Tamago. :) The Ika was simply one of the chewiest examples of Ika I've ever run across. It wasn't about the right chew, it was pretty unpleasant (bad cut, lots of connective tissue).

                                            The Tamago - I've had many interpretations from the insanely delightful cake-like version from Mizutani-sensei to some pretty incredible multi-layered dense creations - the Tamago served to us that night was pretty awful. It wasn't about a different interpretation. It tasted old (like sitting around for a long time).

                                            Overall, please don't take my thoughts as Kaito being a "bad" place at all. If you read my review, I generally really liked the restaurant and have kept a pretty positive attitude throughout IMHO. I would be glad to go back and see Morita-san again and again if I'm in the area.

                                            I just had to point out some slight bumps in the road to an otherwise good evening. It would be dishonest to myself and my dining guests if I didn't list any negative things that happened, and only the positive.

                                            1. re: exilekiss

                                              "I would be glad to go back and see Morita-san again and again if I'm in the area."

                                              Certainly I read your opening post in very much the same way, and I'll say again as I think it was deleted that it was an enjoyable read. One of my pet peeves are reviews that are void of any objective reasoning to support one's conclusions. Though I'm sure honkman would disagree I make a particular point in my posts to clearly elucidate why I think such and such is or is not a good Sushi bar, and clearly you do as well. There are far too many posts along the lines of "Sushi bar A is the bomb!" and then silence/crickets/end of story.

                                              It's unfortunate that there were such lengthy sub-threads off of your opening post which turned so heated and negative. It certainly does not reflect on your opening post nor on your objectiveness. A reply I made to hokman's post that got deleted made a point of my dismay that your post was being unfairly burdened by being the sole base for a very off-topic sub-thread that took on a negative tone that had little to do with your post.

                                              What I feel is missing from this thread, and by its nature this will have to be left as just a rhetorical comment, is a word from Morita-san. I would love to hear his side of the story as he is one who will not serve things that are in his case that he feels is not up to par. (And more than likely there's a very good explanation for it. It probably would have been best to point it out to him at the time...)

                                              Of course an element of this could be that this treatment may not always apply to new customers, but I find he is usually very judicious about such items even with new customers and may only serve less than Kaito-standard items, if absolutely necessary, to uninformed "roll eaters". I hestitate to say too much here as I do not know and I don't to be unfair to either your review or to Kaito, but consider it as a possibility that a return customer may not have been served the same items.

                                              (BTW did the "sub-par" items come at the very end of your meal? I know that with Kaz if a customer's appetite is larger than the offerings that he considers to be par, he will somehow subtly hint at a clean break that the rest of the meal would be more capricious and improvisational, whereas before the break everything would have been delivered as he would have wished.

                                              He'll usually drop a subtle hint or start asking the customer is there anything else they'd like if this is a customer that started on an Omakase course. It is at this time too that he'll often combine existing ingredients into a new but strictly Umami-driven combination and serve it up as a Temaki. It is during these times that one may notice an odd sequencing of items, but as usual it all becomes understandable in its proper context...)

                                              1. re: cgfan

                                                From someone who visits SD occasionally, I've enjoyed the posts from the SD regulars, whether they agree or not. As tastes vary, so do opinions and CH is a great place to explore these. cgfan, I think it was your review--along with a couple others--that alerted me to Kaito and it's one of my go-to places for SD. =) I had my expectations pretty high up, and that's not always a good place to start, since the only other place my opinion can go is down. So, EK's review (which I often find VERY thorough) brought it down a few notches; this is a good thing since I'll more likely go in with a realistic expectation.

                                                I like EK's reviews. Though I don't always agree with his assessments, I HIGHLY respect them. (eg, he gave a great review on Maki Zushi in Costa Mesa which I found to be good but not great. However, we both agree [IIRC] that Maki Zushi has more variety than most OC/LA sushi-yas.) On the LA boards, he'll go to a restaurant two, three or four times before he posts a review (w/pics) to give it a more thorough perspective. He probably didn't have the time to do that here and possibly tried to get as much as he could in one sitting. And if you check out his website, he's eaten far & wide, so he's not going in with a limited perspective.

                                                As an OC resident, I like an outsider's perspective when they give a road-trip or vacation review on an OC restaurant. It's fresh. Although sometimes I'm saddened when my favourite isn't someone elses. I think this might be where you're at, so I know how you feel. It could've been an off night. Or maybe Kaito's offerings didn't match EK's palate. Who knows...tastes are VERY subjective.

                                                Anyway, I have to thank you cgfan (et al) for your reviews on the SD boards; they shape the way I choose restaurants we go to. Keep 'em coming! =)

                                                1. re: OCAnn

                                                  Hi OCAnn,

                                                  No, no, you give me too much credit. _(._.)_ But thanks for the kind words. :) (And definitely agreed that I look forward to reading more of cgfan's and others reviews of new places to try in San Diego! :)

                                                  1. re: exilekiss

                                                    Thanks exilekiss; the feeling's mutual I'm sure I'm not alone by saying that I hope you'll post again on the occasion of a follow-up Kaito visit!

                                                  2. re: OCAnn

                                                    Thanks OCAnn. I may have thousands of words to offer, but only one palate. Glad it helps, and I hope you'll share your findings here on the occasion of your first Kaito visit!

                                                  3. re: cgfan

                                                    Hi cgfan,

                                                    Ah, I never saw your first post (I'm saddened). :( (it must've been deleted as you said.) Thank you for your thoughtful reply, and like OCAnn states below, I value your opinion and it was because of you and a few other SD Hounds that I put Kaito immediately on my list of "must try" places when I visited my friends in SD this time. :)

                                                    Thank you for pointing out the "subtle hints" of an Itamae; I'm definitely aware of them and in this case, "no" I didn't catch any subtle hint from Morita-san on this subject. (And just as an FYI, I'm definitely not the "crazy roll" type of customer (^_~).)

                                                    So that we don't belabor the point, I wanted to say (to all the SD Hounds who recommended Kaito), I enjoyed my dinner with Morita-san. :) I would gladly eat with him again over LA's much-vaunted and much-beloved Sushi Zo and the Sushi Nazi that is their Itamae, Keizo-san. I'd dine here over the most infamous "great Sushi bar / Sushi Nazi in LA" in Nozawa. :)

                                                    I wish I had a Kaito Sushi in my neighborhood as it'd be a place I'd gladly stop by for good quality Sushi and a *great* Itamae. It just wasn't a perfect evening, but then again, every restaurant will have hiccups and palates will vary. Thanks. :)

                                    2. re: Pablo

                                      Hi Pablo,

                                      Please don't put words in my mouth. I enjoy your thoughts on Chowhound and hope you respect my thoughts based on my experience as well. I never said "I'm pissed because I spent $150 per person and expect better service." Where did I say that? I would've mentioned the service even if I paid only $20 per person.

                                      There are certain minimal expectations at a Sushi bar that I have (or at least have been lucky enough to encounter), from the cheapest Sushi bar in Nakano, Tokyo (like ~$25 per person) to simple neighborhood places in LA/OC to the fancier ones like Urasawa. This wasn't the case of just having the tea or drinks not refilled once or twice, it was the entire night (over ~2.5 hours or so), and having all of our plates after being done just sitting there, stacking up. I don't mind eating with stacks of plates around me or having to get hot tea myself if need be, but those are things I've usually encountered at simpler hole-in-the-walls, but this is a rare case for Sushi bars (at least the ones I've been to). I just wanted to mention it as it's something important for some people. Thanks!

                                  3. Wow exilekiss, you can really put it away!! 9 pairs of sushi, 2 plates of sashimi, anago tempura and oysters and buta!! Great review!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Pablo

                                      Hi Pablo,

                                      Actually some of those Sushi were shared (i.e., not 2 pieces of every Sushi per person) IIRC. I actually don't eat that much but realized in hindsight that my guests and I never "cried uncle" to Kazuo-san. We were talking and enjoying the evening (we spaced it out over the whole evening... 2.5 hours?), but even then we were far more full than even Urasawa or the unlimited Chef's Menu at Providence... I think them ending with Buta no Kakuni (which we didn't order... it was just served to us to cap the evening?) did us in. :)

                                      But overall, I enjoyed my time at Kaito Sushi; I'm happy to have a standby now when I'm visiting my friends there. :)