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Aug 27, 2009 11:12 PM

Oton near Convoy (SD), First look! New branch of Okan

Just tried out Oton on Kearny Villa Rd near Convoy. This is a new branch affiliated with Okan, but specializing in grilled seafood and meats. Didn't see any other reviews so far, and this place definitely deserves one. Photos included!

According to the ad in the Japanese Yuyu, this is obata-style grill specializing in "fresh fish", "just picked produce", "Japanese sake". Robata grill is the same kind of specialty as "Gonpachi" in Beverly Hills and Azabu Tokyo (where Koizumi took Bush). I've tried those locations, and I'd say this is better than Gonpachi in Beverly Hills but comparable to Gonpachi in Azabu Tokyo, with a different emphasis.

The location is where the old Osaka Kitchen used to be. Like Sakura's, they don't have any obvious signage except for a stand next to the door in Japanese. It's near Shogun's, which has a ginormous sign a few doors down. They appeal to Japanese clientelle, which in my experience is usually a good thing!

First off, they have awesome beer on tap ($3.50 Sapporo), as good or (in my opinion) better than a brewery like Karls Strauss. Served ice cold with a bit of fine foam on top. I can only assume I just like Japanese and European beer more. That said Japan and Europe take beer seriously, and this place and Tsuruhashi are so far the SD restaurants I plan to re-order beer from.

From the bar you can see their specials. I started off with 2 vegetable kushiage sticks (deep fried), one eggplant and one organic brussel sprouts. This was perfect, as good as you'd get in a top end Kushiage bar in downtown Tokyo (Marunouchi). They're $4 for the pair, which is on par with a good Kushiage place. I think the brussel sprouts are from Chino, just judging from the size and intense flavor. Definitely a re-order in the future.

I also ordered the fish kushiage, which today was the cheek of a fish (it looked like rock cod, but didn't recognize the Japanese). I'm partial to fish cheek but it's fairly ethnic and it might not be for you if you mind bones.

Next is what I'm sure most of you will love - rare wagyu beef tongue. For those that haven't tried it, it's sliced beef tongue seared and left semi-rare inside - very tender and flavorful. Similar to a tender filet but with more flavor and a taste unique to beef tongue. They know what they're doing, and it turned out perfect.

Lastly, the best part of the meal were the oysters. You can have them raw, or grilled. I usually have oyster raw, but I figured if they're a robata grill so let's try it grilled. I'm not sure the cooking process, but the oysters were garnished and very tender despite cooking. The texture was like breaking a piping hot poached egg. The ponzu they used also really worked for the oyster, and I can say they're much better cooked this way than raw.

Like Okan, Oton is great Japanese food and even in Japan and they'd be able to compete for what they offer. For what I ordered, the bill came out to be $30 plus tax. This was just after a big workout, so I ate a lot and I'd say it was definitely worth it. It's about what I pay in Japan for this kind of food, which is pretty unusual for a place in the US. Unlike most places even in Japan, this makes my short list.

I'd say the grilled oysters and wagyu beef are the two I'd highly recommend the most of what I tried. I plan to report again next time I go, but will be in Japan next month so probably that'll be late October. Look forward to any reports/suggestions!

Service is what you'd expect in Japan, which is more than good enough in the US. The waitress explained everything well in English. They do have semi-private booths. I'd assume their main target is Japanese businessmen away from home, gossiping Japanese housewives, and some locals who appreciate exceptional Japanese food. If you like it, spread the word!

Oton: 5447 Kearny Villa Rd, Suite D, San Diego, CA

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  1. Thanks for the review. Been wanting to try Oton ever since Kirk reviewed it a while back. I have to say though most of the dishes look pretty much the same as what you'd find at Okan or Sakura. I understand that Oton offers some shabu shabu style dishes that Okan does not but other than that it seems pretty similar. Of course I'm not exactly an expert on the differences between the different styles of Japanese restaurants so I'm sure there are differences that I'm not noticing.

    2 Replies
    1. re: mliew

      I haven't compared the menus, but at least all of the specials are different. They do have "standard Japanese fare", much like a Sushi place will serve non-Sushi. So that's probably where a lot of overlap is. Their focus is on grilled fish, meat, vegetables, and sake, so I pretty much only looked at that.

      Okan is focused on homestyle cooking. If the things you want are the same at these two places, that's great because it's a lot easier to get a seat at Oton. Oton is a bit more than twice as big in seating than Okan. For "typical Japanese fare", I'd typically go to Tajima, or Sakura depending on what I wanted to order. It's better to order what they specialize in, because each place has its stars.

      1. re: mliew

        There is a fair amount of overlap between Okan and Oton, but the differences are that Okan has all the daily specials on the bar and seemed to have more non-meat and fish options than Okan. We've been to Okan a ton (and love it) and Okan once, so I'm hesitant to make more comparisons b/c it's an uneven playing field right now.

        At Oton, I second the grilled beef tongue and recommend the pear sorbet and grilled yellowtail collar. We ordered a ton of stuff and loved them all. Unfortunately, I can't remember everything we ate!

        I don't think there is that much similarity to Sakura that I would skip one over the other.

      2. Just a small correction, it's not on Convoy, it's Kearny Villa Rd & Clairemont Mesa (next to Denny's).

        1 Reply
        1. re: Green_Turtle

          Yeah, to get there drive on Clairemont Mesa east and pass the 163. Right after passing 163, it's on your left on Kearny Villa Rd, near Shogun's.

        2. Nice post RJ!

          It looks like they've made improvements since I visited.

          Are they using Binchotan now? I recall that all the robata items didn't even have a hint of the smokey flavor that bincho adds. The Gyutan was especially disappointing.