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Best sea urchin/uni in San Diego?

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Chowhound from Boston here. I'm staying with a friend right now in San Diego for a few days, and I've seen some mentions on here that the city has really great local sea urchin, and I'd LOVE to try some while I'm out here.

Anyone have any recommendations for where I should go? Bonus points for somewhere that's a) not super-expensive and b) somewhat near Pacific Beach, but the proximity to PB isn't super-necessary.

Thanks!

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  1. Little Italy's Farmers Market has a vendor and you get to crack the sea urchin yourself. Probably the "cheapest" option.

    Sushi Ota in PB has uni, although it can be difficult to get a seat w/o reservations.

    If you're willing, Kaito Sushi in Encinitas has uni AND the best traditional sushi in SD. Laid back atmosphere, no-frills decor but excellent for the price.

    11 Replies
    1. re: daantaat

      I looked into Kaito a bit, and I'm liking what I'm seeing. My brother also told me that I *had* to go to Encinitas to try Juanita's Taco Shop. I might make the trip now, based on your rec + my brother's, and spend the day. Any good ideas for killing a few hours between Mexican and sushi in Encinitas? Hahahaha.

      1. re: FinnFPM

        I'll also second daantaat's suggestion of Kaito. They are the best traditional Sushiya that San Diego has.

        BTW on my last visit (Wednesday) they had the rare Matsushita Uni, a must for any Uni lover if you ever get the chance. http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam... and http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...

        I also heard from a friend of mine that Kaito was able to score even more of the Matsushita Uni for Friday's service when they carried a blow-out selection of 18 items from their Tsukiji delivery. http://kaitorestaurant.spaces.live.co...

        So what is Matsushita Uni? Matsushita is a boutique Uni processor in Los Angeles that follows strictly traditional methods to prepare their Uni, and their product is typically limited to only the best of L.A.'s Sushi bars.

        As to specifically sourcing Uni from San Diego, Sushi bars will typically carry either Santa Barbara or San Diego Uni at any one time. They're both very good, though if you ever can get one of each in a single sitting it's an interesting thing to do an A/B taste comparison. However the taste of Uni very much follows the condition of the kelp beds at the time, so long-lasting comparisons probably do not make much sense (for the same species).

        As to getting Uni at the LIttle Italy Farmer's Market, it's fun and inexpensive, but there is one big disadvantage to doing so. Everytime you open up an Uni you are taking a gamble on quality, whereas with the Uni processors they are graded after having been able to see the Uni quality.

        Also Uni, like many Sushi Tane, improves in taste as it ages, so while consuming live Uni is a thrill to be sure, don't expect the same depth of taste as one acquired from an Uni processor on the wooden trays.

        1. re: cgfan

          This is true, sea urchins can not be graded until they are cracked, and their lobes are inspected.

          1. re: cgfan

            Oh my, just returned from an incredible meal at Kaito and again they had some of the Matsushita Uni. This is the 3rd time for them in the past 2 weeks! Morita-san thinks that due to the recession the top L.A. Sushi bars are not buying up all of the normally oversubscribed supply, making them available for Kaito to purchase.

            Whatever the reason they seem to be getting them in now!

          2. re: FinnFPM

            Hmm, the beach can help kill a couple of hours. You could also swing by Elizabethan Desserts in Encinitas and pick up some old fashioned style American desserts like buckles, mini pies, cupcakes and giant cookies. My faves are her pies, "everything" cookie, "hot chocolate" cake and Hot Diggity Dang cupcakes.

            If you're into home decor/design, Cedros Design District in Solana Beach (5 min south) on Cedros Ave is another way to kill time.

            A hop, skip and jump away from Elizabethan Desserts is the Quail Botancial Gardens, if you're into plants and botany,

            1. re: daantaat

              speaking of dessert, if it's an ice cream kind of day, Bubby's Gelato in the lumberyard is pretty darn good!

              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                ...or, and this is no joke, Morita-san at Kaito occasionally makes a nice, simple dessert out of Uni. Particularly appropriate given the Uni theme!

                (If this sounds uncharacteristic of Morita-san, who'd rather follow a strictly traditional path, this all came about one day as a "challenge" to him one day when I felt like something a bit different. Knowing that he doesn't think much of celebrity chefs, and in particular the Iron Chefs, I jokingly asked if he could come up with a dessert with Uni as the theme ingredient. He willingly took up the challenge, came up with a great dessert, and we all had a good chuckle over the new creation. Since then I've seen him do it on a number of occasions, and now some customers even know to specifically ask for it!)

                Don't worry about the name as he'll know what you're talking about right away if you ask for an Uni dessert... (If you're really curious about it I'm sure I wrote about it more specifically on CH before...)

            2. re: FinnFPM

              To kill time you could get a beer at Pizza Port Solana Beach

              1. re: FinnFPM

                Just noticed you mentioned Juanita's. I enjoy them a lot too, especially as they have very fresh and lovingly preprared to order Mariscos items.

                Another consideration in the Mexican vein and relatively nearby would be Rudy's in nearby Solana Beach (1st choice in their original Mexican market location) or their 2nd location in nearby La Costa (2nd choice) for their absolutely killer, killer, Carne Asada. We're talking the kind of Carne Asada that's way beyond the "taco shop" Carne Asada but rather a nice, grilled, Carne Asada using Arancherra.

                Another choice would be Bety's Tacos in Encinitas, practically (but not quite) across the street from Kaito Sushi.

                Just wanted to offer other alternatives, though there's certainly nothing wrong with Juanita's.

              2. re: daantaat

                This is a little bit late, but I'm back home in Boston now and really wanted to thank you for recommending Kaito to me. It was a little tough to find (no sign except on the windows!). I had an amazing time, and Chef Morita was without a doubt the nicest, friendliest person I've ever had the pleasure of being served by. The food was divine (I've never had sushi that fresh and delicious in Boston) and the whole experience was just awesome.

                Thanks to Kaito, I was finally able to try uni... and wow. Just wow.

                I also had a pretty good exchange with chef Morita about natto, which I ordered as an appetizer as soon as I saw the menu. He was obviously unfamiliar with me (just an American walking in off the street), and semi-playfully tried to discourage me from getting it.

                "It's pretty stinky! Lots of Americans don't like! Some Japanese do. You sure?!"

                I wasn't going to be denied, though! He kept laughing at me while he was preparing it and asking if I was sure. It was very good there -- also the first time I'd tried it. I could tell I was in the hands of a master, though, and needed to go for as much authentic stuff as I could. After plowing through it, he told me next time I came back, I could try tuna heart.

                I mentioned that I'd heard of the place online. He said to me, "Yelp?" and I said "No, Chowhound." He said "Ohhh, serious then, huh!" Thought you guys would enjoy that.

                Again, thanks so much. Will sing the praises of this place to anyone willing to listen.

                1. re: FinnFPM

                  You're welcome for the rec! You tried uni and natto at what I think is the best sushi in town w/ the most easygoing sushi chef! So glad you made the trek up north and enjoyed yourself! Now the hard part--having sushi at "other" places...

              3. I will disagree ever so slightly with daantaat and sing the praises of Shirahama on Convoy; for not only the best uni, but the best traditional sushi. Be aware however, Shirahama serves only sushi, and it is a tiny, quiet little restaurant, definitely not the place for a large group.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Dagney

                  Definitely worth mentioning, as it's a shorter drive for some.

                2. Catalina Offshore Products is San Diego's primary suplier. Their California Gold uni is fantatstic. Though not a retail outlet, they will sell directly to the public. Call ahead.

                  http://www.catalinaop.com

                  1. Also for a quick fix, Nijia market on Convoy has the wooden trays of uni for $7 each. I have purchased it there before, and it was quite good.

                    1. Kazumi Sushi in Hillcrest,

                      You MUST sit at the bar, and place yourself in Kazumi's hands. Otherwise, the service will be slow and annoying. But, sit at the bar and you will be well taken care of. Disregard time and enjoy your meal.

                      For uni, you can watch Kazumi take a full tray of fresh uni out of his refrigerator and serve you up the goodness. By the way, he smokes his own salmon. Deliiiiiicious.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: cookieshoes

                        ohh nice timing. i was going to ask about Kazumi's uni. We go to Kazumi for our impulse sushi fix since I don't want to deal with Ota. I've never tried the uni and was wondering about Kazumi's. Always love the sushi at Kazumi's (be sure to sit on his side as cookieshoes said).

                        1. re: MrKrispy

                          Do the Uni/Oyster combo at Kazumi. It's incredible. Also Kazumi's Uni soup..