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Sushi Kaito

Holy moley. Had my first Sushi Kaito experience tonight. I've eaten sushi in a lot of cities at a lot of restaurants. This is one of the best sushi places I've ever eaten in. The fish was solid. The preparation was more than solid. The sauces were delicate, designed to heighten the fish, not to hide it.

And the sushi chef there has big, brass balls. He asked us if there was anything we didn't like. I said I liked all fish. My wife said she didn't like eel. So the first thing he served us was eel tempura. My wife now likes eel. It's easier to provoke people with things they don't like when you know you're good enough to change their mind.

Until tonight, I thought the only memorable sushi in San Diego was Sushi Ota. Truth is, Sushi Ota is very good. Sushi Kaito would be memorable in any city, not just a city like San Diego.

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Sushi Ota
4529 Mission Bay Dr, San Diego, CA 92109

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  1. I'm glad you enjoyed it. The funny thing is if you re-read what you wrote, it would sound like you were paid to make an advertisement for them. However, since most of us have been there before we know the exact feeling you have and that you were not at all coerced into posting that.

    2 Replies
    1. re: karaethon

      Heh, true. I do sound a little over-the-top. Especially given that many of my other reviews of San Diego places tend to be fairly negative.

      If I were to be bribed to write good reviews, I would like my payment in fish from Kaito. Simply fantastic. It's the only restaurant in the San Diego area that I've ever gushed over. And now, I'm ruined for other places. *sigh*

      1. re: Indirect Heat

        You might like Okan. It's not a sushi place, but the food is as good in its own way as Kaito, IMO.

    2. Kaito is a ruiner. I have no desire to pay good money for sushi anywhere else in SD.

      32 Replies
      1. re: Josh

        So true... After Kaz's Sushi there's just no turning back.

        You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe about Sushi.

        You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and Kaz will show you just how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

        1. re: cgfan

          Would it be rude to bring my camera? I would love to take pictures of the incredible meal I know I'll have whenever I go, but don't want to offend anyone.

          1. re: kallisti

            Nah - they are very friendly to photographers. The lighting in there is actually not too bad, either.

            1. re: Josh

              Great!

              Do I make a reservation, or do I just walk in? I'm not sure how many people I'll be with yet, but how many seats is the bar?

              1. re: kallisti

                cgfan will be able to give you a better idea of seating count. I believe Kaz's corner of the bar will accommodate 10-12 people. I would make a reservation.

                1. re: kallisti

                  It certainly wouldn't hurt, though realize that making reservations at any Sushi bar shouldn't be considered a guarantee at all. It's probably best to first call in to see if reservations are even necessary that day. Kaito can be anywhere from nearly empty to 1 hour + waits, depending on the day you go.

                  Also if this is your first visit, do set aside some room to get lost - it's a common occurrence... Just know that it's behind the Vitamin Shoppe, and several doors down from the new Five Guys location that's about to open, and yes, there's hardly any signage save for 2 large, but hard to see from a passing car, window decals - http://www.flickr.com/photos/renandro....

                  As to photographs at Kaito, well let's just say that I've personally taken nearly 1100! - http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...

                  A portion of these and many others by other customers are also posted on their Flickr group, of which there are nearly 1500 photos submitted so far... - http://www.flickr.com/groups/kaitosushi/

                  As to how many seats in Kaz' station, I'd say Josh's estimate is about right, though I'd estimate on his high side, around 12+...

                  How large would your group be? Though I'd highly recommend sitting at the bar, large groups can get a bit unwieldy for them to seat. If it's a very large group for the bar, it'll probably be best to schedule a meal on the early side during the middle of the week - Tuesdays or Wednesdays might be a good compromise between potential crowds and selection of fish, but it'll be best to check with them first.

                  Enjoy, and make sure you post a review...

                  1. re: cgfan

                    I'm not sure how many people I can convince to come with me (though I'm working on it!), but it probably won't end up being more than 5 or 6 total.

                    If they get fish delivered on Tuesday, then I'd just shoot for a Tuesday, as I don't have the constraint that it has to be on a weekend. Delivery is Tuesday, right?

                    I'll take your advice and call on the day we decide to go.

                    I'm so excited!

                    1. re: kallisti

                      They get their big fish deliveries on Tuesday and Friday from what I've heard in the past.

                      1. re: kallisti

                        Just a thought - the more people you have in your group, the more you should consider (assuming they're arriving in separate cars) setting up a reservation, say, 20-30 minutes AFTER the agreed-upon meeting time, as well as making doubly sure that all are going to be showing up. (I personally tend to avoid reserving the Sushi bar for groups larger than 4, and when I do I'll tell everyone a time that's 30 minutes earlier than the reservation time I call in...) Sushi counter space is precious space to keep open, and for large groups they need to start opening up the first few seats towards the total quite early.

                        BTW Kaito gets deliveries every day from U.S., European, and Japanese waters, but on Tuesdays/Wednesdays and Fridays/Saturdays they also get deliveries from Tokyo's mighty Tsukiji market on top of their other daily sources. (Wednesdays and Saturdays are good for selection as that is when they can reorder items that they may have sold out of from the day before. However particularly rare items may not be able to be restocked, giving Tuesdays and Fridays a slight edge in selection variety.)

                        And as always the day you go is more a matter of selection rather than quality.

                        If mid-week sounds good for you, I'd aim for Tuesday or Wednesday for your first visit; choose Wednesday to have better chances of a lighter crowd, but Tuesday if you want a higher assurance of exotic ingredient selection.

                        Also consider using their Twitter stream (@Kaito_Sushi - http://twitter.com/#!/kaito_sushi) of ingredient arrivals for last minute selection-based decisions to drop-in. (Though they post irregularly, lately roughly 1-2 times per week...

                        )

                        BTW kallisti, what are your recommendations for a traditional Sushi bar in the greater D.C. area?

                        1. re: cgfan

                          Great, thanks for the info!! Sounds like Tuesday is the best bet.

                          Well, to be honest, I'm not sure I would be able to say what constitutes "traditional", but from what I've seen, and the posts of yours that I've read, Sushi Taro and Kushi are probably your best bets. I remember having good sushi at Makoto, but it was part of a larger omakase that wasn't sushi-focused, and it was years ago (though I hear it's still good).

                          The places I've been in San Diego (that I remember) are Sakura, Sushi Itto and Sushi Ota (the last two about 5 years ago, and Sakura 1.5 years ago). I'd say Kushi and Sushi Taro are definitely better than all of them.

                          Kushi vs Sushi Taro will be more of an atmosphere choice -- ST will be much quieter and a more formal environment (dark wood, not white-tablecloth formal), and Kushi's full name is Kushi Izakaya and Sushi, and it's livelier (esp on weekends) and therefore louder. It's also quite a bit larger than Izakaya Sakura, for example. I've found the quality of Kushi's fish to be very good, though, even though it's not the singular focus of the menu. The quality of the fish at ST is also quite good, and it's more of a menu focus. I haven't gotten the omakase at either place, though when I do, it'll be at Sushi Taro first (at the 6-seat sushi bar in the back). Unfortunately I don't really have a place in San Diego to compare it to.

                          I will say that the best sushi I've ever had was at Sushi Sasabune in Honolulu, and the quality of the fish at ST and Kushi is probably pretty similar, though at SS I got the omakase (sushi-focused), so it was obviously a different kind of meal (and an amazing one).

                          Other places that are often mentioned as in the handful of top sushi places in DC are Sushi Ko and Kaz Sushi Bistro, though I wasn't a fan of Kaz the one time I went (full disclosure, during a Restaurant Week years ago), and Sushi Ko was good but didn't blow me away (also about 4 years ago). I do hear that Kaz is possibly the only, or one of two places that serve fugu in the DC area, for whatever that's worth.

                          Anyway, there's some info for you :) Hopefully it's not deleted; I tried to keep it somewhat SD-relevant!

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                          Sushi Ota
                          4529 Mission Bay Dr, San Diego, CA 92109

                          Sushi Itto
                          409 F St, San Diego, CA 92101

                          1. re: kallisti

                            Thanks kallisti - thought I'd take advantage that you're from D.C. I go there fairly often, but only have been to Makoto on my travels. Didn't think their Sushi was anything to rave about; just OK. Thanks for the recs, though I don't know when I'll be there next.

                            Back to S.D., the only really compelling Sushi bars are Kaito and Shirahama, in that order. I know Izakaya Sakura gets a lot of love, and from me they do as well but not for their Sushi. As to Sushi Ota, it's one of the most consistently overrated Sushi bars that we have around. I've been there multiple times and never did I have a meal that really lived up to their reputation.

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                            Sushi Ota
                            4529 Mission Bay Dr, San Diego, CA 92109

                            1. re: cgfan

                              Until we went to Kaito, Sushi Ota was the best sushi we'd had in the city. It's true, Kaito is *much* better.

                              1. re: Indirect Heat

                                I remember almost nothing about Sushi Ota as it was so long ago :) So excited about Kaito though!

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                                Sushi Ota
                                4529 Mission Bay Dr, San Diego, CA 92109

                              2. re: cgfan

                                Yeah I'm definitely looking forward to going to Kaito -- I was salivating over the Flickr pool earlier this week and sending it to all my friends out there and saying "We're going here."

                                1. re: cgfan

                                  Oh, I did have one other question for you -- I typically don't drink sake because I haven't ever found one that I've liked, but what's the etiquette surrounding buying sake and sharing it with the sushi chef? Don't want to accidentally insult anyone while I'm there!

                                  1. re: kallisti

                                    kallisti - Thanks for thinking to ask. Here are my thoughts.

                                    First consider the chef's situation and ascertain first whether or not he could use a drink in the first place. That is, consider that he may already have had enough, or he may not even drink at all, or he may be a drinker but is trying to cut back; it's kind of a job hazard. (I've known Sushi chefs who have asked their management to water down their drinks in the back before serving it to them when a customer buys them a drink.) As a chef who directly serves their customer, Sushi chefs are normally very attentive to their customer's wants and needs; the least a customer can do in return is to try to ascertain when not to ask in the first place.

                                    So now you've decided that he may want a drink. Always ask the chef first whether they could use one or not, and never in a way that applies any pressure or puts them on the spot. You always want to say it in a way that allows them to say no, so my advice would be just to ask them "one on one", as if you're having a normal one on one conversation. And consider asking if he'd prefer a Sake or a beer. It's nice to be given a choice.

                                    Now this is a pet peeve of mine, but you may wish to consider it yourself. It always makes me cringe to see customers who buy drinks for the chef like children "feeding the ducks", ostensibly done for their own enjoyment or to do it "to look good" in front of others, and particuarly after the chef already has had quite a bit to drink. Just keep in mind that it is generally very difficult for them to say no in these situations, and perhaps even more difficult in a cross-cultural situation.

                                    Personally I almost never do it when at an establishment that does not have a primarily Japanese clientele unless it's particularly slow, as I can almost guarantee that there will already have been, or will be, enough customers that have already "fed the ducks", if you know what I mean...

                                    Hope this makes sense.

                                    1. re: cgfan

                                      Oh, nonspecifichigherpower, more manners and customs to learn. I'm off to the Cheesecake Factory. Or Sergios drive through.

                                      ; )

                                      1. re: cgfan

                                        Hah, yes it makes sense, but still leaves me a little bewildered about the method of ascertaining if he's had enough/doesn't want one :)

                                        I guess part of the question was, if my party isn't ordering sake, would it be rude to not ask the chef if he wants some since we don't have any anyway?

                                        1. re: kallisti

                                          It's never rude not to ask. Just ask him if he'd like a beer in a way that doesn't obligate him.

                                          1. re: cgfan

                                            Thanks for all the help :) So looking forward to this meal!

                                      2. re: kallisti

                                        First, give the Otokoyama a try. I was similarly cool to sake until I tried that one.

                                        Second, they have a selection of the usual suspect Japanese beers, but they also have Asahi Black, which is not usual. It's actually brewed in Japan, and is a delicious schwarzbier with a hint of a soy sauce-like flavor. It goes very well with sushi, IMO.

                                        Kaito also has a liberal BYOB policy, and I have brought various sushi-friendly beers there.

                                        1. re: Josh

                                          Although I personally prefer beer with my Sushi, whenever I see Otokoyama served it always brings a smile to my face. Not only has it been my "default house Sake" at home, but I was to find out later on a joint shopping run that my Mom was a close friend to the family who holds this generations-old (300+ years) recipe.

                                          1. re: cgfan

                                            Agreed - I prefer beer as well. Interesting to know about Otokoyama. What's a good place to buy it locally?

                                            1. re: Josh

                                              Otokoyama is in good distribution, so you can find it at all three of our local Japanese markets. I just pick it up wherever I find myself shopping, which is usually at Nijiya. The Korean markets may carry it too; I just don't recall specifically if I've seen it or not at Zion. But certainly Nijiya, Mitsuwa, and Marukai all carry it.

                                      3. re: cgfan

                                        Izakaya Sakura has good food, but I can't get past the price. I agree with you their sushi is not as good as Kaito's and once I order their cooked food and pay the bill, I generally realize I'm in for like 60% of the amount I would have paid at Kaito and regret not going there instead.

                                        1. re: karaethon

                                          Try them at lunch and get the special bento, around $10.

                                    2. re: cgfan

                                      Looks like 4 of us, around 8 -- do you think 4 is too many for the sushi bar? I imagine it can be a bit awkward if you're all in a straight line, unless the bar has a corner or something. I don't want to miss out on the sushi chef experience but also don't want to make things awkward for my friends :)

                                      1. re: kallisti

                                        If you want to avoid the "four in a row" deal, you'll have to see if you can get the one and only corner in the bar. There's probably a fair chance you can get it if you go on a day that's low to moderate in turn-out.

                                        Amongst their regulars 4 is about as large a group as it gets. But certainly I've seen larger groups come in as well. I think you'll do fine so long as one takes a Sushi Bar reservation with a grain of salt, and not as an entitlement.

                                        Arrive early, but don't be surprised if you end up waiting up to 30-45 minutes; it'll be worth the wait!

                              3. re: Josh

                                Are there tables, too, or just the sushi bar?

                                1. re: bizzwriter

                                  There are tables, but I don't know why you'd want to sit at them. Kaz is a funny guy, and you will miss out on a lot of the fun of eating at Kaito if you're table-bound.

                                    1. re: bizzwriter

                                      We sat at the tables since had the baby with us and its hard to feed him when no one is facing him. We still had a great meal (as usual). There are 2 tables for 4 and one for two.

                                      Agree that it is much better experience when you can sit at the bar and talk to Kaz or Joe who are both very personable.

                        2. I had nearly the exact experience at Kaito last month. First visit, totally blown away, and now I know I do NOT hate octopus! Some of Morita-san's presentations were almost too beautiful to eat. Thankfully, my taste buds ruled over aesthetics.

                          1. I guess just to add to this though, I have known some people to have had bad experiences when going on certain days (because they've sold out of fish). I think they get their main deliveries on Tuesday and Friday. I recommend Kaito to a friend, and she happened to go on a Thursday and was quite unsatisfied because the selection of fish was very small. According to my friend, Morita-san apologized to them and asked them for a 2nd chance on either a tuesday, friday or saturday.

                            1. Kaito has ruined us as well for all other sushi in SD and most cities, to be honest! I fear wasting time and $$ in a city on so-so sushi when I could be eating in a good restaurant for that city.

                              Okan is excellent, although different food.