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My Opinion of Kaito Sushi

I was in San Diego for work earlier this week and I decided to stop into Kaito Sushi for dinner one night. I read a lot of good things about this place on Chowhound so I expected a unique Japanese food/sushi experience. I went into the restaurant, sat down at the sushi bar, and told Morita-san to serve me what he thought was good. Here' s a list of my courses:

1st Course: Complimentary Daikon and Coleslaw Salad. Good well balanced flavor and a nice start to the meal.
2nd Course: Live Sea Scallop Prepared 2 Ways. I loved this dish. The scallop was sliced raw and torched lightly on each side to give it a little bit of crunch. The attached muscle was cooked in sake, butter, and soy sauce and it was extremely tender yet flavorful. It tasted like a properly cooked mushroom.
3rd Course: Halibut Sushi. Good sushi and incredibly fresh.
4th Course: Cooked Beef Tongue. Another great course. The beef tongue was seasoned lightly with salt and cooked perfectly. Very tender and probably my favorite part of a cow.
5th Course: Marinated Toro Sushi. The toro was marinated in soy sauce and sake and changed the flavor profile of the toro when it was in your mouth. Very good course.
6th Course: Kohada Sushi. This was okay. Nothing special.
7th Course: Shanghai Claim Sushi. It was okay as well. Nothing special
8th Course: Octopus (Tako) Sushi. The sushi itself wasn't anything special, but Morita-san took part of the octopus, sliced it up, and mixed it with soy sauce and green onions. The portion he sliced up was delicious.
9th Course: Freshwater Eel (Anago) Sushi. The fish was lightly heated in a toaster oven and it was outstanding. I also got half of a deep friend eel spine and that was excellent.
10th Course: Monkfish Liver. It's like the foie gras of the sea. Rich, tender, and outstanding. I'm glad the guy sitting next to me recommended it.

My meal with an Ashai SuperDry beer cost $87 with taxes before gratuity. Do I think it was worth $87? Yes and No. The sushi itself that Morita-san serves is no where near the quality of the sushi I've had at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Japan. However, I don't expect that because fish shipped from Japan or China to the US will never be as fresh as fish supplied to a local Japanese restaurant in Japan. The non-sushi dishes or sushi done in Morita-san's unique way (2nd course, 4th course, 5th course, 9th course, and 10th course) were outstanding and I would highly recommend them to anyone visiting Kaito. The biggest issue I have with the place is the cost (there are a lot of restaurants in the area where you would eat very very well for this price), but you will not find a meal like this anywhere. If the sushi courses were better, I would say that it is worth every penny spent. Also, the portions are typical of the ones in Japan so you have to go in knowing that they won't serve you a 15 oz steak.

The other thing I like about this place is the fact that Morita-san has a really neat personality and he takes into account whether or not you like a particular course so that he knows which direction to proceed with the next course. Also, he asks you whether or not you want to try something before serving it to you and he is more than willing to not serve something to you if you don't want to try it. Because there is no menu, it is difficult to know what is available because he has things in the back or in a refrigerator that you are not aware of.

Overall, I give Kaito Sushi 4 out of 5 stars. If my sushi courses were better, then I would give it 5 out of 5 stars. Morita-san has definitely honed his craft and he is a master at bringing new flavors to traditional Japanese food.

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  1. Based on the sushi you list, it seems like you didn't go on a night where there was great selection. Some of the sushi they get from Tsukiji is truly magnificent and it doesn't look like you got any of those.

    I'm somewhat curious how much better you wanted your sushi courses to be. From your own review, you have 3 out of 6 sushi courses at least good, and 7 out of 10 overall be good. If you go to a tasting menu of 10 courses and 7 out of 10 are at least "good" you've usually gotten your money's worth.

    Furthermore of the 3 bad courses, you said that they were all at least "okay." Usually on a 10 course tasting menu, you will have at least 1 "bad" course. I'm not saying you're wrong for rating it 4 out 5, but I'd just like to understand the justification better.

    3 Replies
    1. re: karaethon

      karaethon,

      From reading Chowhound and checking other reviews on yelp, the impression I got was that the sushi at Kaito would be as good if not better than the sushi in Japan. The 3 sushi courses that I said were "okay" were average to slightly above average when compared to the sushi that I have eaten in Japan. In my mind, a restaurant that gets 5 out of 5 stars in my book has to be perfect at every course when it comes to the food. Kaito fell short by quite a bit in the sushi courses so that is why I give it a 4 out of 5 stars. I really wanted to give it 5 out of 5 stars, but the sushi courses weren't up to par with the high quality of sushi in Japan.

      1. re: manhong

        There's no contradiction. Kaito sushi is certainly better than most sushi places in Japan, but not better than the best in Tsukiji. Tsukiji shops are limited in what they offer but good at what they do. And yet by your novel definition, every sushi shop in Tsukiji (and there are a ton), is 4 out of 5 at best except for one (if any). I've been to Tsukiji, and strictly speaking nothing there is perfect. It's simply very good and deserving of 5 out of 5 regardless.

        How much sushi experience have you had in Tsukiji and "Japan"? You talk about them interchangeably as if Tsukiji encompasses Japan's sushi, when in reality they focus on a fairly limited niche but do that niche well. People don't go to Tsukiji for the "best sushi", they go for the price. The best fish are all bought by sushi shops in Tokyo and the rest of Japan. In fact, it's literally auctioned to the highest bidder. But I'm sure you can let that slide as long as you aren't obsessed with perfection and just want good sushi.

        Tsukiji shops are more like the shop in Japan that only specialized in one thing. Like a store that literally makes one or two flavors of cheese cake and sells nothing else. That's typical of Japan, and you wouldn't call that cheese cake shop a bakery or say it's the best bakery. I hope not, because you'd be missing out on all of what a real Japanese bakery has to offer. That said, you wouldn't deny they had great cheese cake, because they wouldn't be around if they didn't. This in short is why the best sushi is in Ginza and the rest of Tokyo, because the vast majority of Tsukiji bars don't even qualify to compare due to their limited focus. Tsukiji is simply the farmer's market of sushi.

        There's no need to start your own thread when there is already a thread for this topic to add to. But welcome to chowhound!

        1. re: royaljester

          royaljester,

          I lived in Japan for 3 months back in 2005 and I ate sushi everywhere (mostly in the Tokyo area). I have eaten sushi at Tsukiji only once, but it was still heads and tails above all of the other places in Japan.

          This review is merely my personal opinion of Kaito. I know there are a lot of people that will disagree with me and you are right to your own opinion. There is no right or wrong opinion here and it's a matter of preference which restaurants you like over another. In my opinion, Kaito sushi is excellent for non-sushi dishes and only okay for sushi dishes.

          The reason I started this thread was the fact that there weren't a lot of threads with information about the courses they had and how much it costs. I was hoping to help future Chowhounds with their Kaito Sushi experience.

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

    2. OH DEAR, waiting for cgfan to weigh in. (Goggle Eyes!)

      1. I'm curious as to whether or not you've had better near by, or at least state-side.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Rodzilla

          Yes, years ago in Costa Mesa, the original sushi Nazi was our itamae.

          He always went to the fish market in LA , I don't know how many times during the week.

          He hosted invitation only fugu dinners when it was available.

          He left Orange County for an LA location where a lot of local foodies and journalists wrote about him (this is before bloggers).

          He wore small coke-bottle glasses. I don't remember his name, the closest I can get is Hiro-san

          1. re: Rodzilla

            Kaito sushi is a very unique place. I have had better quality sushi here in the states, but the non-sushi courses were truly unique and my favorite part of the meal.

          2. Sounds like a good meal. I've had a few similar experiences there. Good diiner, yes, worth the drive from downtown, no. Especially when there are other places between here and there that are as good or a little better.

            8 Replies
            1. re: mjill

              Where do you think is better between downtown and Encinitas?

              1. re: mjill

                Ota and Hane IMO are better. They are big enough to get their own shipments of fish in and I think it makes a difference. Rodger at Hane is able to be a bit more untraditional with non sushi type dishes and he is doing a bang up job with them. He is taking conventional pairings and turning them on their side a bit for something orginal. It's good stuff and I highly reccomend anyone who doubts to visit them and try for themselves. Ota is Ota, easily the undisputed king locally of tradition no matter what 2 or 3 people might think.

                Toshi-san is on par with Kaito and a bit closer being in LJ. Toshi-san has a similar personality to Morita-san and is as helpful in guiding you through a delicious meal. I will admit though it has been a while since I've made it out there but I doubt standards have fallen. I will also say if you were closer Encinitas than LJ, I would opt for Kaito.

                1. re: mjill

                  Thanks for the differing perspective. Would Hane be accommodating to an 18th month old?

                  1. re: JRSD

                    Yes but I would recommend an earlier dinner as it can start filling up around 7 and can be loud. They are pretty accomodating there and I have seen children, so I don't think it would be an issue. I will say if you happen to be there sans kid, the bartender Jon is a really good guy. Amazing memory on him too. I've seen him remember what random customers who visited a few months back liked to drink. Really weird but a good ability to have as a bartender.

                  2. re: mjill

                    Are you speaking of Toshi-San sushi & shabu shabu? I visited, about two weeks ago - I'm yet to write the review but it's some of the best sushi I've had anywhere. It certainly tasted the "freshest".

                    I still plan to hit Kaito and Ota but you now have me fearing I'll be let down. Are any of these places comparable to some of the better known in OC/LA?

                    1. re: Rodzilla

                      It is the same place I was speaking of. I would recommend both Ota and Kaito to try and they'll both contend with LA/OC places in my opinion. I think Ota is better and Kaito is on par with Toshi-san.

                      1. re: mjill

                        thanks Mjill - I'll let you know after I visit. I really did enjoy toshi-san, we sat at the bar and had a few specials (ankimo, lobster hand roll) along with the sushi-b platter. The platter is priced higher than comparable quantities found elsewhere but the quality of the fish was definitely worth it.