Sunday, September 14, 2008

Light Dining @ Kazumi, Yu Me Ya and Okan

Although I have fun casually experimenting with different lunch spots (some hits and other times not so) I have to say I hardly go out for dinner. So I consider myself lucky when I find new great places to dine.

Wanted to share three of which I've been to relatively recently where I enjoyed light afternoon meals. Two I've only visited once but have quickly become a fan of. I did notice they all had a few similarities..

All are unfortunately not open for lunch.
They are all Japanese but not cookie-cutter Japanese and have many not so common offerings.
Many items are appetizer portioned so I get to try these.
All are small and cozy and will get crowded so my visits were right at opening, 5:30~6PM to avoid this.

First is Sushi Bar Kazumi, a surprisingly hidden spot for being smack middle of bustling Hillcrest. It didn't take me long to figure out Kazumi was going to be my kind of place.

Look at the toy figurines!

Seems family run with a Father/Son team behind the sushi counter and the wife multi-tasking other duties. My young Itamae (which I unfortunately forgot to ask his name) was great and very informative about what was being prepared for me.

It was really nice to see the menu with many items you wouldn't typically find at an average Japanese place. Too many I wanted to try (at least what my dinner budget allowed) but my first order was easy. I quickly started with the Asari Miso Soup ($3.95).

Piping hot and simply delicious. The clams gave the soup an extra seafood flavor that made me realize how much I missed this in others. Maybe it's just my preference in Miso Soup but I feel most down play the dried fish stock flavor to not turn off some patrons.

I then went for the Uni-Scallop Sushi ($6). Yum.

I tried the first without Soy Sauce like the chef recommended. So delicately sweet.
The second I had with a light mopping of Soy Sauce with my Gari Ginger between chopsticks. I learned this technique from an old friend. It's great for Gunkan-Maki style sushi which you can't flip upside down.

A couple Hand Rolls.. More Scallops and Saba.

Too bad these photos aren't doing justice.

I usually end in sweet Tamago but unfortunately I was told Tamago had been retired ever since the head chef injured his arm. So instead I was recommended Unagi ($4.50) "for dessert."

Dessert was right. The home-made Unagi glaze was quite sweet but very rounded in flavor. I'm guessing they use Mitsu-Ame for the sweetener but just a wild guess. :)

As you can see only a quick tasting for now but I really look forward to my next visit.

Sushi Bar Kazumi, 3975 5th Ave # 120, San Diego, CA 92103

Sake House Yu Me Ya had always been on my radar to try but it had one flaw for me (aside from not being open for lunch). It's up in North County which is the exact opposite direction of where I should be heading to get home.

Of course great for the locals there where one even claims it to have the best Udon in San Diego. One thing is for sure and it is that the word of it being a great place to dine is definitely out. There were already a loyal group of Yu Me Ya fans waiting for it to open when I arrived at 5:25PM.

Twenty people seating simultaneously would make any place a bit chaotic for a few minutes but my first item was already served to me by 5:35.

A small Sapporo in an ice chilled glass pitcher.

Wow an actual Origami Crane for the chopstick rest (unlike the quickie version that I make with the paper sleeve). It's only been ten minutes and I already felt the attention and care throughout the place. And this was before I had a sip of my beer..

So I started with the Takoyaki octopus balls ($4.95).

These were really great and the kind that are Crispy on the outside and moist almost Custard-like in. I could easily have had another order but I needed to save room for the Udon.
Several to choose from here. Plain, Kitsune (with a braised fried thin tofu), Wakame, Sansai (a variety of wild Japanese vegetables), and Tempura (served on the side crispy).

I decided to try the Wakame Udon ($7.95)

The noodles were great with a nice "koshi" chew but what impressed me the most was the hot Tsuyu broth. Very light Kansai style but so made-from-scratch tasty. The only reason why I couldn't finish this broth was because the combination of the cast iron bowl and shallow wooden spoon didn't allow me (without embarrassing myself).

Many were having their Sake Sampler which I would like to try some day along with so many other nice things listed on the menu..

A few Kushi Katsu for sure and I would bet their Kakiage-Don would be great too. Again, too bad they're not open for lunch.. But that's a common thread in all the places on this post.

Sake House Yu Me Ya, 1246 N Coast Highway 101, Encinitas,CA 92024

Wa Dining Okan I've been to twice. Okan (Kansai dialect for mom) occupies the corner space of the Nijiya Market mall where Yakitori K-1 used to be.

The place is tiny but the interior is done up quite nice. A large U-counter in the center and some tables along the walls seem to maximize the space well.

As you can see there are many large bowls (Ozara) on the counter showcasing their proud care takingly made food.

Tempted, but on my first visit I had the Miso-Soup-of-the-day and two specials - Katsuo Tataki and Horumon (tripe) simmered in miso. A little factoid, the word Horumon literally means "discarded things" in Japanese and I would guess used to be until a person with some ingenuity (and maybe a hint of desperation?) transformed it into something not only palatable but good!

The Horumon was extremely tender while the irregular spoon-torn Konnyaku gave the dish some extra texture.

I absolutely love the concept of Miso Soup du jour because there are certainly many types of Miso Soups to be had. This day was Tonjiru. Pork and Vegetables.

You won't find Sushi here at Okan but they do serve some Sashimi-like dishes occasionally as a special like the Katsuo Tataki. The lightly seared sashimi grade bonito tuna laid on a bed of Kaiware Daikon Sprouts and was topped with a lot of julienned Shiso and raw Garlic slices.. It was almost like a salad with the amount of fresh greens.

On my second visit I did order an Ozara dish. Saba Nitsuke (Simmered Mackerel).

I was given two choices where explained the tail portion, with little to no bones, or the head portion, with bones but with more umami. I chose the latter.
So tender and simmered perfectly. Izakaya Sakura has a great Miso-Ni version but the type here was the sweet Soy Sauce, Sake and Ginger simmer.

Asking what they recommend me getting next I ordered the Gobo Mizuna Salad. The crispy fried Gobo root was wonderful with the extremely fresh Mizuna and light dressing. Probably best to share but I didn't have too much trouble finishing.

I ended with the Buta Maki.

The Pig here is the blanket where it wraps around crunchy Enoki Mushrooms and are char-grilled to my delight.

Okan is the most conveniently located for me of these three dining spots. That's a great thing considering their wonderful food, large menu variety and the daily changing specials which will keep me wanting to return and check out.

Now that I look back, there is one other similarity to these places and that's that they all made me wish I owned a proper digital SLR!
Dim atmospheres are the crutch to my otherwise trusty Canon point-and-shoot.

Wa Dining Okan, 3860 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111

You can read about another light dinner I had at Okan here.

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