4529 Mission Bay Dr
San Diego, CA 92109
I've long been aware of Sushi Ota and its status as the best sushi in San Diego, but despite that it was hard to find a reason to head down especially with the plethora of top spots in LA. Opened in 1990 by Chef Yukito Ota, the restaurant remains quite popular even with a week's advance notice, we struggled to get reservations at the sushi bar. In the end, we had to take a 5:30 reservation and agree to be out within 2 hours. Wanting to maximize our dining time, we arrived a few minutes early, and were surprised to see a line already forming outside the restaurant.
After making our way through the line we were shown to seats in front of Shige, the executive chef who ended up taking care of us. Chef Ota was working as well and our requests to be seated in front of him were politely refused, apparently the seats are normally reserved for VIPs and regulars.
Hakkaisan Junmai Ginjo
We decided to stick with a consistent solid performer in Hakkaisan. There is definitely some body and viscosity on the mouth but the flavor has a light floral finesse to compliment the rice-y sweetness.
The meal started with delightful fried octopus, packed with brine and savor and heightened with the streak of thick sweet tentsuyu. The accompanying sprouts and asparagus were equally integral, bright and crisp the light vegetal bitterness was an especially poignant contrast to the octopus.
Sashimi - Kampachi, Mirugai, Toro, Uni
Our second course was a platter of pristine raw seafood. The Kampachi had a classic creamy profile with a lingering oiliness. The Mirugai was equally impressive, the dense snappy texture was immensely satisfying as was the consistent even brine. The Toro was pure luxury; smooth, lush and stupendously fatty the tender fish melts in the mouth. Arguably the best of the quartet was the San Dieo Uni. Less common than its much-beloved Santa Barbara cousin, the Ota crew actually prefer the local version and with the cool creamy consistency and perfect sweet-saline balance, I can see why.
Zensai - Eggplant, Persimmon, King Mackerel, Lobster, Sea Snail
Another plate of five seasonal treats. The eggplant was surprisingly good soaked with a satisfying umami-laced dashi to compliment. I've never liked persimmon, but I really liked the way the fruit's ripe sweetness was neatly constrained by the fried mochi batter. The baked mackerel was the strongest of the bunch, unabashedly oily and salty with a satisfying savory heft. The lobster had a fantastic smoky sweet char but was a bit overcooked and dry texturally. Lastly the sea snail conveyed a dark dense savor coupled with a bitter earthiness from the snail guts and the accompanying broth captures the interaction perfectly.
The last of the composed courses was also unfortunately the weakest. The tempura was a mix of shrimp onion and vegetable and while the shrimp kept a firm snappy texture, the overall feel was a little heavy and oily.
Hirame - Halibut
The sushi started out with a fine example of hirame. The fish was snappy and mild, deftly showing the interaction between the tangy ponzu and scallion's zing.
Kinmedai - Golden Eye Snapper
A consistent favorite of mine, Ota's Kinmedai has all the creamy richness the fish is known for augmented with a faintly bitter char.
Toro - Fatty Tuna
The toro was a continuation of the sublime fish from the sashimi courses. The whitish-pink fish has a faint oily sheen that hints at the fish's stupendous richness.
Kohada - Gizzard Shad
The kohada showed off its characteristic firmness with a moderated fishiness that left a lingering steely tang on the palate.
Uni - Sea Urchin
Yet more of that sublime San Diego uni. The burnt orange roe has a light creamy mouth feel and comes bursting with fresh ocean flavor matched with a lovely sweetness.
Ikura - Salmon Roe
As commonly occurs, the uni is followed with Ikura. The salmon roe is a touch dense with a slightly tacky feel, but the flavor is deeply savory like a chilled dashi.
Anago - Sea Eel
One of the weaker pieces of the night, the paper-thin Anago had a faint whiff of fishiness with a sour bitter twang on the finish that I didn't care for.
Umeshiso Yamaimo Hosomaki - Plum, Shiso, Mountain Potato Roll
Negitoro Hosomaki - Chopped Fatty Tuna & Scallion Roll
The rolls were a sure sign the meal was coming to a close particularly because both of these rolls are often served to aid digestion at the end of the meal. First up was a bracing sweet and sour mixture of plum and shiso with crunchy mucilaginous mountain potato. The second roll brought back that fantastically rich toro mixed coupled with bright freshness from the scallion.
Kuroge Wagyu Sashimi
Still feeling a bit peckish, we decided to order the Japanese beef sashimi. With loads of beefy flavor, the sashimi was certainly tasty, but despite the obvious marbling the meat was surprisingly tough and lean.
Sanma - Pike Mackerel
The Sanma came with a touch of vinegar which amplifies the Mackerel's inherent oiliness. The sliver of translucent kelp brings a much-appreciated sweet contrast.
Kibinago - Silver-stripe Round Herring
Despite a shimmery silver skin the Kibinago had a markedly restrained flavor particularly once the bite of the ginger was factored in.
Yagara - Flute fish
Another new fish for me. The Yagara has minimal inherent flavor along with a pleasing snappy texture
Tamago - Egg
A classic tamago, the cool sweet eggy funk didn't do much for me, but it wouldn't be sushi without tamago to close. The egg course came branded with OTA though I think mine looked more like USA.
Asari no Misoshiru
Following the sushi came a piping hot bowl of miso soup enlivened with the flavor of Manilla clams.
Black Sesame Ice Cream
A pretty typical black sesame ice cream, the consistency was overly hard but the sweet flavor was a nice finish to the meal.
I can see how Ota earned its reputation as San Diego's top sushi spot. Though the restaurant offers California Rolls and other Americanized drek, the restaurant also features a quality omakase. Not only is the nigiri very good all around, but the initial kaiseki dishes are creative and tasty. My only complaint had to do with pacing particularly the lengthy delays between the early courses. Even with 5 or 6 chefs working behind the bar, they could barely keep up with the flood of orders. Despite the uneven service, I wouldn't hesitate to come back if I ever found myself in San Diego again (assuming I can even get a res).
Sunday, January 12, 2014
4529 Mission Bay Dr