Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sushi Dokoro Shirahama (San Diego)

For the last few weeks I have been craving sushi. It was getting so bad I was dreaming about each individual piece of rice as they fell apart in my mouth. Luckily two of my friends came into town last week and they are sushi fiends! Wanting to show them a good sampling of the best San Diego has to offer my thoughts instantly jumped to Sushi Dokoro Shirahama (or Shirahama for short).

For those that know of Shirahama, they know of the general population's very polarizing views of the restaurant. You either LOVE IT or you HATE IT. Why do you LOVE IT? Cause the fish is sea breeze fresh, the knife skills are as elite as Lebron's crab walk, and the food is impeccable. Why do you HATE IT? Because this is a very very traditional japanese restaurant in a very untraditional japanese city, there tends to be some bias by the owner against certain clientelle. I've walked in here twice to an empty restaurant.. both times no words were said to me other than a "shaking of the head" no that they could not seat me.

Now why do I still want to go here? As bad as the attitude is, I'm pretty used to it at Japanese restaurants at this point (which sucks.. cause that means I'm giving in to their attitude) and I REALLY want to try Shirahama at least once. My friend Stan knows the owners well so he booked my friends and I a reservation. We decided to do Omakase to see everything that Kaji-San has to offer.

When you get in there, it's deathly quiet. We barely conversed when we sat down cause we were so squared that we would raise the volume to an untolerable level .. (which would soon change once we popped the bottle of Krug!) After settling in with the Krug,

some nice deep woody sake and a few beers, our Omakase began.

We started off with a few pieces of sushi

Yellowtail and Snapper.

The snapper was forgettable, nice crisp crunch but the meat did not entertain my waiting tastebuds.
The Yellowtail on the other hand was vibrant and fresh. The perfect slice of fish with an excellent firm texture that I like for my yellowtail. The flavor was powerful and a great start to the meal.

The next pieces were astounding. Big Eye Tuna and Amberjack

Two very simple fish, normally the two fish I would avoid if I was ordering myself. LUCKILY I was not ordering for myself.
The Tuna had a nice fattiness to it that made me think for a moment that I was eating Toro. While the Amberjack with oily and rich. Subtle dabs of wasabi ran underneath the fish to add that extra bit of pleasure to these scrumptious fish.

We then had Saba (Mackerel) and Aji

I personally am not a huge fan of Saba, it's too meaty for me. I prefer flaky fish or oilier fish with a softer consistency. But this Saba was good for what it was.
The Aji on the other hand was really out of this world. Just the right about of Ginger and Scallion on top of it with that great fleshy texture.

We were then served Uni (sea urchin) and Salmon Roe

On a freshness scale of 0-100 this Uni was a 5000. It was creamy and fresh with a touch of sweetness. No "sea" flavor whatsoever on the dish.

I have no real opinion on the roe. It didn't suck, but I don't like the saltiness of the Roe so this was one of the less salty versions I've had.. which I guess is a good thing.

After these courses, we took a break from the sushi and tried some of their appetizers. One of my dining companions Mr. Powell Yang saw a board full of Japanese lettering. Since a good chunk of Japanese writing is actually Chinese, he was able to discern a few things. After stopping the waitress we ordered ourselves two apps.

First up, Monk fish liver with sour plum sauce.

If you've never had Monkfish Liver, think of it as the Foie Gras of the see. Not as rich and creamy, it has a meat flavor you don't find in Foie. The flavor is very subtle, there's a tinge of salt on the back of your throat but it's earthy and less "brittle" than Foie. This was a giant hunk of goodness. When you bite into it, it's like biting into a thick gelatin, it's not mushy like foie and is able to hold its own with no companion sauce. I actually thought the sour plum detracted from the freshness of the liver.

We then each were served a skewer of Sea Eel Innards.

Roasted Sea Eel innards sprinkled with a bit of white pepper. I didn't actually know what it was until I was eating it. I initially guessed heart due to the very rubbery texture on the outside of the meat. But then once you get past the outer layer it's a very soft thick and creamy texture. It sure was good tho, they drizzled some BBQ sauce on it to enhance the rendered fat flavor from the innards.

We then hopped back onto the sushi train.

The first dish back was of course... sea eel!

The sea eel is previously steamed and then sprinkled with a pink of sea salt before consumption. Consumed with no soy sauce you allow the salt to bring out the intricacies of the eel. The eel is very light, it's not as thick as its fresh-water brother. The meat is very brittle, it basically falls apart piece by piece in your mouth.

We were then served something I've never seen before and the chef couldn't give me the english name for.

It's the large scallop looking thing on the left... the right side is abalone.

Both dishes are things I don't eat very often raw. Not that I'm not an adventurous eater cause I AM! There are just certain things that have never been prepared raw for me. Like.. Abalone. I'm used to it with giant pieces of vegetables cooked in a heavy brown sauce. The abalone raw isn't as crunchy as clam but still has that thick crispness that one associates with surf clam. There's a very strong aroma of ocean/sea that comes from the abalone that is very striking. If you want to see what LIVE abalone sushi looks like.. Click this link!

The thing on the left... when whole looks like the picture below.

The shell of that "muscle" is about two hands wide and two hands tall... so it's a pretty big shell. But what Mama Fu always taught me was, if it looks like a Giant Scallop and tastes like a Scallop, it probably is a Giant Scallop. Not horribly impressive, just exciting to say I've tried some muscle connector the size of my hand.

We then had spicy cod roe and roe on kelp.

I greatly disliked the spicy cod roe dish. It felt like I was eating throw up. It was so mushy and warm in my mouth... Powell liked it, but I passed on finishing the other half of it.
The roe on the kelp is done by having the fishermen lay the kelp on the spawning floor and after one set is laid they'd flip it and more eggs would be laid on the other side.
The roe is not as salty as the Salmon Roe and is more of a refreshing pop of saltiness with each bite.

We then had our last two pieces of fish. User choice (everyone got Uni but me) with Kibinago.

Kibinago is a sardine like fish with a long silver streak running along the top of its body. The fish is very thinly sliced and has a slick texture that slides into your mouth before you take a bite. It has a bit of a crisp bite to it but has the same fleshy nature as Aji. Interesting fish...

We did have some Toro and Albacore but I was so hungry I forgot to take a picture =(

To finish off our meal we ended with a cut of Tamago.

Kaji- San brands the giant piece of tomago with the lettering of the restaurant. Sweet, flaky and soft, you can taste the individual folds of egg with each bite. When you chew on it, the layers fall apart in your mouth as if they were held together by a thread. If there's any one thing you need to order from the restaurant, it'd have to be this.

Overall I had a great experience here. Kaji - san and our dining neighbors lightened up with a few drinks and everyone had a good cheerful time in the end. I wish we had a few more exotic fish but all in all the freshness of the fish was superb and the knife cutting was stunning. Each fish was cut the perfect size for each piece of rice, the oilier fish had a longer thinner cut with the same exacting precision as the fatter cuts had.

Do call for reservations if you want to go, I'd hate for you to be turned away like I was before =)

Sushi Dokoro Shirahama

4212 Convoy St
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 650-3578



Anonymous said...

That tomago branding sure is neat!

Barefoot Plumies said...

Looks like a wonderful dinner.

Charlie Fu said...

Anonymous: It sure is, i wonder how he branded it...

Barefoot Plumies: It really was =)

Anonymous said...

How much pp was it there?

KirkK said...

Hey Clayfu - I'm surprised he let you take photos. I was there once when he gave somebody the evil eye, and than said something to them when she was trying to take photos - with her cell phone(no flash) of all things...and than there was the time he raised his voice and nastily told someone to leave when they ordered some kind of roll. Of course, it could be because they were "Caucasian"..... Which is why I never posted on the place.Same with Kaga-zushi, where he was "trained".....

Nicholas said...

good stuff as usual my friend, i especially like the line about the freshness of the uni ;]

Charlie Fu said...

Anonymous: There's a very large range of costs, I've heard as low as $40 and as high as $whatever you spend on alcohol. I think alcohol is the real kicker for the meal, makes it real pricey.

Kirk: Yeah no problem, i did it right in front of him. Maybe it was late.. we didn't start till 8pm.

Nick: i try!